There is a certain irony that some of my friends think of me as a nature-loving tree-hugger.
Growing up in New York City, I rarely saw a tree except for visits to Central Park or the Botanical Gardens. Just about everything else in my childhood was brick and mortar or steel skyscrapers.
Not too long ago, I was having a discussion with some friends and neighbors about keeping our community as nature-friendly as possible. One person commented we do that already: “Look at the green space we recently created.”
The space has almost no trees or vegetation other than grass. I said, “You mean the lawn?”
It occurred to me then that my friend and I were seeing things from totally different perspectives and might never totally see eye to eye. Our ideas of beauty in nature are different.
A lawn, be it in a park on someone’s backyard, is a great place for outdoor activities, but is it natural or nature-friendly with the need for chemical fertilizers, mowing, etc.?
It is important for us to understand why we have this difference in perception.
However, before we can even have that discussion about why there is very little that is nature-friendly about lawns, we first need a better understanding of the stark differences in preferences of what is aesthetically pleasing.
At a lecture a couple of years ago, Dr. Chris Marsh, who has served as executive director of the Lowcountry Institute and the Spring Island Trust, both nature-friendly groups, explained that for a variety of reasons most of us fall somewhere on a continuum.
At one end we find manicured geometric spaces associated with man-made lines, while on the other end we find random, irregular lines found in nature.
Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Many of us perfer a mixture. Just having one corner of our yard wild makes a significant contribution to birds’ habitats.
The problem, in addition to the high maintenance of a lawn, is that lawns can be virtually sparse areas for wildlife. Lawns provide little food for birds and other wildlife, little water and no sources of shelter.
Why do we have a preoccupation with lawns? The lawn is actually a 17th-century status symbol of European aristocrats that has become a ubiquitous part of the American landscape.
But at what cost do we indulge this fantasy? Ask yourself where do you fit in the continuum.
John Riolo lives in Moss Creek and is past president of the Nature Club of Moss Creek.