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‘Why Would Anyone Want a Lawn Like That With No Flowers, Daddy?’

The property line of our new home is abundantly clear to our young daughters.

The property line of our new home is abundantly clear to our young daughters.

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.

Birds-foot trefoil is just the latest in a satisfying barrage of lawn flowers my daughters have enjoyed this spring. The trefoil is a legume that fixes nitrogen from the atmostphere . . . but my daughters just like the bright yellow flowers.

Birds-foot trefoil is just the latest in a satisfying barrage of lawn flowers my daughters have enjoyed this spring. The trefoil is a legume that fixes nitrogen from the atmostphere . . . but my daughters just like the bright yellow flowers.

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 . . .

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1024
  • Vel N

    Good luck!

    I saw “A Chemical Reaction” last week at the local community college in Lake Co, IL. We have a quarter-acre and most of it is native prairie forbs and grasses, and a big rain-garden. What little turfgrass we have is not-treated. Though after finding your website, I plan to implement some of the methods to get the grass thicker and greener. I love the dandelions and dutch white clover as it adds a nice variety to the monoculture.

    A comment I have about Birdsfoot Trefoil (and crown vetch), is that they tend to take-over and suffocate the native midwest prairie plants as they aren’t adapted to dealing with such aggressive species.

  • http://www.gardengreenlandcare.com Catherine Scott

    Welcome to Rhode Island! We’re glad you’re here!
    - Garden Green Land Care, Bristol

  • Gloria Snodgrass

    Thanks for coming to RI. We can use you here. This blog entry reminded me of how much I enjoyed your writing at your magazine (PPP). . . the most sorely missed publication of the many that have gone under in this economy.
    Gloria

  • L

    It all starts with building a relationship with your neighbors. Before you can talk to them about their pesticide use, you have to show you care about them and their kids. Of course, when they ask what you do, it’s an open opportunity. I take any opening I can get to talk about weeds and pesticides with neighbors. Best of luck!

  • Ernest G.

    Paul,
    The lawn on the left, if it’s yours, wouldn’t fly with my customers. What am I supposed to do . . . when they all want the lawn on the right?
    Ernest G. “The Green Guy”

    • Paul Tukey

      Ernest,
      When we ask people to go organic, we’re not asking them to accept a sub-par lawn in terms of its visual appeal. Even my wife isn’t happy with the presentation of the lawn right now, even though my daughters love all the wildflowers that are popping up naturally. But I just moved in yesterday. It will take time to get a soil test conducted, to make the necessary soil adjustments by adding, I’m guessing, high-calcium limestone or gypsum, as well as compost and compost tea. When I do all those things, my new lawn will be closer to the neighbors’ lawns in color, but will still have a few patches of clover, dandelions and trefoil. My daughters wouldn’t want it any other way.

  • http://www.organicgreensolutions.com Andrew Boshears

    Looking forward to hearing more…Good luck Paul and thank you for sharing.

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