Breaking the Grass Laws, Loving the Weed

July 29, 2016 | Maureen

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Take a look at the lawns on the covers of these books:

John Deere landscaping & lawn care - the complete guide to a beautiful yard year-round Ortho's all about lawns The complete guide to a better lawn - how to plant, maintain & improve your yard & lawn

And these lawns, on the covers of organic lawn care books:

Organic lawn care - growing grass the natural way The organic lawn care manual - a natural, low-maintenance system for a beautiful, safe lawn Lawns for Canada - natural and organic

I see a lawn like this and think, I bet I'd have to use a coaster in that house. And sit up very straight in an expensive white chair. Woe to the dandelion that dares to raise its sunny face on these battlefields, where man and nature clash all summer long. But if grass with a buzz cut is your idea of beauty, click on the books pictured here to reserve one of these lawn care instruction books. 

I prefer a lawn that looks like nature is at least putting up a fight. These lawns are more my style:

Natural gardening in small spaces The American meadow garden - creating a natural alternative to the traditional lawn The living landscape

But way beyond my capabilities. I'm one of those kill-everything-she-touches type gardeners, so I don't touch. I let nature have her way with my bit of sod. I have no book recommendations for you on this laissez-faire landscaping style -- you don't need any. It's real easy. Sprinkle a few wildflower seeds if you want, or not, then just wait to see what grows. But get ready to harvest a bumper crop of stink eye from your neighbours when the weeds reach your belly button! Look what grew on my lawn without any help from me! I especially like the thistle thingy.


Weedsmall

Thistle small

At this point, I'm guessing I've alienated those of you who have lawns that look like they belong to Nurse Ratched in One flew over the cuckoo's nest. And if you're thinking that I'm breaking some kind of rule, well, right you are! Municipal Code Chapter 489, Grass and Weeds states, "The owner or occupant of private land shall cut the grass and weeds on their land...whenever the growth of grass and weeds exceeds 20 centimetres in height." Some of my most spectacular weeds are four times that high!

Here's what Chapter 489 of the Municipal Code means by weeds:

(1) All noxious weeds and local weeds designated under the Weed Control Act; and

(2) Any other vegetation growth that does not form part of a natural garden that has been deliberately implemented to produce ground cover...consistent with a managed and natural landscape other than regularly mown grass.

I think that means I'm on the right side of the law if I say that my botanical chaos/gnome kingdom is a "natural garden" which I "deliberately implemented." OK, let's go with that, I did it on purpose. But we natural gardeners are not so easily let off the Chapter 489 hook. To fend off busy-body complaint filing neighbours, we'd need to apply for a Natural Garden Exemption. And we'd have to get the city horticulturalist to inspect our urban jungle and, hopefully, recommend approval of the exemption. And it might be a good idea to consult the list of noxious weeds in Ontario before the friendly horticulturalist comes calling, to check for trouble makers like giant hogweed (the sap can cause skin to burn), poison hemlock (can cause respiratory failure in humans when ingested), or ragweed (can cause hay fever).

There are some real bad-ass weeds out there -- poisonous, tough, fast-growing, invasive, manifest destiny practicing bullies, that choke out native plants. But it's not fair to demonize all weeds. Where one person sees a weed, another might see a lovely wild flower, or nutritious salad greens, a nice cup of tea, herbal medicine, a spring tonic, or an insect habitat. Here are some books that look at weeds with a sympathetic eye:

The wild wisdom of weeds -13 essential plants for human survival Weeds - in defense of nature's most unloved plants Weeds
Adventures in edible plant foraging - finding, identifying, harvesting, and preparing native and invasive, wild plants Backyard foraging - 65 familiar plants you didn't know you could eat Wild edibles - a practical guide to foraging, with easy identification of 60 edible plants and 67 recipes

Take the common dandelion for instance. Every part of this scorned weed can be eaten. Dandelion greens can be used in salads, the roasted roots can be consumed as a caffeine-free coffee substitute, and the flowers can be used to make dandelion wine. Which brings to mind a quote from one of my favourite Ray Bradbury books, Dandelion wine (a perfect summer read, by the way): "Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered."

Dandelion wine"Twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding knows Green Town, Illinois, is as vast and deep as the whole wide world that lies beyond the city limits. It is a pair of brand-new tennis shoes, the first harvest of dandelions for Grandfather's renowned intoxicant, the distant clang of the trolley's bell on a hazy afternoon. But as Douglas is about to discover, summer can be more than the repetition of established rituals whose mystical power holds time at bay. It can be a best friend moving away, a human time machine who can transport you back to the Civil War, or a sideshow automaton able to glimpse the bittersweet future."

Are you feeling a little friendlier towards the common weed? No? Maybe this random collection of books with dandelions in the title will sway you:

The dandelion years - Erica James Dandelion summer - Lisa Wingate
The dandelion field - Kathryn Springer Dandelion - memoir of a free spirt, by Catherine James

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