When we were kids, our backyard was an incredible maze of pumpkin plants and guava bushes. We’d play hide and seek with the neighbourhood kids and eat the guavas when we got hungry. For me it was a magical place to play, full of life and mystery. Then, mum and dad, probably with our slave labour, pulled it all out and they planted grass. Our wonderland had turned into a lawn.
Our weekends became about mowing and cutting the edges. It became important how our lawn looked. What would the neighbours think if it got too long, or if it was riddled with daisies or dandelions? For a long while into my adulthood, I diligently mowed and weeded and kept my grass in accordance with expected standards. Then I happily passed the job on to my partner Cory, who is more of perfectionist than me anyway, so the lawns would look even more pristine.
Then a couple of years ago, I asked Cory why are we doing this? What logic are we applying to this energy intensive (ours and the planets) bizarre practice? We actually couldn’t come up with any. So we stopped.
Much to the horror of friends and family we just stopped mowing our lawns. They got long and glorious. We revelled in the growth and the change our garden started to go through. We have two large raised vegetable gardens and a few trees around the perimeter and we noticed a few things – completely unscientific observations but observations nonetheless.
We noticed more birds (Tui in particular), more insects (especially butterflies), more neighbourhood cats (they love to nest in the long grass) and one more thing, less bugs on our vegetables.
We’ve mowed pathways to allow easy access to the letterbox, gardens and the deck, this takes Cory about fifteen minutes, maybe once a month. The pathways are an endless source of joy. We call them the ‘cat highways’. The long grass is a haven for our own cat Ada where she can hide and sleep, she loves it.
One of the reasons we stopped mowing was time. We were planning our weekends around mowing the lawn, with full awareness it would grow again, and we’d have to cut it again. We’re pretty outdoorsy and enjoy spending our time riding or hiking so giving that up, to mow lawns is just plain silly.
Another reason was resources. I was adamant about using a push mower for a long time (which took a long time), but after meeting Cory, he eventually convinced me we should buy an electric mower. This is better choice than its petrol fuelled cousin, however, in exchange for the service provided by this electricity, what were we getting? All I could come up with was the privilege of performing a function that’s only function was to perpetuate the necessity of the function.
I would desperately look forward to summer because it meant the lawns would die. Never in my wildest dream would I consider watering the lawns. For a start, we live at the beach, our soil is sandy so watering sand is utterly ridiculous. Secondly, if the water actually had any impact, it would mean the lawns would grow, which would mean they would need to be cut again…the cycle is vicious. Third point, water is precious. A ‘backyard’ lawn serves no purpose other than to be walked on.
A pristine lawn is symbolic of being a good homeowner. We’re conditioned to believing this and anyone outside of the norm is in the wrong. At a recent dinner party it came up that we didn’t mow our lawns. The immediate response was ‘is that because you’re lazy?’ What an interesting response! At what point in our society did we connect the length of a lawn with the character of the person?
We’re not lazy. We’re good people. Letting our lawn grow has been another step in the journey we’re on to understand how to reduce our own environmental impact. We still have a long way to go, but having an awareness of our behaviours and actions and why we do what we do is an important part. It’s also about simplifying our lives. We’re less affected by things like water restrictions because we adopt conservation as the norm with all resources. At worst it means I put off washing the car (not a hardship).
If this all sounds unimaginable to you then mow your lawns. But if nothing else, think about the time you give to this practice, you won’t get that back. I for one would rather enjoy the time not spent allowing a mini ecosystem to take shape in my yard and enjoy its wonder.