Thanks to five or so years of drought, Southern Californians have spent a lot of time thinking about our grass. But we’re not the only ones rethinking our lawns.
In his recent article in the New York Times, Paul Bogard, a writer who teaches creative nonfiction and environmental literature, asks why should we just grow grass when there’s so much more that could be grown right outside our front door:
“Right outside our door, right beneath our feet lies a chance to make dramatic differences in the health of our human and ecological communities — and save a lot of money. Turf grass (meaning mowed) is now the nation’s largest irrigated crop; we grow three times as much turf grass as we do corn, and far more than any other country. Our turf grass lawns — including those of corporate campuses and business parks — total 40 million acres, or 60,000 square miles, the size of Georgia. To care for all this lawn, we spend $40 billion annually, more than we spend in direct foreign aid.
What if, instead of seeing lawns primarily as decorative, the more uniform and manicured the better, we saw them as living ground?
Unpaved ground is bursting with life. A teaspoon of healthy soil holds millions of species, and far more microorganisms than there are people on earth. And this isn’t just the soil found in untrammeled nature, but even beneath our busiest lawns. For example, microbial ecologists using DNA sequencing have found — in New York City’s Central Park — a diversity of soil organisms equal to anything they might have found in a tropical rain forest.”
The movement to replace the turf grass with alternative grasses has taken hold in Los Angeles. One need only look around to see fine examples of how wonderful and appropriate these new plants and grasses can be in our historic neighborhoods. But you need not give up all your turf to make a difference. Bogard suggested starting with a small patch. Some wonderful new front gardens have been created by increasing the plants and reducing the lawn.
Even a small change can make a large difference, suggests Bogard. “In a world where the question often arises of what one person can do to resist, contribute or make a difference, here is an answer that begins right outside our door.”