Lawn is an outdated cultural norm. Let’s lose them – before we lose the pollinators

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There are approximately 6.2 million lawns in Canada. If any of these are yours, count yourself part of a long history rooted in wealth and status. But what was once a symbol of being wealthy enough to own land and not farm it is now an outdated cultural norm — one that does us and the species that support us a disservice.

In 17th-century England, only wealthy landowners could afford a peatgrass monoculture, tended first by animals and then increasingly by poorly paid laborers. Lawn was intended to distinguish the aristocrats from the peasants and became one of the first signs of mass social acceptance of waste. After all, the country was just for show.

The lawn mower eventually replaced the scythe as the tool of choice. By the mid-20th century, lawnmowers—along with turfed suburbs—were in widespread use, and appropriate equipment and chemicals of various kinds were developed to further entrench the turf standard.

However, it is 2022, not 1950, and we are experiencing biodiversity and climate crises. Wild species around the world, including pollinators, are declining at a frightening rate.

Today is the last day of National Pollinator Week, an annual celebration of pollinator awareness and action. Where better to start this important work than on the front lawn?

If we converted just a quarter of each of Canada’s 6.2 million lawns to native plant communities, it would create more than 14,000 hectares of pollinator habitat. This new approach is not a burden; It is a fascinating and hopeful experience that will change the way you see people and our place in nature.

Replacing peat grass with native plant gardens at home, school or work is an excellent way to respond to climate change and biodiversity loss. It will give you hope for a brighter future for all, and it will introduce you to a new set of neighbors – some with iridescent wings, some with shiny armor, and some with six legs! Getting started doesn’t have to be daunting.

  • Start by adding a variety of woody and soft-stemmed native plants. Aim for a series of blooms so pollen and nectar are available from spring through fall. For example, pussy willow is a beautiful shrub that supports pollinators early in spring, while goldenrod and various aster species support them in late summer and fall.
  • Try to preserve natural debris, including dead stems and dry leaves. What may seem chaotic to some people is wildlife habitat, especially wintering insects. Birds also need natural waste such as dry grass and vine branches to build their nests in the spring.
  • Finally, ditch the leaf blower and chemicals. Blowers destroy habitats above and below the ground while polluting the air, and pesticides and fertilizers kill some pollinators and negatively impact others.

What was once considered a status symbol by many is now a sign of our separation from nature. Let’s say goodbye to the outdated turf standard and take care of the wild species on which our survival depends.

Colleen Cirillo is a Rewilding Communities activist at the David Suzuki Foundation.

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