Jack Knox: Don’t mow your lawn in May, help save the planet
Good news: I thought I was lazy, but it turns out I’m an environmental superhero. Suzuki should have my picture on a t-shirt.
What I’m referring to is my accidental stuck with the No Mow May campaign urging Canadians to stop mowing the grazing this month. It is an effort led by the Nature Conservancy of Canada to help the contested pollinators that are so important to the life cycle.
It’s also another boost for those whose unkempt lawns, once considered an unflattering reflection of themselves, are now considered a symbol of environmental responsibility.
It was not always like this. In the 20th century, a manicured lawn was a sign of good citizenship, with recycling neatly segregated, a shiny car, and polished shoes.
A brown lawn, on the other hand, has been linked to people who drank Lucky Lager for breakfast, married close relatives, and owned dogs that looked like something out of a Stephen King novel.
But then came the summer of 2001 when Victorians were told to turn off their sprinklers after the South Island’s driest winter in a century. The new green became brown. Lush lawns became the equivalent of the Confederate flag, once hoisted with pride but now a source of shame. In recent years, drought embarrassment has become a thing on social media, with the hashtag #grasshole being applied to those who break irrigation restrictions.
And now we have No Mow May. Given our early spring, it probably should have been the less attractive No Mow April here on the island, but you get the drift.
The idea, says Jensen Edwards of the Nature Conservancy, is to give pollinators access to as much food and nectar as possible during the early growing season. All those little flowers in your lawn, the clover and the dandelion, are like a buffet for you when you really need it.
This is important as pollinators are in decline. Invasive plants, urban sprawl wiping out habitats, and overuse of pesticides have all conspired against mason bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, flower beetles, and other living things that we depend on for our growth. Rasen is her lifeboat. And, man, there are a lot of lawns, about 6.2 million of them in Canada.
“That’s a lot of green space and a lot of monoculture green space,” says Edwards.
In essence, the Conservation Agency – and other nature and wildlife organizations that support No Mow May’s efforts – are urging us to change the way we look at our farms. Edwards quotes his organization’s chief conservation biologist, Dan Kraus: “We see our lawn as an extension of our living room carpet, not a natural space.” We tend to cultivate them based on cultural conventions rather than the role they play in growing the Flowers play in Butchart Gardens and the Saanich Peninsula, Edwards says. You cannot grow your own strawberries, apples, and melons without pollination by wild insects. Can’t have the city of gardens.
Vancouver Island beekeepers have been saying the same thing for years. Immaculately manicured lawns and gardens leave no place for bees to settle down, it is said. They suggest leaving part of your garden untouched.
They also make a big fuss about the loss of native crops, the effects of pesticides, and the agricultural economy that encourages farmers to grow large fields with a single crop. The bees whose hives are set up in such places do not enjoy much variety in their diet. (“If you only fed your children with Timbits, they would not be healthy,” said a member of the beekeeping association of the capital region a few years ago.)
But I digress a little. The point the Nature Conservancy of Canada is trying to make is that while the average resident may be put off by the major challenges facing pollinators, it is possible not to mow our lawn as early or as often as usual. In short, our laziness is good for the planet.
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