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How I Became a Landscape Reformer

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Today’s Guest Rant comes from Leslie Nelson Inman, an Adjunct English Instructor at Mercer University and Georgia Tech who is currently taking some time off to write a book. Leslie educated herself about environmental issues and has become passionate about spreading information and solutions widely via social media. Here’s her story, illustrated with infographics she  created.

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I have to give my little dog, Teddy, credit for starting me on my landscaping reform journey. I have a habit of walking my dog in downtown Atlanta historic neighborhoods, so I can gaze nostalgically at the century-old bungalows and Coca­Cola mansions in Atlanta’s oldest suburbs. My dog and I love to stroll through these old neighborhoods.

Over time, I became distracted by the little ‘caution’ signs on every front yard, and I was seeing these signs more frequently. I didn’t want my dog on those lawns; I didn’t want her to even sniff those yards. What could the landscapers be putting on the grass that warrants a warning sign? And why would homeowners want something potentially dangerous in their yard? I spent a lot of time researching the answers to those questions.

The answers have become my environmental preoccupation, and as my neighborhood has become more upscale, it’s become an issue I am living with more and more every day. My home has become a little island of organic in a sea of Trugreen/Chemlawn and ‘Mow and Blow Guys’ with their loud, polluting leaf blowers.

Conventional landscaping practices do nothing to promote a yard as a healthy, functioning ecosystem. Of course, most homeowners are not thinking of their yard as a functioning ecosystem. Yards are seen solely as a means to enhance the home, not as a way to sustain birds or pollinators. Landscapers help homeowners choose the usual turfgrass, Begonias, and Crepe Myrtles, and then manicure it weekly, OCD-­style. Not a twig or a fallen leaf rests upon these perfect lawns.

Yards are not considered nature. Lawns are extensions of living ­rooms, and the grass is living room carpet; the outdoor carpet needs constant vacuuming (or blowing), so the leaf blower brigade is needed as often as possible.

The advent of these disagreeable tools—the leaf blower and lawn chemicals—have made it possible to have a compulsively neat and tidy yard. It takes a great deal of herbicide, glyphosate, and polluting machinery to achieve this ‘non­natural’ look.

Neighbors like me pay a high price with the constant leaf­blower noise, along with the chemicals that flow into the local stream every time it rains. If you use the normal rakes and brooms that we all grew up with, then you’ll have a ‘good enough yard’, but apparently that’s not good enough.

To enumerate some landscaping issues more concisely, I find that conventional landscapers fail to understand these concepts:

  1. Biodiversity is highly desirable, but conventional landscapers plant monoculture turfgrass. (Scientific American, “Outgrowing the Traditional Grass Lawn“ ­ weed-free flowerless grass lawns are a monoculture in microcosm.)
  2. Native plants are best for providing food for birds, but conventional landscapers plant exotics. (Audubon.org, “10 Plants for a Bird-Friendly Yard“­ – insects evolved to feed on native plants and birds raise their young on insects.)
  3. Peace and quiet allows birds to call, communicate, and survive, but conventional landscapers blast raging leaf blowers. (Current Biology, “Noise Pollution Changes Avian Communities and Species Interactions” – Humans have drastically changed much of the world’s acoustic background with anthropogenic sounds that are markedly different in pitch and amplitude than sounds in most natural habitats [1, 2 , 3 and 4]. This novel acoustic background may be detrimental for many species, particularly birds [1].)
  4. Organic is healthy, but conventional landscapers use 2, 4-­D, Mecoprop-­P and Dicambia and other herbicides on lawns and glyphosate on understory and hardscape areas. (EPA.gov­, “EPA Proposes Stronger Standards for People Applying Riskiest Pesticides” – The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing regulations that will limit exposure to dangerous pesticides. These new rules are meant to reduce the incidence of diseases associated with pesticide exposure, including non­-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and lung cancer.)
  5. Fall leaves make a nutrient-­rich mulch, but conventional landscapers cart them away. (Chicago Tribune, “Autumn leaves can add valuable nutrients to garden” – fallen leaves turn into a rich soil amendment when you add them to your compost pile.)
  6. Fragrant native flowers draw pollinators, but conventional landscapers use polluting machinery that spews raw, unburnt fuel along with noxious fumes which make it more difficult for pollinators to smell/detect the life-sustaining plants they need. (Environmental Health Perspectives, “Air Pollution: Floral Scents Going Off the Air?” – Air pollution interferes with the ability of bees and other insects to follow the scent of flowers to their source, undermining the essential process of pollination, concludes a study by University of Virginia researchers.)

Included in this post are just a few of the infographics I’ve made and shared around social media in hopes of changing the current conventional landscaping paradigm.

Posted by

Leslie Nelson Inman

on September 21, 2016 at 6:41 am, in the category Gardening on the Planet, Guest Rants, Lawn Reform.

13 Comments

  1. Well written Leslie, wish everyone , city dwellers as well those in the country would read this… The attitude of some people is, “there’s plenty of wild weeds and flowers out there, let the insects, birds go get them …But there aren’t…especially in the country were they apply pesticides by tractors with 300 gal. tanks. Monsanto has most “convinced” it’s easier on them and more yield by poisoning anything that could drift into their fields. Responsible Stewardship is a thing of the past….Money is the engine that drives them.

  2. Hi Joyce!
    The country is as bad as the city! We have to find safe, organic place for all of us who didn’t buy-in when the TV told us to buy all the pesticide products.
    I hope things are changing! We’ve gotta keep buying and growing organic. Thank you for being my Facebook friend!
    Leslie

  3. Hi Laura,
    I wish all the people who want to work WITH nature instead of against it could build a neighborhood together. I’ve always dreamed of a neighborhood that’s a designated “Bird, Pollinator and Wildlife Sanctuary” and all the like-minded treehuggers could live in the middle of it! Doesn’t that sound great!
    Have you seen this Doug Tallamy video? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UonRPIea48Y It changed the way I see nature… forever.
    Thanks for your nice comments and join us on Facebook if you like at Leslie Nelson Inman or Pollinator Friendly Yards
    Thanks!

  4. Marcia,
    That is so great that you have signs in your yard! It really helps to educate people. The CDC states that 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides are sprayed annually and that may just be enough, in my mind!
    Thank you for sharing your story! I’m on Facebook at Leslie Nelson Inman or Pollinator Friendly Yards. Thousands of us are trying to make a difference by making our yards pollinator friendly! Join us if you like! Thanks!

  5. I take issue with much of this.
    “Pernicious lawn chemicals and fertilizers” – where to start? The language or lack of specifics? I would have stopped reading at that point if this weren’t on GardenRant.
    “Conventional landscapers plant monoculture turfgrass”. “Conventional landscapers plant exotics.” What IS a conventional landscaper, anyway? How many of them are doing what, exactly? Got a source?
    ” It takes a great deal of herbicide, glyphosate, and polluting machinery to achieve this ‘non¬natural’ look.” One can definitely have an attractive lawn without use of herbicides, and that’s what authorities like Cornell teach. http://gardenrant.com/2016/08/cornell-on-lawn-care-do-less.html
    What “organic native plants” would you recommend to cover the 45 million acres now in turfgrass? As someone who’s advocated for lawn reduction and helped actual homeowners do that, I WISH the answer were that easy. Lawns are simple; figuring out what to replacement them with and how to maintain whatever plants are used instead is not.
    “Organic is healthy, but conventional landscapers use 2, 4-¬D, Mecoprop-¬P and Dicambia and other herbicides on lawns and glyphosate on understory and hardscape areas.” More landscaper-bashing and “organic is healthy”? Jeez. How often does that myth need to be debunked? Reminds me of a famous quack who used to recommend spraying tobacco juice on gardens. It’s organic!
    “Fall leaves make a nutrient-¬rich mulch, but conventional landscapers cart them away.” Experienced gardeners know better than to leave fallen leaves on their lawns all winter but others are misled by this BS. The source for the “Don’t rake” meme specified this applies “in wooded areas,” but that important caveat is usually omitted, as it was here. (Here’s my rant about that. http://gardenrant.com/2015/11/nwfs-terrible-no-good-gardening-advice-goes-viral.html)
    “Conventional landscapers use polluting machinery that spews raw, unburnt fuel along with noxious fumes which make it more difficult for pollinators to smell/detect the life-sustaining plants they need.” OMG those conventional landscapers are such horrible people!
    I’ve found that practical, evidence-based ideas for more eco-friendly practices create more change than angry condemnations.

  6. Perhaps Leslie’s argument for altering typical lawn care practices came up a bit short for you, but, in my opinion, she hit on many of the practices that should change.

  7. Great article Leslie! There is so much information now about the deadly action of Glyphosate even to the billionth part as it breaks down into its metabolite AMPA. People need to understand that these systemic pesticides and herbicides such as Roundup, Dicamba and 2-4 D are derived from petro chemicals and like other similar substances can be deadly at very low levels, even as or especially I should say as nano particles. Here is an article, a statement for cessation of use atually, I found that goes into its history and toxicity but I can supply many many more.http://www.moraybeedinosaurs.co.uk/neonicotinoid/Glyphosate_Policy_Recommendation_25_Feb_2016.pdf

  8. Agreed, Melissa. We are simply over-saturated with all these cosmetic pesticides and herbicides on the lawn.
    “Glyphosate is a chelating agent, which means it clamps onto molecules that are valuable to a plant, like iron, calcium, manganese, and zinc.…The farmers’ increased use of Roundup is actually harming their crops, according to McNeill, because it is killing micronutrients in the soil that they need, a development that has been documented in several scientific papers by the nation’s leading experts in the field. For example, he says, harmful fungi and parasites like fusarium, phytopthora and pythium are on the rise as a result of the poison, while beneficial fungi and other organisms that help plants reduce minerals to a usable state are on the decline.” Iowa-based consultant Michael McNeill, who has a Ph.D. in quantitative genetics and plant pathology from Iowa State University

  9. Thank you, Leslie for your rant. Of course you sometimes overstate the case. That’s why this is a rant, and not a peer-reviewed scientific journal. One sometimes needs to exaggerate to make a point. And this is the forum for it.

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