Monday, April 5, 2010

Beautiful weeds

Saturday's mail brought us a flier from Lawn Doctor, offering to help us get a "lush, green, weed-free lawn." This description is so unlike our current lawn that I couldn't help wondering whether they had sent around spies to scope out the yards in the area and target the folks that they assumed were most in need of help. Our yard has become more or less a safe haven for weeds of all kinds, from chickweed to dandelions to wild garlic. One whole slope in our backyard is thickly covered with purple dead nettles, which look beautiful in the morning sunlight as I hang out the laundry. Yet I realize that the sight of this thick, lush growth would sent many if not most homeowners running for a bottle of Roundup. This fact moves me to wonder: who exactly decided that these flowers are "weeds," anyhow? Whose idea was it that the ideal lawn should be a thick, dense carpet of turfgrass with nothing else in it? Why is grass better than dandelions?

My handy desktop dictionary defines a weed as "a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants." So basically, these various wildflowers are only weeds if you don't want them where they are. I'll readily agree that in my garden, a dandelion is a weed, because it's using up water and nutrients that I want to save for my tomatoes. But a lot of people seem to assume that every part of the yard should be filled with "cultivated plants," and therefore wild plants of any kind, anywhere, must be weeds. This seems like an awfully wasteful approach, since it requires you to get rid of all the plants that grow naturally in your yard, with no assistance from you, and put in plants that don't grow there naturally, which will require constant attention from you to keep them looking their best. For example, to keep a grass lawn looking good, you have to mow it, water it, fertilize it, and, oh yes, exercise constant vigilance to keep out the "weeds." (Or you can pay someone like Lawn Doctor to do it, to the tune of about $300 a year. Sure, you may have to stay inside for a couple of hours after they've sprayed all those chemicals around, but isn't it worth it to have a "lush, green, weed-free lawn"?)

So what's the ecofrugal alternative? Well, here's one that's really simple: if only unwanted plants are weeds, then all I have to do to get a "weed-free" lawn is to declare that all plants are welcome in my yard. Without pulling up a single plant, I'll have eliminated all the "weeds" by declaring them to be non-weeds, and it won't cost me a cent!
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