Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Oh No, Gotta Mow. Again.

Lawn mower and half cut lawn.Ah summer. The sun, the pool, the beach. And the noise of a small engine turning a blade at 3,000 revolutions per minute. Yes, it's time to mow the lawn again.

Who decided to surround most suburban houses with a small, or not so small, grassy field? Depending on who you ask, the human cultivation of lawns began thousands of years ago or just a few hundred. Some cite humanity's longstanding desire for a clear field of vision in order to spot predators as a primal motivation to cultivating artificial, low cut meadows. Others point to the clearing of land around castles in medieval Britain and France to prevent attackers from approaching fortifications unobserved. Others note the village commons, a shared cleared space for the grazing of everyone's livestock.

Whatever the ancient history of lawns might be, the rise of the lawn as a symbol of American suburbia is dated to the late 1940s with the building of the first Levittown development on Long Island. The suburb was the first American suburb to come with lawns. Neighborhood newsletters emphasized the importance of keeping one's lawn neat and trim (lawn shaming?) and included lawn care tips. According to a recent Freakonomics podcast episode, nearly 2% of land in America is some type of lawn. That's more than the 1.3% of the country that's paved.

Book cover: Lawn Gone!
These days, a perfectly manicured lawn is not always met with universal acclaim. Concerns about water shortages, pesticides, noise pollution, and other environmental impacts have many rethinking the lawn as a suburban staple. A few years ago, for instance, Montgomery County became the first large municipality to ban cosmetic pesticides from use on most lawns. Native plants, more trees, gardens, and clover are all being proposed as greener alternatives to the traditional turf lawn. The University of Maryland Extension program, part of the agriculture department, has a page suggesting alternatives to a conventional lawn.

Of course MCPL has a number of resources about lawns and landscaping to help keep your property splendid. There are standard lawn care books, such as Lawns: 1-2-3: Expert Advice from the Home Depot, as well as eco-friendly titles such as Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard.

If you've got questions about your greenery, MCPL can help. From April through September, master gardeners from the Montgomery County Cooperative Extension are available at branches throughout the county to answer your questions about your garden, lawns, and landscaping. This service is free and no registration is required.

Whether you love lawns or loath them, MCPL is here to help you make your garden, yard, and life a little greener.

Mark S.

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