Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

The Dandelion Yard

People put a lot of attention into their yards, using them as a way of defining themselves and a way of presenting themselves to the world. Yards aren’t just yards for most people; they’re statements.

They plant shrubs and flowers, trees and pools, boulders and sculptures – but mostly they plant grass. Fescue and rye, bentgrass and kikuyu, zoysia and bluegrass. Different shades of green that they water and fertilize, nurturing the sod and obliterating the weeds that dare show themselves.

Infestations of dandelions and creeping Charlie, crabgrass and quackgrass, clover and broadleaf plantain: all these must be destroyed so as to display the most perfect lawn for the world (or at least the neighborhood) to see.

This conception of a beautiful lawn arises from the lawns we’ve seen of European gardens, like Versaille and Buckingham Palace, where tremendous effort has produced amazing vistas and lush growth, grounds truly worthy of the royalty who reside therein.

But a few people see their yards differently; these people like dandelions and creeping Charlie. They see the proliferation of color – yellow and purple and green – and wonder why anyone wants to settle for a lawn that’s only green, only grass, regimented and fertilized and groomed to within an inch of its life.

They’re willing to incur the wrath of their neighbors over the windblown seeds of destruction that emanate from their tiny but oh so numerous weapons.

Another group concedes that green lawns look prettier to our conditioned eyes, but they refuse to put chemicals on their lawns, not wishing to contribute to increased algae growth in lakes and streams. The fancy word for the problem is eutrophication – excessive richness of nutrients in a body of water that can cause dense growth of plant life and the death of animal life due to a lack of oxygen.

According to NOAA, 65 percent of US estuaries and coastal water bodies are moderately to severely degraded by excessive nutrient inputs, which lead to algal blooms and low-oxygen (hypoxic) waters that can kill fish and seagrass and reduce essential fish habitats.

Most of the problem seems to be nitrogen and phosphorus, which often comes from fertilizer runoff, septic system effluent and atmospheric fallout from burning fossil fuels. These nutrients cause increased algae growth, which blocks sunlight, eventually killing plants, which are then eaten by bacteria, which use up the remaining oxygen and give off carbon dioxide.

I live on a small lake (more of a pond) that gets covered in algae by early June, essentially becoming a swamp. I watch my neighbors fertilize their yards, preserving their precious grass, criticizing my dandelion and creeping Charlie-covered lawn as an eyesore while they bemoan the sorry state of the lake, wondering why someone doesn’t do something about it.

I no longer engage in futile arguments with them over the proper way to maintain one’s property. I just smile and walk away.


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