Gardening in Almonte: Get off the grass!!

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David

I find most advertising on television irritating if not downright insulting or offensive. However there are a certain group of advertisers, which emerge like worms from the thawing soil this time of year, that drive me to apoplexy! These are the purveyors of miracle lawn fixes that, not surprisingly, equate having the perfect lawn with being a ‘real man’. Why do they pitch these ads at the primarily male audience that is watching sports events? I suspect that it’s because most women are far too wise to fall for this cynical advertising. I admit though to a titillation of testosterone as two macho-looking dudes race down their respective lawns on super-charged shiny behemoths of grass mastication.

Is there anything wrong with having a perfectly uniform monoculture of rich green spears of grass carefully manicured to replicate a putting green? Many homeowners have obviously been sold on the concept and it is widely accepted in our society – for example real estate agents tout the enhanced curb appeal of a home framed by a lush green carpet. One of the most frequent questions that I have encountered at Farmers’ Markets while ‘manning’ the Master Gardener advice booth is how to improve my lawn – in many cases we are talking an acre or more of lawn!

You may have guessed by now that I’m not a big fan of the ‘ideal’ lawn. I admit that there is a certain aesthetic appeal to a uniform vista of green indoor- outdoor carpet stretching from curb to sidewalk to driveway to front porch. But what is the cost?

What are the effects on the environment of a monoculture crop that requires high inputs of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and water?

Much of the high cost of maintaining lawns can be attributed to the fact that the preferred variety of grass tends to be Kentucky Blue Grass. This is the ubiquitous lawn grass that is widely grown and is almost certainly the variety of grass that is used to achieve an instant lawn by rolling out the sod! Have you ever watched as builders of new homes put the final touches on the landscaping – a couple of inches of sketchy looking top soil is spread on top of heavily compacted  clay and rubble before the instant lawn is rolled out in all its verdant splendour. And immediately it is on life-support requiring huge transfusions of water.

Kentucky Blue is very well-suited for the production of sod because it has aggressive rhizomes (roots) that knit together to produce a very strong sod. Other grasses such as fescues do not have this aggressive rhizome production so can not be used commercially in the production of sod. What are the problems with Kentucky Blue Grass? Kentucky Blue is relatively high maintenance as it requires full sun, good drainage and fertile soil – it is not that well suited for our local climate as it tends to become dormant under extended drought and becomes vulnerable to the grubs of several beetles and it is of absolutely no use to our besieged pollinators. Other grasses such as fescues do very well in shady, dry, low- fertility areas but are only started by planting from seed. Other ground covers such as clover do not need to be fertilized and are not attacked by grubs.

My recommendation – get off the lawn maintenance treadmill- either rip up the whole thing and plant beds of flowers and vegetables or if you need a flat area for the kids and pets to romp on I can think of two possible approaches. The first is to rake out the dead areas, spread some compost and then over-seed with clover and fescue seeds. The second approach, and my preferred one, is to just let all those ‘weeds’ that you have been fighting have free rein. There are many plants that make quite suitable lawn plants. Many stay green and visually appealing through the heat of summer, some are quite drought tolerant and most have flowers and are very pollinator friendly.  One of the most visible is the lowly dandelion – it provides essential early pollen for pollinators, it is edible and it remains green through the seasons due to its deep tap-root – yet it remains public enemy number one for most gardeners. I also love the look of violets in the lawn but again many gardeners fear their ability to spread.

This is one area where summertime laziness is in perfect harmony with nature!

Let’s Make Augusta Park Community Garden Great Again!

Circle the date Saturday May 6 – this is the day for a work party to get the Neighbourhood Tomato gardens in Almonte ready for the growing season – both the Augusta Park Community Garden as well as the vegetable plots behind the Almonte Library. No need to register – just show up in your gardening attire anytime after nine in the morning!

Let’s help a neighbour!

The garden project at the community garden in Carleton Place had to be postponed a couple of weeks due to our very wet spring. Here’s an opportunity for Mississippi Mills gardeners to extend a helping hand (and shovel) to our neighbours in Carleton Place. A major project to rejuvenate the community garden next to St. Gregory School on Townline Road in Carleton Place is being spearheaded by the Lanark County Food Bank (aka the Hunger Stop) in partnership with existing gardeners at the site. It is being funded by a grant from Sysco Food and is supported by several local businesses. Circle the dates Saturday May 13 and Sunday May 14. Construction will be in full swing starting at 9 in the morning and going until dark (or until we drop). Come for an hour or two or for all day. Bring your wheelbarrows, shovels and rakes!