‘Why Would Anyone Want a Lawn Like That With No Flowers, Daddy?’
I made the announcement to friends, family and SafeLawns followers several months ago. In retrospect, it was like one of those Save-the-Date cards that we mail out to let folks know we’re having a party, wedding or festival.
I would soon be moving to Rhode Island, I said back then, leaving the only state I had ever called home.
Since that time life had been the usual springtime whirlwind of almost constant travel to lecture at venues across the United States and Canada, but with this year bringing in the added twist of launching an organic lawn research project in Maryland, finishing a book for release next spring and, incidentally, moving a family and 50 years of accumulated stuff across three states.
Up to now I’ve been visiting Rhode Island from Maine. Today Rhode Island is officially a second home.
I’m excited almost as much as I’m anxious. In Maine, thick stands of oak trees separated us from our neighbors; here, in our rented home, we can hold pleasant patio-to-patio conversations without raising our voices. In Maine, I might need a map to find a fishing hole in an unnamed territory in the North Woods, but otherwise know pretty much every turn of every road from Kittery to Orono. Here, in a state roughly one 30th the size of Maine, I still use my GPS to find my way to the next town.
Those neighborly conversations, I’m guessing, will become interesting sooner than later. In Maine, where I’ve been the local NBC gardening guy for more than 15 years, most folks knew my stance on pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Here, for the most part, I’m just the unknown resident of the only house on the cul-de-sac that allows so-called weeds to grow.
That was a requisite on our search . . . that the rental home not have been sprayed by pesticides. Our lawn is a patchwork of clover, dandelions, plantain and, this week, birds-foot trefoil that is blooming in bright, Big Bird yellow. My daughters think it’s the greatest lawn ever, with nature providing fistfuls of different flowers each week since they arrived here in late April.
And keeping them at home is spectacularly easy, since the property line is so clearly delineated by the neighbors’ neon-green grass.
“Why would anyone want a lawn like that with no flowers, Daddy?” asked my 4-year-old.
“Because they don’t know any better,” I said.
Therein lies the interesting rub. I often try to educate people about how to talk to their neighbors about pesticide use. Now I’ll have to practice what I preach. Just across the street a lovely family features two children under the age of 4. The homeowner mulches with compost, but also kills every weed in sight with God knows what.
Next door, the Dad endeared himself to me instantly with a warning to keep my daughter away from a dangerous pothole in our new yard. And yet, with at least three children I’ve seen living at his house, he used his day off last week to spread the chemicals that keep his lawn among the “greenest” in the neighborhood.
We closed our windows that day. Otherwise we stay on guard until our nostrils alert us to the latest affront on our health.
On the bad days, I want to charge across the street, or over the abutting lawn, and start hollering and screaming. My wife always holds me back and, instead, encourages me to lead by the example of getting our organic lawn into shape. It will still have flowers for our daughters, but it can admittedly be greener. She’ll allow me to put out a couple of our “Safe to Play: No Pesticides, No Way” signs. And she encourages me to — politely — answer questions from anyone who questions the way we choose to garden in the place I must call home starting today.
I’ll let you know how this goes . . .