Sunday, May 16, 2010

Saving the World, One Dandelion at a Time

I'm really trying not to get all discouraged and pessimistic about the news coming out of the southern Gulf coast, even as things get worse and the images look more and more like blood oozing from Mother Earth herself. I spend as much time as I can enjoying the peculiar mix of nature and culture that defines my half-acre of suburbia, and few things are more smile-provoking than "puppies" lounging amidst the stand of wild gladiolus I'm naturalizing near the vegetables.

My original intention today was to offer an annotated list of things we can do to wean ourselves from dependence on petroleum products, so I was encouraged when the Daily Poop ran a back-page story in the Points section on letting nature have her way with the front yard. Of course, it was too good to be true to think I'd found a fellow local supporter of laissez-faire gardening; the article is a reprint from today's New York Times: The Dandelion King, by Robert Wright.

What the folks who walk by my house and scowl at my sort-of-tidy, but unorthodox, front lawn don't realize is that they benefit personally from my refusal to use chemicals on my lawn to kill perfectly legitimate plants that don't have societies devoted to them. I do have roses and irises and the like, but I also have what most people regard as weeds. Just the other day, when the Beloved Spouse was preparing to mow (with our electric lawn mower, 150 ft. cord and all), he asked me to show him what to leave: the morning primroses, blue-eyed grass, and yellow something-or-others that I intend to transplant to a particular portion of the front spread that I'm planning to de-grass.

Actually, there's not much grass anyway. A few stray strands of Bermuda grass cling to their very lives (leftover from the previous owner's attempt to deal with the one really sunny patch at the front of the house; most of it's shaded for most of the day), but the variegated Artemesia and Greek oregano I planted in the border last year are about to do them in.

I'm also trying not to be smug about my efforts to reduce my own dependence on stinky black goo. My environmental science-teacher colleague laughed last week when I told her I'd bought a Honda Insight, and told me that there'd been an entire South Park episode devoted to the quality shared by many of us who drive hybrid vehicles: our sense of moral superiority over lesser mortals.

Alas, I don't watch South Park (or much else besides baseball), so I missed it, but I get her point--although I'm still not going to take the "I support clean energy" magnet off my bumper.

In my neck of the woods tree-hugging in any form has not usually been seen as an admirable activity. If, however, the publication of the Robert Wright article (and the brief bit that ran below it, by Scott McElwain on organic lawn care) is a harbinger of things to come, things may be looking up.

Home landscaping, in the end, offers us the quickest and easiest way to initiate change. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and other garden products are completely unnecessary. Organic gardening is neither difficult, nor expensive--although it can be time-consuming if you make all of your products yourself. But compost is easy to make, worm bins are easy to maintain, pest deterrents are simple and cheap to concoct, and none of this is rocket science.

If your yard is small enough, a push-reel lawn mower can do the job and provide you with exercise. For larger spaces, electric mowers (battery-powered ones omit the need for the long cord) are quiet and efficient and (considering the price of gasoline) relatively inexpensive to buy and maintain. There is no earthly reason to use gas-powered tools at all, since trimmers and chain saws come in electric models and nobody needs a leaf blower for any reason (even though they come in electric varieties as well).

If everybody who is physically capable of doing so were to pick up a rake, a broom, a dandelion puller-outer (if you simply cannot abide those pretty yellow blossoms and seed-heads that children love so much, and the leaves that taste so good in salads), we'd all breathe easier and weigh less.

One man's weed, as they say, is another man's bouquet. If I had pulled up that single wild gladiolus ten years ago and pitched it in the compost bin, I wouldn't be blessed each year with a growing field of them, taller and taller every season. Nor would I have generated a mullein farm, or mounds of Virginia creeper and honeysuckle that cover ugly bits of old fence. The scented garden I'm blessed with each spring and summer wouldn't be nearly as sweet. Of course, I also wouldn't be plagued by poopy Cedar Waxwings either, but those I can live with.

Letting unidentified plants grow has led to some magical moments in the Accidental Garden, including the basketflower that pops up every other year or so near the woodpile. Or the blue-eyed grass that makes its way around the property, year by year. Or the occasional wild flower that finds a happy home amidst the leaf-mold in heavily treed spots.

And now, thanks to Robert Wright, I can smile smugly every time I save the life of a dandelion.

1 comment:

Ellen Sandbeck said...

You're a gardener after my own heart! Those monoculture maniacs don't know what they're missing.