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Your lawn sucks.
But it's about to get so much better.
Nature loves mess.
It’s chaotic. It’s disordered. But it’s also balanced. Ecosystems need just the right amount of everything to operate properly.
Humans love order. Control. Everything in its place. That’s why we labelled some plants as weeds. Things in places we don’t want them to be. It’s why we prune our hedges, gather fallen leaves, and mow our lawns.
Or swap them for something completely artificial.
I don’t know when this trend became a trend, but I’ve been noticing it increasingly over the last few years. I get it. Lawns are a pain to maintain. They get muddy. They get grassy. There could be…creatures living in it. The horror!
The truth is, even traditional grass lawns are a waste of space. They became the desired household aesthetic somewhere in the 16th century, and a common theory bandied around is that they were introduced by European aristocracy as a show of wealth - he who could afford for land to lie unproductive for display purposes only must be doing well.
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But there are no ecological benefits of a closely cropped lawn. A lawn is a sterile monoculture, useful for very few organisms. The USA’s EPA reckons that 9,000,000 gallons of water are used to water lawns every single day. And that stat was from a few years ago, so add a few to it. Clearly this isn’t compatible with a world of worsening drought and accelerating biodiversity loss.
In Dan Zak’s excellent article for the Washington Post he exclaims:
The planet has accelerated its revolt against us and still we tend our lawns, one part of Earth we can control. Society falters, resources dwindle and, still, lawns.
Artificial grass is even worse. Just imagine the carbon emissions that come from extracting fossil fuels to convert into plastic to ship across the world to replace a garden with something that looks like grass - just because you don’t want your kids to get muddy when playing outside.
Future generations will see this for what it is: insanity.
So let’s ditch it all.
There’s a fantastic movement in the UK that’s been building steadily over the last couple of years called No Mow May. It’s an initiative from the fabulous organisation Plantlife, campaigning to make our gardens wild again.
Variety is the spice of life, and a healthy lawn isn’t close-cropped, emerald green monotony. It’s something with a bit of everything - long bits, short bits, and a healthy sprinkling of wilflowers throughout to feed insects. Given a bit of space, lawns can harbour a rich ecosystem of valuable pollinators and even lock away carbon from the atmosphere.
The iniative has been gaining wonderful steam and UK councils have jumped on the bandwagon. I was thrilled to hear the estate managers of our street in London are embracing No Mow May and letting things grow wild for a month. On a trip to Leeds over the weekend I was greeted by a sea of wild dandelions on every verge, spared the council’s anti-weed wrath for the good of nature.
Times are changing, and they’re changing fast. We can no longer afford to cling onto arbitrary traditions. We must challenge the norm and seriously question whether it’s something we can take with us into a new sustainable world.
The old-fashioned concept of the lawn is being reinvented around the West. Take these exciting examples of drought-tolerant gardens more appropriate for a Californian climate. Wild. Natural. Beautiful. And much lower effort.
After all, isn’t that what artificial lawns are all about? Less effort, more gain? If that’s the result we’re looking for, then letting a lawn grow wild is about as effortless as it gets. Imagine that - the pollinator-rich habitats you can create just by doing nothing.
So this May, see what nature has in store for you if you leave it alone for just a moment. You won’t be disappointed.