Second Nature

Before The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Botany of Desire, and In Defense of Food, there was Second Nature, Michael Pollan’s love letters to gardening written in 1991. In it, Pollan posits something revolutionary: that gardens can be places where nature/wildness and culture/history/people have equal power. And that by gardening mindfully and following nature’s lead (such as, in the flow of water and insect control), we can make safe places for birds and pollinators, create mounds of rich new soil, and turn land into beautiful places that please the eye and the palate.

SecNatureFamiliar now, but in 1991, these were new ideas. There was nature, over there preserved in sanctuaries, and there were our separate gardens and yards. Over time, many of us have tried to merge the two worlds, bringing some wildness to our own yards. Decades after Second Nature came out, University of Delaware professor Douglas Tallamy wrote his popular Bringing Nature Home, which celebrates the benefits of gardening for wildlife. Hundreds of books and articles have followed.

Not surprisingly, Pollan doesn’t much care for American lawns. In his own yard, he ended up letting his grass go to seed. I take no offense. Huge tracts of grass are boring and wasteful. Our suburban Maryland lawns often are small circles, rectangles, or squares in landscapes that emphasize trees, shrubs, and garden beds. Maintaining these relatively small grassy areas without polluting the air and water is the least we can do.

Not only can gardeners protect and improve the environment,
they can spread genetic diversity by planting heirloom or old seed varieties.
Check out J.L. Hudson, a public access seed bank.

A section on lawn history was new to me. According to Pollan, Frederick Law Olmsted is credited with its invention. In 1868, Olmsted received a commission to design Riverside, outside Chicago. His design “stipulated that each house be set back thirty feet from the road, and it prohibited walls. … In Riverside, each owner would maintain one or two trees and a lawn that would flow seamlessly into his neighbors’, creating the impression that all lived together in a single park.”

Sounds more like a golf community to me. I prefer less grass and more trees and shrubs (and a watercourse, if possible) in my parks. 

Pollan’s writing is effortless, and Second Nature swept away the tedium I can feel toward gardening and “yard work” and replaced it with an eagerness to experiment, play, and grow, grow, grow.

Good Government

GreenBizTransBkgrdThe two men sat across the dining room table from me and asked what time of day I buy gasoline for my truck when air quality is poor. They asked how much water and what kind of soap I use when washing my equipment. My answers — late in the day IF I must buy gasoline on code alert days and little water and biodegradable soap some of which flow into the rain garden adjacent to my driveway — were met with approving nods. These men were not members of Friends of the Earth or a neighborhood association. They were Montgomery County officials, looking over my equipment and my application to be a county certified “green business.”

To those of us running green businesses, the certification is a stamp of approval from local government, which shares our values for environmental stewardship, conservation of energy and water, carbon and waste reduction, recycling, and environmentally responsible purchasing.

Consumers seeking to hire green businesses can go the county website and search its directory. For local business owners wanting to green their operations, the Program offers resources to help them.

“Grass clippings that land in the street need to be blown up onto the grass,” Doug Weisburger, Program Manager reminded me, “Otherwise, they’ll make their way down storm drains and add to nitrogen pollution of the Bay.”

That’s my County talking.

At exactly 9:50 a.m. on June 20, 2013, Solar Mowing was certified as a “Green Landscape Business,” a distinction that is valid for three years.

Let Clover Come Over

For those homeowners who want to rid their grass of clover, consider this: Before the era of big chemistry that began in the 1950s, grass seed mixes contained white clover seeds. Clover was considered attractive and a critical ingredient for healthy turf!

CloverLawn2CropIt was not until synthetic herbicides came along and killed everything in the grass save the grass that clover, in time, fell out of favor and lumped in with the weeds.

“The thought of white Dutch clover as a lawn weed will come as a distinct shock to old-time gardeners,” wrote Dr. R. Milton Carleton, in his book New Way to Kill Weeds in Your Lawn and Garden (1957). “I can remember the day when lawn mixtures were judged for quality by the percentage of clover seed they contained. The higher this figure, the better the mixture.”

Clover deserves our enlightened love. A legume, it takes nitrogen out of the air and passes this essential nutrient through its roots to the grass around it. And if that’s not enough, it’s also evergreen, drought tolerant, and disease-resistant.

When Solar Mowing cuts lawns (at the ideal height of three inches), most clover flowers are preserved. Train your brain to respect and value these dainty fertilizer factories in your grass. And watch your property become popular with honeybees!



Why Solar Mowing?

FACT:  In an hour, ONE typical gasoline-powered mower spews as much pollution as ELEVEN cars.

This shocks people. The truth is that lawn mowers and other small-engine machines were not regulated until 1997.  Any poor soul with a lawn mower that predates 1997 is polluting as much as 40 cars with every hour of use!

So, newer gasoline mowers are cleaner. But how clean?

twomowersThe latest EPA regulations (Phase 3), which mower manufacturers have to meet by 2015, will reduce emissions by 30-35%. This means those new mowers will pollute as much as 7-8 cars every hour. Clearly, not clean enough.

What pollutants are we talking about? Hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen (principle ingredients of smog), particulate matter (damaging to the respiratory system), carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide (contributors to climate change).

And then there’s the spillage. Of the 800 million gallons of gas that Americans pour into their lawn mower engines each year about 2% gets spilled — and seeps into our groundwater and evaporates into our air.


No, don’t mow with that loud, stinky machine!

One more thing about gas-powered mowers: At 85-90 decibels, they are harmful to the person mowing and to others in the yard as well as annoying to neighbors. The EPA recommends that people mowing their lawns with gas-powered mowers should wear ear protection.

Electric mowers cut the sound in half, at least. If I’m mowing in the front yard and someone else is mowing in the backyard, I can’t hear the back mower. Likewise, many customers say that they were home when we mowed, but never heard us.

That’s music to my ears.