(This post was inspired by my experience in last week’s St. Louis Sustainable Backyard Tour.)
It’s a summer Saturday morning. You’ve slept in as late as you possibly could. Light now infiltrates your window blinds and morning sounds prevent any more snoozing. You listen to cicadas, melodic birds, a passing breeze in the trees–and suddenly the overbearing roar of a neighbor’s lawn mower cancels out all the pleasant sounds as well as your chances for nodding back off. You begin stirring around your home and preparing to do yard work of your own. The dissonant sound coming from the neighbor’s yard has now shifted from droning lawn mower to growling leaf blower.
The neighbor’s yard is a glowing-green, pesticide- and fertilizer-ridden, ecologically nonfunctional, and environmentally negligent golf course. That lawn is mowed twice a week to an unnaturally short height, irrigated daily with potable drinking water, and manicured tediously to look more like painted pavement than a patch of grass. There isn’t a dandelion in sight since a trigger-happy pesticide lover sprays anything that isn’t a blade of grass (no beneficial insects survive, no wildflowers pop up). That said, it probably isn’t safe walking through their yard barefoot!
You visit your front yard to see what needs tending. The front yard entails a full landscape of native plants, with a pleasant mini-trail leading to the mail box. You’ve learned that native plants aren’t weeds, don’t require much maintenance, reduce the need to mow, and provide micro-habitats and travel-stops for insects, birds, and whatever else. You prune a few things and manually pull a few weeds and then head for the water faucet. No, municipal drinking water isn’t being fed to the flora. Instead, you reach for the spigot on your rain barrel and water the newer plants (to promote proper root establishment). The rest of the front yard gets a dash of water and you’re done.
You make your way to the backyard, which follows a slope separated by a couple of rows of retaining walls. The small terraces make up your backyard edible garden. This is your fresh produce-producing backyard. Another rain barrel feeds your crops and fresh compost nourishes them. Your compost bin takes in your food scraps, leaves (not bagged up like the neighbor with the leaf blower). Food fills your garden; even the retaining walls are in production. You’ve used Living Retaining Wall blocks to grow fresh strawberries. The grass patches surrounding your garden are mowed with a reel lawn mower to a height that encourages healthy growth and better competition with weeds. Your fences are not bland wood or boring chain-link. They are ivy-planted privacy screens that complete this backyard garden.
After you’ve tended your garden and picked the day’s basket of food, you turn towards the house. The neighbor’s emission-spewing roars have stopped, but you can catch a whiff of oil and gasoline…the smell of soon-to-be-obsolete yard care. They’ll learn. After putting a basket of fresh produce on their porch, they’ll learn.