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My Flowery Mead

My Flowery Mead

Now you know why I chose the name commonweeder. I love common weeds. Otherwise known as wild flowers. In some circles.  I call this wildflower garden my flowery mead. Others may call it my lawn.

Lawns have become controversial because they can take a toll on the environment.  Herbicides and pesticides can runoff into streams and other waterways causing pollution and killing wildlife. Many people water their lawns when the weather is hot and dry, using that precious resource, water.  Many people (like me, or more specifically my husband) use power mowers that use gas and pollute the air.

There are various ways to cut down on this environmental toll. We never use chemical fertilizer. My husband thinks the grass grows quite fast enough, thank you very much.  I do lime the lawn periodically. That make nutrients available to all the plants in the lawn. I want to encourage the microbial and animal life in my lawn, not kill it.

We never water the lawn. Should it go dormant and brown, it will green up again when the rains come.

We mow as infrequently as possible. My husband and I do have different opinions about that.

We are trying to eliminate lawn. Some lawn has been turned into The Lawn Beds. The Daylily Bank, The Rose Bank and The Early Garden are in process. I’m also removing the grass from a wide strip next to the road and planting hydrangeas and barren strawberry ground cover.

This is planning season. There are many ways to create a sustainable lawn and many resources to help you do this. Paul Tukey has written The Organic Lawn Care Manual, available and bookstores and libraries. You can also log in to is SafeLawns website.

The Lawn Reform website also has advice and resources. You’ll see some of the best and most influential gardeners have joined this movement. Your lawn can be beautiful – and healthy for you and the environment.

Paul Tukey and Me

Paul Tukey and me

Last week I attended a Garden Writers workshop in Boston to learn about new trends in the garden, and in the blogs. Paul Tukey of Safe Lawns fame was on hand, too.  Although we had never met I did interview him last spring when I was doing a radio show in Beverley. Phone interview are a necessity in this world we we are all so spread out, but nothing beats talking to someone in the flesh.

Paul is the author of the Organic Lawn Care Manual which gives us information about caring for our lawns so that they are a healthful playground, and all the reasons why this is so important to our own health and the health of the planet.

Recently he learned that Health Canada (like our EPA) plans to ban all Weed and Feed lawn products. This has already been done on local levels, but this regulation will go into effect nationwide at the end of 2012. We might have something to learn here.

I’ve never fertilized our lawn. My husband says it grows quite fast enough. Nor have I used herbicide. I’m perfectly happy with my ‘flowery mead,’ but I am adding more goundcovers.

Babies and Lawns

My dandelion lawn in spring

My dandelion lawn in spring

Paul Tukey of Safe Lawns sent this moving letter:

“In the midst of planning movie premieres and national anti-chemical campaigns, our life as we knew it stopped suddenly when my wife went into labor at precisely 12:55 a.m. last Thursday. For the next several hours, I was either glued to a stopwatch or being gripped fiercely by my wife as her contractions grew closer and more powerful in succession.

Incredibly important questions came at us from all directions in those precious moments. We opted, for instance, to forego painkiller and intravenous tubes for my wife. We reasoned that an analgesic strong enough to sedate Katie might have unintended effects on our soon-to-be-born child. And we had long since decided to share the experience with only a nurse, Katie’s mom and a mid-wife. Medical doctors were probably only a pager away, but our goal was to replicate the simple, natural experience that had brought our older daughter, Aimee, into the world in 2006.

In the minutes after Angie Kathryn Boardway Tukey entered the world at 3:41 p.m. on Aug. 13, the profound decisions continued. We rejected the erythromycin ointment that the nurse might have applied to Angie’s eyes. We similarly turned away vaccination for Hepatitis B. We had studied these two practices ahead of time and decided that, based on our health history and risk factors, we just didn’t feel comfortable subjecting our daughter to potentially unnecessary chemicals in her first hour of life.

We live in a nation, fortunately, where parents can make those kinds of choices — and I’m not one to judge if and when parents make decisions about their children that are different from my own.  Health care is a personal and private and, by and large, we should probably all stay out of each other’s business.

As we exited the hospital two days later, however, I was immediately reminded of the health care choices that others make for us. Surrounding this beautiful facility — that attempts to fend off death just as it nurtures new life — acres of a weed-free green lawn stood as someone’s symbol of the hospital’s grandeur and excellence. With nary a dandelion, clover, plantain, bee or butterfly on site, the grass had recently been bathed in an imprecise coating of weed ‘n feed. At barely 10 a.m. on the 90-degree morning of our departure, laborers with no eye or ear protection were busily mowing and weed-whacking the grass that was already too short to withstand the heat of season.

I’m quite certain my wife and I were the only ones aware of the spectacular irony of this particular lawn. I’m sure it can be taken as a neon sign of my peculiar obsession that I was even thinking about toxic lawn chemicals on the day I was driving my daughter home for the first time.

For Angie’s sake, though, I feel the need to be more passionate than ever about this subject. Did you know that a recent study found traces of 287 different industrial chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of 10 random babies? Did you now that pediatricians are reaching near unanimity in their conclusion that these environmental exposures are the root cause of increases in childhood diseases ranging from autism to ADHD and leukemia? Did you know that lawn chemicals, in particular, are outrageously dangerous for developing minds and bodies?

So many toxic exposures cannot be controlled in this crazy world. Some that can, though, include lawn and garden chemicals. Two states, Connecticut and Illinois, have taken a look at the evidence and passed laws to eliminate lawn pesticides from schools and daycare centers. In Canada, courts have evoked the Precautionary Principle — otherwise known as better safe than sorry — as rationale for allowing lawn pesticide bans to sweep nationwide.

I’m sure the majority of the patients at our hospital saw that weed-free lawn as a sure sign they had come to the right place. I took that lawn as a symbol that — by and large in the United States — we have so much more work to do.

For Angie’s sake, the SafeLawns Foundation will keep at it. Thank you for being a part of this overwhelming, but attainable, challenge.”

Paul Tukey