|The President’s Hoot|
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
“I love gardens. But the idea that you would turn your whole yard into a garden is a bunch of (expletive)” “You know you’ve got to be kidding me. Lawns are American…They are not harmful to the environment, and the only people who would say that are ignorant of the facts”. These are the words of Jim Hagedorn, the chairman and CEO of Scotts Miracle-Gro, the lawn-care empire, as quoted by Eve Samples in her recent TCPalm column entitled “Scotts Miracle-Gro study a challenge for Organization”.
Scotts Miracle-Gro Corporation is granting Ft. Pierce-based Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA) $500,000 to study water-pollution sources in the Indian River Lagoon. Mr. Hagedorn says Scotts will “step up to the plate” if the evidence shows, yes, fertilizers are harmful to the Lagoon. Yes, let science decide.
There certainly already is evidence that Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorus (P) are polluting in our freshwater stormwater ponds and canals. The presence of large cattail stands and green water in freshwater ponds actually provide good indicators that there is plenty of N and P present, even in subdivisions without septic tanks.
Our “American” lawns actually go back to English 17th c. history where closely cut “English” lawns began as a symbol of status of aristocracy and gentry. Only the wealthy could afford to keep land unproductive.
Is America obsessed with pristine, weed-free lawns? Have we succumbed to the advertisements in which neighbors vie for the lushest green grass? Lawns are our biggest U.S. crop, three times in acreage bigger than corn! Yet people starve. Good for Scotts’ bottom line, but does it make sense that we spend so much money to continually pollute our environment?
When will it be un-American to have a St. Augustine Grass Yard requiring fertilizers, precious water, and pesticides that pollute our Lagoon? It doesn’t need to be so. Here in Florida, new regulations allow homeowner associations to allow residents to forego lawns. We can have beautiful gardens using plants that do not require fertilizers, large amounts of water, and pesticides. Let’s learn that growing some of our own vegetables will reduce our carbon footprint and be more sustainable. Planting trees to shade windows and roofs will save you energy and clean the air.
For those who do not like to garden, have time, or be outside, could we train some of our existing lawn-care folks or others to help raise vegetables and fruit trees in their customer’s yards instead of grass? What a big change in our environment and eating habitats. It will not be easy, as turf, sod or grass is a monoculture exotic plant that does not require much expertise to care for. The only requirement is to follow the new strong fertilizer ordinances that, fortunately in Indian River County, are a beginning in the process of cleaning up the Lagoon.
Mr. Hagedorn’s lawn, apart from needing fertilizers, pesticides, and water, requires mowing. A new gasoline-powered lawn mower emits 93 times more pollution on a gallon-per-gallon basis than a new automobile. Along with that, there’s the noise that the mower engine, weed-whackers, and blowers make that can drive you crazy!
Our new Audubon Community Center will have a demonstration landscape garden for native plants that requires little care and provide classes on how to propagate plants. Your flower garden can become lively with butterflies, moths, and birds. Recently, Pelican Island Audubon provided 90 four-foot gardens in 13 Indian River County schools to show students how to produce food at home.
In my youth, everyone had a garden, and a compost pile for yard and food waste. We knew how to grow our own lettuce, tomatoes, various berries, carrots, onions, cucumbers, cabbages, peas, beans, etc., which tasted great and were very fresh. The gardens did not have to be big, and we preserved what we did not eat immediately for the future. Because we were outside, we talked to our neighbors and even traded vegetables and plants.
I am looking forward to the day when it is patriotic to have a garden again. I can dream, can’t I? Each of us can do our part to realize that dream.