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The greening of lawns.

There are five million lawns in Canada; the ultimate symbols of Nature subdued. Maintaining a perfect lawn has become an act of good citizenship even though it's far from Earth-friendly.

Most lawns get regular and heavy applications of chemicals -- fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Many of the 80% of homeowners who don't use lawn-care companies apply these chemicals in concentrations that are far too heavy. The residues are then washed out by rain and get into the water supply. Pesticides sprayed on to get rid of lawn-eating bugs can kill off beneficial lifeforms too. So, the soil under a heavily sprayed lawn will be devoid or micro-organisms and worms. That means there's no food for the neighbourhood birds -- or the food that there is becomes toxic an poisons lifeforms further up the food chain.

Grass dies back and turns brown the dry spells of summer. That's normal and nature but it offends the rules of behaviour in Canada's suburbs. So, homeowners sprinkle billions of litres of tap water onto the turf to keep it emerald green through the worst droughts.

The act of cutting the grass can be a small pollution disaster all on its own. A gasoline lawn mower can easily spew as much smog-causing hydrocarbon into the air in an hour as a modern car, even though the car has 30 times as much horsepower. And, then there's the noise pollution that comes from an engine without a muffler.

A small and growing group of people -- dare we call it a grassroots movement? -- is rebelling. Sandy Bell of Toronto is one of them. She let her lawn go natural; a mixture of tall grass, an untrimmed patches of red clover and Queen Anne's lace. What Ms. Bell calls wildflowers her neighbours call weeds. What she calls a natural habitat that attracts butterflies and birds her neighbours call an eyesore. City council sent in a workman to cut down the wilderness and enforce a lawn-mowing bylaw.

But, Ms. Bell is not alone. More and more Canadians are looking for an alternative to the groomed greenswald. In Winnipeg, a course in natural gardening that teaches people how to grow tall native gasses and prairie plants is in constant demand. Some gardeners in Halifax are planting ornamental grasses that look attractive if not mowed. Elsewhere, people are replacing grass with ground covers such as Japanese spurge and vinca.

However, it's only a tiny number of people who are ready to court the disapproval of their neighbours by trading in their lawns for a weedpatch.
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Title Annotation:Sustainable Development - Overview; some Canadians are converting their lawns to natural habitats because conventional lawns hurt the environment
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Date:Oct 1, 1995
Previous Article:Military.
Next Article:Earth moving.

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