The lawn war is over, if we want it

A dandelion grows near U.S. Highway 6 on the south side of Iowa City on Wednesday, May 11, 2011.  (Matt Nelson/SourceMedia Group News)
A dandelion grows near U.S. Highway 6 on the south side of Iowa City on Wednesday, May 11, 2011. (Matt Nelson/SourceMedia Group News)

A few weeks ago, we finally succumbed to the fast-growing peer pressure carpeting so much of our suburban existence in a flawless expanse of spring green.

Yes, our lawn is a mess. A source of annual chagrin. Grass barely makes a top-five list of plants residing on our patch of north Marion. Dandelions rule, their kingdoms anchored in compacted suburban clay.

Our neighbors are far too kind to mention out loud our sorry state of botanical affairs, or the windblown implications for their own yards. Sure, there’s been a joke or two around the fire pit about the dandelion house. All in good fun. As far as we know.

Our chemical resistance finally seemed futile. We felt the pressure to make our lawn great again.

So my wife and I trekked to a big box store, where we obtained a jug of “Weed and Feed.” I attached it to a garden hose and sprayed its noxious caldron around the front yard. The pungent smell of American biochemical supremacy filled the air. Surely, the dandelion kingdoms would whither.

But after a few days, the defiant dandelions simply shrugged and bloomed. Was that laughter, or just the wind?

It was akin to that scene in “Independence Day” when the president orders our military to nuke the aliens. But when the smoke clears, their spaceships are untouched. Earth appears doomed.

Which brings me back to our lawn, where I grimly planned a last-ditch counter attack.

Then came word the lawn war is over, if we want it. There can be peace in our patch. I had been led to chemical-based horticulture, but I didn’t have to like it. Could it be true?


The Gazette’s Orlan Love chronicled the Good Neighbor Iowa project, an effort meant to rewire our “perfect lawn mentality” and “totally turn upside down the cultural construct that there is something dirty and unsightly about diversity of plants in a lawn,” said Kamyar Enshayan, director of the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education. So-called weeds, the project’s proponents contend, can be part of an attractive yard that’s healthier for kids, pets and pollinators. Yard “diversity” even includes dandelions.

“We have somehow gotten it into our heads that we’ll be thought of as not good neighbors, not good Americans if we are not spraying our lawns,” Enshayan said, according to Love’s story.

Changing our heads won’t be easy. Mine is pretty thick.

For starters, lawn service guys are all over our neighborhood. Smiling and spraying. They send us glossy mailings. They hang fliers on the door. They’ll take care of it. All of it. No worries. You’ll never again have to hear weedy laughter in the wind. Very tempting.

Our weedy traditions run as deep as a dandelion’s root. My agricultural ancestry has been spraying weeds for generations. The desire for a green carpet is sewn into our social fabric. I’ve personally been exposed to thousands of herbicide commercials while watching or listening to Hawkeye games. I’ve learned to loathe waterhemp, lamb’s quarters and fall panicum.

I also blame golf. Every April, just as lawns start to green, just as Turf-Builder ads build, there’s The Master’s. Gaze upon Augusta National in high definition for four days, then go out and get an eyeful of your weed patch. It’s a feeling of shame and inadequacy unlike any other.

So change is tough. Maybe we can look to the young and the old. For kids, dandelions, violets, etc. are a magical bounty picked for fun and exchanged for maternal gratitude. For years my mother loved making me squirm mightily with her repeated recalling of the time, as a wee tyke, I looked upon a big patch of dandelions and proclaimed, “Look what God did!”

My dad, a lawn warrior who, back in the day, likely muttered far less obnoxiously cute observations about God and dandelions, is now 85 and has embraced the notion of a yard filled with plenty of “green plants” and “yellow flowers” each spring. “Why would I worry about it?” he says.

I agree. Why would you?

We’ve planted loads of prairie flowers, milkweed and native plants in our yard, attracting bees, birds and butterflies. It makes little sense to wage needless chemical warfare all around them.


Not all spraying is bad. Some invasive stuff deserves a dousing. But, as a native Iowan, It just feels wrong to favor some grass from Kentucky over sturdy weeds from my own ‘hood.

So we’re declaring a truce, a lawnistice. Sure, the neighbors may roll their eyes at our upside-down cultural construct. And, yes, the dandelions will keep laughing it up.

Until they hear the mower start.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman#thegazette.com



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