Wildfires to Meadows

The skies have cleared, we can now breathe some fresh air. The wind blowing in intense smoke from the enormous wildfires in Washington, Oregon, and California has shifted, but the fires are far from being extinguished.

The air quality over the week of Sept 11th was tough to endure as the measurement of fine particulates in the air shot up from an average of 5-10 to 177 g/m3, well above the provincial government threshold of 25.

On the one hand, I was struck by how people were shocked and somewhat fearful of this event, and on the other hand, they continued with their daily routines of outdoor chores such as cutting their lawns. I don’t know about you, but when the sky is full of pollution, and we struggle to find some clean air, the last thing I want to do is worsen the situation by running a gas mower.

I recently wrote a blog post about our love affair with lawns and how our culture has embedded the message that a lawn is a symbol of prestige or wealth. In reality, lawns are ecosystem deserts. By continually cutting these (an average of once per week), we are a) preventing the grass species from fully expressing themselves and b) destroying the habitat needed for a wide variety of insects and other small animals. These insects are the foundation of life for many birds and animals. You can check this article out here…https://www.jaandesigns.ca/why-do-we-love-our-lawns/

By chance, I listened to a podcast, The Permaculture Podcast by Scott Mann, where he was discussing the conversion of lawns to wildflowers with Landscape Architect and author Owen Wormser.
In his recent book, Turning Lawns into Meadows, Owen describes the value which meadows can provide for homeowners even on a small urban scale. These benefits are enormous and include increased habitat and food for insects (including pollinators), sequestration of carbon within the soil-healthy top growth equates to a healthy root system. With perennial grasses and forbes (leafy herbaceous plants), their roots will persist for years and lock up carbon within the soil and enhance the soil food web. Few could argue that a meadow has a dreamy, idyllic and almost fairy land-like appearance during the summer. From an aesthetic standpoint, it’s a huge winner, changing its appearance with the seasonal shifts.

If these benefits were not enough, a meadow requires little care and attention after establishment, no water, no fertilizer (this is toxic and harmful to soil organisms, people and animals) and best of all, no weekly mowing. Imagine the amount of pollution that could be reduced if we had less lawns to maintain. While they offer some useful, quiet green space in the landscape, they have a negative ecological footprint. Research has shown that one hour of lawn mowing is equivalent to driving around in 11 cars for the same length of time. In fact, lawn mowing is responsible for 5% of the total air pollution in the US. Should we not take a look and consider some alternatives?

So, we could reduce 5% of our air pollution, boost pollinator habitat and food, sequester carbon, and enjoy the aesthetic beauty that meadows or wildflower provide by just shifting lawns over to meadows.

Like many aspects of our modern urban and rural landscapes, the information we have been taught needs to be questioned. We could start by asking ourselves, “Does this practice enhance our landscapes and our lives?”. When looking at lawns versus meadows, I know how I would answer this question, how about you?

This is a vast topic which I’ll be expanding on in some upcoming blog posts.

Jamie Wallace

Co-owner of Jaan Designs

Regenerative land designer, educator