01 March 2008

Out! Out! Damed lawn!

My beloved St. Petersburg Times is running an article in their Homes section today that concerns another great idea in the quest for sustainable development. There is a movement afoot, albeit a small one, to rethink the great American lawn. Here's the link: http://www.sptimes.com/2008/03/01/Homes/Lawn_begone__Replacin.shtml

According to research conducted by the University of Florida's department of Agricultural Engineering, 62% of the potable water supply in Central Florida gets sprinkled onto lawns and landscapes. Nationwide, the figure is 58%. http://irrigation.ifas.ufl.edu/

I'd be curious to see how much the plant to the left, St. Augustine grass, costs the Florida economy. Hmmm. Faced with a lingering drought and a burgeoning population, labeling this and all turf grasses as a menace wouldn't be an extreme measure. That the Florida Aquifer is on trouble is beyond debate. One need only drive across Alligator Alley and see the wreckage of the Everglades to know that something's wrong. Watch an algae bloom unfold in an estuary or body of water in the aftermath of a summer thunderstorm. The fish gasping for air at the surface are being choked out by algae fed by residential fertilizer run off. Landscaping practices in Florida and the rest of the country as they are currently conceived are unsustainable.

Municipal water supplies are a public resource and decisions regarding its use an continued supply are of grave, public concern. A suburban half acre of lush, green St. Augustine is behind Florida's current water woes. It is not sole province of the Left to be concerned about this. Re-thinking the American lawn is a viable route of exploration to think our way out of the current drought and to avoid further water problems down the road.

Today's Times story was a brief-how to guide to follow to remove a lawn and replace it with less demanding landscape plants. It linked to a blog on the subject, http://www.lesslawn.com/ and to a web site from the state of Florida that is a resource for what sorts of plants can make up a healthy, sustainable Florida landscape. The state website, http://www.floridayards.org/, is a tremendous place to read more about xeriscaping (the practice of using low-maintenance and native plants in landscaping).

Expecting people to replace the typical landscape to the left overnight is ridiculous and a fool's errand, unfortunately. The good life taking part in a grassy back yard is pretty deeply ingrained. However, urging people to replace parts of their lawns gradually is bound to be met with more acceptance. So if that water-hogging vista could be made to look like this one, the people who live there can cut their water use by 30 to 40 per cent. They get a more inviting and interesting place to live and it costs less money to maintain.

Less water, fewer pesticides, less maintenance, fewer resources and it looks good. It is time Florida, it is time.

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