Anyone who has looked out a window at their lawn on a blisteringly hot summer afternoon has had the same thought: Why am I going out to mow this again?
The seeding, nourishing, watering and cutting of lawns accounts for an incredible amount of harm to the environment when you factor in the pesticides for weeds, the gas to run the mower and the amount of water sprinkled on grass each summer. Not to mention the drudgery of maintaining a lawn that is usually just for show.
Lawns are a recent development on this planet. Two hundred years ago, only the wealthy had the idle time – and the servants – to maintain smooth expanses of manicured grass. Regular people, if they had any land, did the sensible thing. They grew food where they could, and let nature take care of the rest.
Anyone who has visited the Brandywine River Museum has noticed the wild state of the parking area. The unpaved lot is surrounded by a tangle of flowers and grasses that may strike people as untended weeds, but it's actually a carefully constructed habitat that is allowed to grow as nature intended.
The museum is one branch of the Brandywine Conservancy, an organzation that oversees the stewardship of the environment in Chester County, so the turf grass lawn around the Environmental Management Center, next door to the museum, has been something of an anomaly. This week, staffers and volunteers decided to tear up most of the labor-intensive lawn and put in plants that would blend harmoniously with the surrounding woodlands and the mini-nature preserve in the parking lot.
Combining locally grown plants and carefully chosen plant purchases, the small team of diggers will be putting nature back in charge of this little patch of land near the Brandywine River. Once things are completed at the end of this week, there will be little upkeep required, and the Conservancy will have taken one small step to help the planet.
If we all followed suit – by replacing unnatural grass in our yards with plants that were meant to be there – it would go a long way toward healing a planet that is increasingly out of balance. We probably will do no such thing, since nobody wants to be the first one to violate the suburban mandate for a well-manicured lawn. But wouldn't it be extraordinary if Mother Nature – and not bags of chemicals and smoke-spewing lawnmowers – did our yard work for us?
The next time you drive down the narrow lane to the parking lot at the museum, look to your left and appreciate what the butterflies, birds and local wildlife already know: Nature knows best.
Maybe we all should listen.