Opinion: What is the point of lawns?

Photo credit:  Rémi Müller via Unsplash.

By Anders Lorenzen

During my annual summer visit to my birth country Denmark, I’m often in awe of Denmark’s various sustainability initiatives. But in recent years one development has occurred that, to say the least, I’m less impressed with.

Taking a walk in the wealthy suburban area on the outskirts of the provincial town of Thisted, I see one villa after the other, nobody around but I’m not actually alone, because on almost every garden or should I say lawn I pass there is a small intrusive machine driving up and down hard at work cutting the grass. These machines or robots are programmed to cut the grass each day to golf course standards. I have never seen a more pointless exercise.

In reality, the issue is not how the grass is cut, but the fact that it is cut so frequently and the fact that lawns are taking up an ever-growing proportion of gardens. It makes me wonder; what is the point of lawns? And the more wealthy the owners, the less point there is to the lawns. The ones I passed were deserted, (no one was using them for anything). There seemed to be a competitive thing between homeowners as to who could have the most tightly cut lawn. 

Lawns in the age of the climate and biodiversity crisis

Not only are lawns pointless, but in the age of a climate and biodiversity crisis, they’re also making the problem worse. My complaint is not with grass but with lawns. By fine-cutting your grass every week you’re removing every single element that may have been left of biodiversity. By fine-cutting it, you’re making sure any wildflowers, insects and pollinators who live in the grass are also removed. With the industrialisation of our countryside and with depressingly little land set aside for nature, and with designated land not fully protected or wild, gardens had become one place where biodiversity even on a limited capacity could be allowed to thrive.  But with the industrialisation of gardens also ‘en marche’ not even that can be relied upon anymore.

Then of course there is the issue of the climate crisis and the drought conditions now experienced in many countries around the world. Our failure to act is plunging many countries into a water crisis as well. And so it is perverse that homeowners use litres of precious water to water their gardens so they can look as green as ever, even though the countryside around them looks more like a dust bowl, and food prices are skyrocketing due to in part lack of irrigation.

As I said above the issue is not the grass itself. It is much more about how it is managed, and the disproportionate space it takes up in modern gardens. 

Rewild your garden

Why not rewild your own garden?  Let the grass grow wild and long. Do not water it, do not cut it and notice the rich natural biodiverse space you could create (for bees, birds, butterflies, ladybirds, and other pollinating insects and with earthworms turning to the soil). Have a balanced picture. If your garden is largely grass then something is wrong. Why not add some vegetables and herbs into the mix with some fruit bushes and fruit trees to create shade?     

It is of course not only homeowners who are to blame. Local councils and municipalities should do a much better job of managing the land they control. They should be creating rewilded zones, growing more trees and using their public spaces for growing food rather than grass, and certainly should not be wasting resources on watering grass.

While we are at it, governments should forbid parks and institutions such as golf courses, sports fields and so on, from watering their grass. This should not be just a temporary measure because we are in a drought, but such rules should last all year round no matter the weather.

The climate crisis as well as the biodiversity crisis are here to stay and we should not make it worse with the pointless way lawns are managed. 

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