I have to give my little dog, Teddy, credit for starting me on my landscaping reform journey. I have a habit of walking my dog in downtown Atlanta historic neighborhoods, so I can gaze nostalgically at the century-old bungalows and mansions in Atlanta’s oldest suburbs.
Over time, I became distracted on our walks by the little ‘caution’ signs on every front yard, and I was seeing these signs more frequently. I didn’t want my dog on those lawns; I didn’t want her to even sniff those yards. What could the landscapers be putting on the grass that warrants a caution sign? And why would homeowners want something potentially dangerous in their yard? In the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time researching the answers to those questions.
The answers have become my environmental preoccupation, and as my neighborhood has become more upscale, it’s become an issue I am living with every day. My home has become a little island of organic in a sea of Trugreen/Chemlawn and ‘Mow and Blow Guys’ with their loud, polluting leaf blowers.
Conventional landscaping practices do nothing to promote a yard as a healthy, functioning ecosystem. Of course, most homeowners are not thinking of their yard as a functioning ecosystem. Yards are seen solely as a means to enhance “the curb appeal”, not as a way to sustain birds or pollinators. Landscapers help homeowners choose the usual turfgrass, Begonias (annuals native to Africa), and Crepe Myrtles (Native to Asia), and then manicure it weekly, OCD-style. Not a twig or a fallen leaf rests upon these perfect lawns.
Yards are not considered nature. Lawns are extensions of living rooms, and the grass is living room carpet; the outdoor carpet needs constant vacuuming (or blowing), so the leaf blower brigade is needed as often as possible.
The advent of these horrendous tools—the leaf blower and lawn chemicals—have made it possible to have a compulsively neat and unnaturally tidy yard. It takes a great deal of herbicide, glyphosate, and polluting machinery to achieve this ‘unnatural’ look.
The rest of us pay a high price with the constant leaf blower noise, along with the chemicals that flow into the local stream every time it rains. If you use the normal rakes and brooms that we all grew up with, then you’ll have a ‘good enough yard’, but apparently that’s not good enough. For many homeowners, it’s pristine, fake, toxic golf-course-style landscaping and whatever it takes to achieve that is fine!
To enumerate some landscaping issues more concisely, I find that conventional landscapers fail to understand these concepts:
- Biodiversity is highly desirable, but conventional landscapers plant monoculture turfgrass and spray it with dangerous products to maintain that biodiversity. (Scientific American, “Outgrowing the Traditional Grass Lawn“ – weed-free flowerless grass lawns are a monoculture in microcosm.)
- Native plants are best for providing food for birds, but conventional landscapers plant exotics. (Audubon.org, “10 Plants for a Bird-Friendly Yard“ – insects evolved to feed on native plants and birds raise their young on insects.)
3. Peaceful and tranquil yards allow birds to call, communicate, and survive, but conventional landscapers blast raging leaf blowers. (Current Biology, “Noise Pollution Changes Avian Communities and Species Interactions” – Humans have drastically changed much of the world’s acoustic background with anthropogenic sounds that are markedly different in pitch and amplitude than sounds in most natural habitats [1, 2 , 3 and 4]. This novel acoustic background may be detrimental for many species, particularly birds .)
4. Organic is healthy, but conventional landscapers use 2, 4-D, Mecoprop-P and Dicambia and other herbicides on lawns and glyphosate on mulched areas and hardscapes. (EPA.gov, “EPA Proposes Stronger Standards for People Applying Riskiest Pesticides” – The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing regulations that will limit exposure to dangerous pesticides. These new rules are meant to reduce the incidence of diseases associated with pesticide exposure, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and lung cancer.)
5. Fall leaves provide a place for wildlife to look for insect food, but conventional landscapers cart them away. (Chicago Tribune, “Autumn leaves can add valuable nutrients to garden” – fallen leaves turn into a rich soil amendment when you add them to your compost pile.)
6.Fragrant native flowers draw pollinators, but conventional landscapers use polluting machinery that spews raw, unburnt fuel along with noxious fumes which make it more difficult for pollinators to smell/detect the life-sustaining plants they need. (Environmental Health Perspectives, “Air Pollution: Floral Scents Going Off the Air?” – Air pollution interferes with the ability of bees and other insects to follow the scent of flowers to their source, undermining the essential process of pollination, concludes a study by University of Virginia researchers.)
Included in this post are just a few of the infographics I’ve made and shared around social media in hopes of changing the current conventional landscaping paradigm.