Many views of a healthy earth are misguided by desired appearances, such as the perfect lawn; these are promoted without an understanding of nature and its ecosystems. The Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank decided to spend his winter months learning the difference between native and invasive plants, and landscapes that contribute to the loss of species vs those that feed them. He decided to learn how to be a part of the solution to the mass extinction of species. His article is titled “I’m no genius with genuses, but your garden is killing the Earth.” He concludes that “if you have a typical urban or suburban landscape, your lawn and garden are dooming the earth.”
Many households have been sold the pitch that living the American dream (or something of the sort) includes a well-manicured green lawn. Companies can regularly spray a yard with chemical pesticides and fertilizers at affordable prices for most suburbanites. Milbank’s article explains that due to the green yard obsession, “turf now covers some 50 million acres (the country’s largest and least useful irrigated crop). Lawns suck up water and they don’t sequester as much carbon as forests and prairies. The resulting loss of native plants in our fragmented urban and suburban landscapes deprives both plants and animals of the contiguous habitats they need to breed.”
The article also addresses his newfound knowledge of the many invasive plants that have populated yards, notably burning bush, Japanese barberry, Asian bush honeysuckle, English ivy, and rose of Sharon, among others. Botanists suggest converting parts of lawns to native plants, planting trees, especially oak trees, and minimizing invasive species. Milbank was convinced and “took a small step in the painful task of killing my beloved lawn. In a couple of seasons, if all goes well, my yard will be full of pollinators, birds and other visitors in need of an urban oasis.”
“To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.” Mary Davis
Julie Peller, Ph.D., is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ). Julie has been writing a weekly column for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.