Since I’ve lived in an apartment my whole life, my own experiences with lawns at home have been non-existent. However, I guess some of my first lawn memories are from first or second grade, when I used to go onto other people’s lawns to kick or blow dandelion seeds so that they’d disperse everywhere. When I visited my grandparents’ house in the Catskills of New York, their wide open lawn surrounded by woods was always the center of social activity. To my knowledge, they didn’t use pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. While many lawns are monocultures, at the time at least, their yard always seemed full of diverse little micro-habitats. In some areas, near the ferns, there would be soft, mossy patches, perfect for lying down to watch the stars or to pitch a tent and go camping. Closer to the road, there were lots of mushrooms, which were always a point of fascination for me, my brother, and my sister. On some nights, when we went camping behind the house, a particular species of fungus would light up. My grandparents also had a small garden; I loved to help by picking string beans or uprooting beets. Certainly, this was a lawn with a lot of personality.
I personally think that lawns have come to dominate far too much of the American psyche, eating up too many chemical inputs and money, and wrecking havoc on natural ecosystems. I am a strong advocate of using lawns for something more useful, like dedicating some space to small gardens. I also believe that public spaces are vital in any society; however, we should ask ourselves if the best land use is truly a monoculture of non-native grass. Perhaps we could also devote more space to native plants or grasses. Growing up in D.C., the shabbiness of the National Mall at times has been interesting to observe. Often, the grass can be brown in places, with some areas that are even bare dirt. The Mall gets a lot of usage, so this accounts for much of its condition. However, might it be possible to use different (native) grass species that are more adapted to the climate and rainfall of the region? Is it even worthwhile to have such a huge patch of lawn there? Perhaps parts of the Mall could be relandscaped to include other native shrubs and plants that produce food. Of course, enough space would have to be preserved for big gatherings.
In conclusion, I was fascinated by the fact that many lawn chemical companies actively try to discredit the consumption of dandelions. instead of incorporating these plants into your diet, many companies advocate spraying with pesticides to deal with the “problem”. For this reason, I’ve looked up a number of recipes for dandelions, including for wine, salad, syrup, and dressing. They are available here.