March 1, 2022

Metro Vancouver, Time to Let Go of the Green Lawn

It’s a busy week at Vancouver City Council and there’s a few gems worthy of mention. The first, sensibly brought to Council in early March so lawn loving citizens can have a period of adjustment, is this report from Mark Schwerk on conserving drinking water in the city.

After the disastrous heat dome of last summer, the Greater Vancouver Water District (GVWD) is proposing that the Drinking Water Conservation Plan (DWCP) which manages drinking water during times of high demand make an important change. That change will mean that at Stage 1 water restrictions, which used to allow two days of sprinkling lawns a week, be amended to allow one day a week for lawn watering. And at Stage 2 water restrictions, which used to allow one day a week for lawn watering, be amended to allow no watering of lawns.

This of course refers to potable water that has come through the GVWD system. People are welcome to use any water collected from rain barrels.  There are some myths about watering and lawns: they can go dormant, they can go without water for two to three  weeks, and they (mostly) will grow back.

How did we ever get to think of a lawn as important in cities?  Lawns are not “natural” nor are they really “real”. Lawns are actually a pretty false construct, based upon imitating those wealthy landowners in the 1600’s in Great Britain that had hired people to cut and clear away tall grass from fields to create outlooks to their palatial homes. Indeed in Great Britain in the twentieth century there was a still an allowable percentage of the lawn that could be weeds, just as long as it was green and mown.

The idea of the lawn being completely free of weeds and a way to convey wealth and status was really an American construct from the early 1800’s.  Monticello the estate of American president Thomas Jefferson had a lawn that was manicured by people, not by grazing animals.

In the postwar era after World War Two,  the newly developing suburbs for couples wanting to have families provided an opportunity for repurposing metals and chemicals into lawn furniture, lawn mowers, and substances designed to make your lawn (now called turf grass) absolutely perfect. This New York Times video describes the American history and experience of lawns, and the fact that lawns regulate conformity in behaviour by their size and their look. Lawns also consume a lot of water and fertilizers and weed killers, keeping several industries afloat.

In the last forty years there has been a return to looking at replacing lawns with more appropriate plants, landscapes and gardens. The Youtube video below describes the social history that made turf grass lawns the largest “watered” crop in the world.

Now it’s time to rethink the lawn as the green manicured concept and morph into a much more 21st century sustainable solution. Further limiting the watering of lawns during droughts will assist that transition.

 

 

images:envisioningtheamericandream,ourcityourforest

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  1. Growing up in Victoria in the 50s, very few lawns were green in the summer, and in fact, only the greens on golf courses were consistently watered. It was practically a symbol of summer when the lawns dried out. And when they went dry, the lawnmowers stopped because there was nothing more to cut until the rains brought the green back in the fall. Only the weeds remained green which made them easy to spot to remove. As we saw it, grass was doing what grass does.

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