Last spring I posted a piece on dandelions, after I had been struck by the preponderance of death-dealing chemicals in the ‘lawn and garden’ section at the local big box store. Moved today by the appearance of tractors spraying herbicide over large expanses of lawn on a beautiful spring day, I once again make a plea.
We can care for our lawns—and other green spaces in and around which we live—without using chemicals that kill.
How we treat our lawns is intimately tied to how we approach the natural world as a whole. Is it a gift to be received, with an order to be reverenced and stewarded, or is it something to manipulated according to our preconceived plans?
Over two thousand years ago Xenophon wrote, “For you’ll gain more produce by sowing and planting what the land readily grows and nurtures than by sowing and planting what you want.” He warned that when we plant we must have an eye for what the land ‘wants’ and that we err in focusing too much on what suits our fancy or convenience. In a similar way, and a fortiori, we should be attentive to which plants the land yields up to us unsolicited—growing in our own little corner of the world: our backyard.
If we take the time to learn the common ‘weeds’ that grow in our lawn we will find that many of them have wonderful properties. Maria Treben, a best-selling Austrian author on herbs writes that dandelions are “Nature’s greatest healing aid for suffering mankind.” Every part of the plant is thought to have healing properties—especially in the spring. Another great example is common plantain. Look up its picture and its properties; chances are both that you have it in your lawn, if you’ve avoided broad-leaf herbicides, and that you’ll find a use for it–such as in soothing bee stings. These are just two examples of the beneficence of nature at work in our own yards, if we but make the effort to learn, and to adjust our expectations and actions. The list goes on: white clover, burdock…
Some species indeed will rightly be deemed undesirable. There are safe and effective ways to remove these weeds without using poisons that kill whole classes of plants and may well have negative, even if unknown, side-effects on numerous other living things, including humans.
At the end of the day how we treat our lawns is not about the dandelions; it’s about our own identity. How we care for the earth has profound implications. The book of Genesis intertwines the human vocation and the tilling of the earth. For many of us our lawn is the most direct context in which we interact with the earth. How we act here sets the tone of our broader interaction with the natural world, and the order written into it. As the wise have always pointed out, all is interconnected.