I woke up this morning to find that summer had slipped in quietly during the night and made itself at home; a most welcome houseguest. And as I took my morning walk in the sultry air, the usual birdsong was joined by the white noise of cicadas and the pervasive buzz of lawnmowers. And that is what I wanted to talk to you about today; those buzzing mowers.
I get it; lawns are beautiful. Where I live, homeowners enjoy park-like lawns that undulate for miles around and it is true that they make me want to break out in croquet, have a picnic or simply roll around on the stuff until I itch.
Aside from their aesthetic appeal, lawns also provide a modicum of protection from the house egger, from bears, raccoons and skunks that would love to taste your particular vintage of garbage and even to the would-be thief.
However, these acres and acres of lawn are really harmful to the environment, to the eco-system and to your very own health. You see, the pollution from all those mowers is horrendous; for every hour an enthusiastic gardener runs a two-stroke gas-powered lawn mower, they produce the same pollution as driving a car for 320 kilometers (198 miles). Annually, gas-powered lawn mowers create about 80,000 tons of greenhouse gases and use 151 million litres (4 million gallons) of gasoline. There is fuel spillage and oil that ends up in the waterways or soil and the mowers themselves have to be replaced and maintained.
Lawns are often treated with artificial fertilizers and pesticides or herbicides to remove unwanted dandelions and other weeds. When your family and pets walk or play on the lawn, those chemicals get absorbed through the skin.
Then there is the threat to your own health; the inevitable heat stroke and sunburn that comes from all those hours mowing. There are 26 different poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that you breathe in, several grams of methane, nitrogen oxides and smoke particles as well as a pound or more of carbon monoxide.
More than 253,000 people were treated for injuries from lawn mowers in 2010. Almost 17,000 of those injuries were to children under the age of 19. The average lawnmower produces sounds that are 95 dB and above while the ‘safe’ sound level is 85 dB and below. That means that prolonged exposure to the sound of a lawn mower can significantly contribute to hearing loss.
Don’t worry; you don’t have to go cold turkey on the grass patch. Start by reducing the size of your lawn. You can augment this reduction by installing simple pathways of rocks, stepping stones or lumber. Ponds and water features also help to occupy all that new garden real estate.
You can slowly start introducing some lawn alternatives; perennial groundcovers that grow sideways so they don’t need to be mowed, but still provide a luscious green carpet for your tootsies. A really popular choice at the moment is microclover which spreads fast, looks great and flowers too. Opt for other hardy perennials such as dwarf dogwood, alyssum, tapien (verbena), sweet woodruff, cotoneaster, and bishops weed. You can also plant herbs like juniper, thyme, chamomile, and oregano which make for luscious, fragrant carpets.
When it’s time for you to retire to that big lawn party in the sky, and your life flashes before you, don’t let it be mostly images of you mowing the lawn. Instead of spending years of your life cutting the grass; read a book, learn to speak Spanish or take up backyard axe throwing. Ole!