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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

... And Ban the Mowers

Air Date: Week of January 16, 1998

For some folks, banning leaf blowers is not enough. They want to get rid of the whole concept of manicured landscapes, including lawns. There are about 30 million acres of lawn in America. That's a grass carpet about the size of Alabama. And commentator Andy Wasowski says its just too much. Mr. Wasowski is the co- author of "Gardening with Native Plants of the South." He comes to us with help from KERA in Dallas.

Transcript

KNOY: For some folks, banning leaf blowers is not enough. They want to get rid of the whole concept of manicured landscapes, including lawns. There are about 30 million acres of lawn in America. That's a grass carpet about the size of Alabama. And our commentator Andy Wasowski says it's just too much.

WASOWSKI: I've got an old friend in Texas who saw a lot of action in World War II and has a silver star to prove it. One day I asked him if the 2 fingers missing from his hand were combat wounds. He looked at me sheepishly. "No," he growled, "I lost them to my damn lawn mower."

Well, that got me thinking. Why do we mow in the first place? Well yeah, I know, because we have lawns. But why do we have lawns? And why do we insist they look like the tops of pool tables? Well for that you can blame a guy named Frank J. Scott, no relation to the seed company. In 1875 he wrote a book called The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds. It quickly became the landscaping bible for America's homeowners. In it, he said, a smooth, closely-shaven surface of grass is by far the most essential element of beauty on the grounds of a suburban home. Today, we're still feeling the impact of Mr. Scott's book.

The typical American landscape is mowed, pruned, raked, weeded, and shaved to within an inch of its life. the dominant weekend sound in a typical suburban neighborhood is not kids playing, but the eardrum-shattering noise of power mowers, power pruners, power edgers, and perhaps the most diabolical of all, power leaf blowers. And yet, how has this overly-manicured landscape really benefitted us? It forces us to work long hours keeping it alive. This kind of landscape is on an artificial life support system; it can't exist without us.

For one thing, lawns have a drinking problem. On average they guzzle from 40% to 60% of our household water, which is crazy when you realize that most parts of this country have serious water shortages. We want our lawns to be perfect in every way, so we anoint them with an incredible array of chemicals that kill weeds and garden pests. Trouble is, these toxics also kill the soil itself and then get into our groundwater.

The typical lawn-centered landscape is also, frankly, boring. It's a clone of every other landscape from coast to coast. There's no sense of place, no celebration of the uniqueness and beauty of your own part of the country. So maybe after all these decades, we should take a hard, critical look at our lawns and finally figure out that life is a lot easier and better all around when we stop fighting Mother Nature and start working with her. A more natural looking landscape filled with plants native to your area will not only help our environment. It will also let you put that mower away in the garage and let it rust. After all, what's it ever done for you except give you blisters?

KNOY: Commentator Andy Wasowski is the coauthor of Gardening with Native Plants of the South. He comes to us with help from KERA in Dallas.

 

 

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