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Photo: Meadowscaping for Biodiversity.
Laura D. Eisener, Massachusetts landscape architect and Meadowscaping design consultant, believes in giving people the skills to create their own environmentally sound landscapes.

For years now, my friend Jean has been spreading the word on biodiversity and the problems posed by our lawns. I think that Jean and her business partner, Barbara, have been especially savvy in teaching the principles of biodiversity to middle school kids in particular. It’s one way to influence a generation of parents addicted to lawn chemicals and at the same time raise the consciousness of a generation that will be responsible for the planet’s future.

Tik Root writes on biodiversity and lawns at the Washington Post: “For many Americans, [summer] means blankets of grassy green for kids to play in, or families to picnic on.

“There are an estimated 40 million to 50 million acres of lawn in the continental United States — that’s nearly as much as all of the country’s national parks combined. In 2020, Americans spent $105 billion keeping their lawns verdant and neat. But our grass addiction comes at an environmental cost.

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, maintaining those lawns also consumes nearly 3 trillion gallons of water a year as well as 59 million pounds of pesticides, which can seep into our land and waterways.

“Department of Transportation data shows that in 2018, Americans used nearly 3 billion gallons of gasoline running lawn and garden equipment. That’s the equivalent of 6 million passenger cars running for a year.

“As these issues are becoming more prominent in climate change discussion, there are steps you can take to more sustainably manage the impact of your lawn. … Having less grass and more plants is among the most important factors in keeping a yard eco-friendly.

“ ‘Lawn, ecologically, is dead space,’ said Doug Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware and author of ‘Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.’

“The solution, he says, is ultimately less lawn. He recommends people aim to cut the amount of turf grass in their yard in half. … Laying down mulch is one place to start. It quickly kills grass and offers a blank canvas for planting. … Invasive plants, Tallamy said, ‘are ecologically castrating the land around us.’ Native plants, on the other hand, often have deep root structures, making them good for storing water or providing drainage. They have also co-evolved for local conditions. …

“Eric Braun, the water resources manager for the town of Gilbert, Ariz., is quick to emphasize that water-friendly landscapes, also known as xeriscapes, don’t have to look like moonscapes.

“ ‘Xeriscape doesn’t mean one saguaro and a cow skull. It can be very lush and inviting,’ said Braun. ‘The number one thing was showing people that it can be a beautiful landscape.’ he said. …

“More broadly, Tallamy said native landscapes can help refocus our gardens on the ecological purpose of plants, which is to produce food. Plant energy gets passed up the food chain, often via insects. But many insects only eat one native plant species, or group of related plants. So, if we are planting nonnative plants, that food doesn’t necessarily transfer from creature to creature, and the ecosystem can stall.

Monarch butterflies, for example, famously rely on milkweed, and as the plant has become less abundant, the monarch population has plummeted. Bird species are also in decline, as are more than 40 percent of insect species. The United Nations estimates that, globally, 1 million plant and animal species are under threat of extinction.

“Tallamy said native flora better supports native fauna and, as a result, helps combat these declines. Tallamy is a fan of oak trees, which come in 91 native species, grow almost everywhere in the country and attract caterpillars, a key species for supporting other wildlife — to raise a clutch of chicks, a pair of robins needs between 6,000 caterpillars and 9,000 caterpillars in just 16 days, Tallamy said. …

“Others put less emphasis on nativity, and more on the diversity of species and types of plants in a yard.

” ‘Yes, we want natives but let’s be inclusive and not exclude plants that have come from somewhere,’ said Juliet Stromberg, a professor at Arizona State University, who was one of more than a dozen ecologists who wrote a letter arguing that a plant’s origin is less important than its environmental impact.

“ ‘What I would suggest is just loosening the reins a little bit,’ she said. ‘If you’re bringing in the plant that’s the same genus, the insects are going to be fine.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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veggarden

Photo: King Associates
Whether you call it edible landscaping, foodscaping, or front-yard farming, many landscapers around the country are helping homeowners convert work-intensive, enviromentally unsound lawns into productive gardens.

If you’re a homeowner and your yard is covered with snow right now, you may be dreaming of the beautiful lawn you will have in spring. You may even be imagining that you love having a lawn even though no one uses your lawn to picnic or play catch and that you enjoy mowing and spreading weed killer to give your home a green welcome mat until summer sun turns it brown. When you’re in a deep freeze, it’s easy to feel that everything about spring is fun.

But what if someone knocked on your door one day and offered to plant and care for a vegetable garden where your lawn is now, promising to give you a generous cut of the produce?

That is actually happening. Fleet Farming, for example, does this work in Orlando, Florida.

Their website says, “Fleet Farming is a non-profit urban agriculture program whose mission is to empower all generations to grow food to increase local food accessibility. Our Vision is to create localized food systems that bring communities together towards a healthier, more connected world in harmony with people and planet.

“We accomplish this by converting underutilized lawn space into productive localized edible gardens or micro farms. Our program works to provide edible landscaping to schools, community centers, affordable housing units, businesses and individuals through our community farming initiative and Edible Landscapes garden-installation service. Together, we are changing the cycle of food.”

The organization describes a 2018 project at its blog, here. “In May 2018, over 100 student volunteers from Rock Bridge Community Church in Northern Georgia came down to Orlando and partook in a series of action days in partnership with United Way. They aided Fleet Farming and Orlando Permaculture in revitalizing Audubon Park Covenant Church’s beautiful grounds.

“The students were a massive help in clearing bushes and planting new trees. They collaborated in shoveling and transferring fresh mulch to the church’s plentiful gardens. They showed a true sense of generosity and community.

“Every person, young or old, deserves the right learn how to grow their own food, and engage with nature and the outdoors. If you have a group who would be interested in working with Fleet Farming for a day of action, contact us at info@fleetfarming.org.”

You can also consider “donating” your lawn.

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In June I wrote (here) about my friend Jean Devine’s latest venture, “Meadowscaping for Biodiversity.” Jean hoped to get middle-grade kids involved in creating a meadow where once there was lawn juiced with chemicals — and learning how meadows provide habitat for many small creatures. She conducted a pilot program over the summer with her collaborator Barbara Passero and an 8th grade science teacher, Steve Gordon.

Jean e-mails her friends and fans, “We’re delighted to announce that our 8-week summer pilot of “Meadowscaping for Biodiversity” in Waltham, MA, was a great success! The three of us, along with a strong soil turner and a landscape designer, worked with a few boy scouts (and their mothers) to repurpose a 400 square foot plot on the east lawn of Christ Church Episcopal (750 Main St. across from the Waltham Public Library) into a meadow filled with native plants.

“Why did we do this? To engage youth in fun, project-based, outdoor education, while providing native plants as habitat — especially food source — for bees, caterpillars, butterflies, birds, etc.

“The end result? An aesthetically pleasing product and proof that Meadowscaping for Biodiversity, a generative/environmental education program, pays a solution forward to the next generation by inspiring, engaging, and empowering students to be problem solvers and stewards of the Earth. All involved, including the vendors who supplied plants and garden materials, were able to see that this program helps heal the Earth and improve outdoor educational opportunities for youth ‘one meadow at a time.’ Now all we have to do is convince funders, teachers, city planners etc. of the benefits of this program!”

If you fit any of those categories or just want to learn more, contact information is here.

biodiversity-kids

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It was good to have a little lawn when Suzanne and John were kids, but we gave up the hassle after they grew up. In place of a lawn we have a lovely ground cover called vinca. In spring the yard is entirely purple.

On the East Coast as fall approaches, many homeowners are thinking about taking advantage of cooler weather to rev up their lawns. But in the Southwest there’s a concerted effort to move away from the green carpet.

Ian Lovett writes at the NY Times that since 2009, Los Angeles “has paid $1.4 million to homeowners willing to rip out their front lawns and plant less thirsty landscaping.

“At least the lawns are still legal [there]. Grass front yards are banned at new developments in Las Vegas, where even the grass medians on the Strip have been replaced with synthetic turf.

“In Austin, Tex., lawns are allowed; watering them, however, is not — at least not before sunset. Police units cruise through middle-class neighborhoods hunting for sprinklers running in daylight and issuing $475 fines to their owners.”

In Las Vegas “in the last decade, 9.2 billion gallons of water have been saved through turf removal, and water use in Southern Nevada has been cut by a third, even as the population has continued to grow. …

“The idea that extensive grass lawns are wasteful has now taken hold with many people in this region, especially the young and environmentally conscious.

“And municipalities, hoping [the] savings can be expanded, have tried to entice more residents to dig up their lawns by offering more money. Last month, Los Angeles raised its rebate to $2 from $1.50 a square foot of grass removed. Long Beach now offers $3 a square foot.” Read more here.

Photos: Monica Almeida/The New York Times
Top, Flowering artichoke plants in Mitch and Leslie Aiken’s drought-tolerant yard in Pasadena, Calif. Below, the couple survey the effect of desert plantings.

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