Brown, dead branches stretched toward us, the wind blew seed pods onto our shoulders and hands, and sprinkled us with nature’s fading summer bounty. There was very little green left in the garden, but it was clear that if I had come across this house in mid-July, the space would have been filled with sparkling flowers and still-withered trees. Ta.
My grandfather and I were standing on a street corner in the Burns Park neighborhood of Ann Arbor. The area was populated by young couples pushing strollers, teenagers zipping by on bicycles, and runners blushing from exertion. My grandfather, who was a meticulous man, pointed out that the lawn was in disarray, so we stopped walking. Unlike his garden at home, the garden in front of ours looked like it hadn’t been mowed in quite some time. Dead leaves littered the garden, a sign that cold weather was quickly approaching. Perhaps the biggest fear for him, as he loves machines and all kinds of equipment, was the lack of gardening tools. I approached the garden and was enchanted by the wild beauty of the place. It was completely different from the lawn next door, which had neatly mown grass that somehow still remained bright and dazzling green despite the fall season.
As I approached the garden, I noticed a staked sign that read, “This garden is part of a pollinator-friendly gardening program.” I tried to reassure my grandfather that these people were not careless residents who didn’t care about the appearance of the neighborhood, but were actually trying to do their part in the service of the environment. Ta.
Pollinator gardens often include a variety of native flowering species and are easily recognized by their wilder, more lush appearance. Gardeners are encouraged to allow plants to bloom without over-fertilizing, trimming, or inhibiting growth. This increases pollen production and protects the natural habitat of pollinators. Starting a pollinator garden requires research to determine which plants are native to your area. Wildflowers are not the same as native plants, so it is important to introduce only very specialized plants to intended pollinator gardens.
So, contrary to popular belief, a pollinator garden is not just a lawn growing unchecked. Although minimal, careful maintenance is required. Pollinator gardens strike a fine balance between embracing nature’s wilder side and a less selective, slightly more hands-off approach to gardening.
When I explained all this to my grandfather, he seemed relieved as he was also a sensible person, and we started walking again. Our footsteps led us away from this wild scene and into a treasure trove of manicured lawns.
From 1989 to 2008, the number of commercial honey bee colonies declined by more than 30%. Finally, realizing that honeybees, a resource so important to the nation, contribute $15 billion to the U.S. economy each year, the U.S. government introduced his 2008 Farm Bill. The bill increased funding for honey bee research and emphasized the importance of establishing conservation programs that support pollinator habitat restoration.
Since 2008, the country has not faced the same loss of commercial honey bee colonies as it did in the 1990s, so this bill had a positive impact on pollinator protection. However, bee colonies remain in decline. And despite recent increases in efforts to protect pollinators, such as the Obama administration’s 2015 National Strategy to Promote Honey Bee Health, the country’s climate change data show that 2016 We are faced with the grim reality that this is happening faster than estimated. As droughts become more frequent and heat levels rise, more people are asking the pressing question: “What can we do?”
Pollinator gardens are the obvious answer. These are examples of small, direct actions that have proven to be effective. The basic purpose of pollinator gardens is to provide pollinators with sufficient nectar and pollen to reestablish native flora. Many communities have unused green space, and many individuals (more than 80% of Americans) have lawns. Spaces like this can be turned into pollinator gardens fairly easily by mowing less often and planting native species. Cities like Ann Arbor are increasingly developing local efforts to promote such practices to protect natural pollinator habitat.
The Ann Arbor Pollinator-Aware Garden Care Program was established in 2023 after the Ann Arbor City Council approved Resolution R-23-111. This program is designed to provide resources for people who want to implement gardening practices that increase native pollinator populations. This community organization adds clover to turfgrass areas to give more nutrients to the soil without using chemicals, allows the grass to grow taller to provide pollinator habitat, and removes fallen leaves in the fall. We offer helpful tips for creating a pollinator garden, including avoiding raking. Overall, by reducing the meticulous upkeep and care we often give our lawns and backyards, we may be able to allow natural habitats and pollinators to thrive. .
The sight of Burns Park’s lawns was a surprise to me, largely due to the relative lack of pollinator-populating gardens, but it wasn’t the first time I’d encountered the concept. In Connecticut, my family started growing grass for our lawn. He used to mow the lawn every other week, but now he only mows it twice during the summer. A few months after I started school and started experimenting, I was shocked when my parents sent me their first pictures of the garden. My first reaction to untended brownish grass was that it looked ugly. Our garden was uncared for and looked dilapidated.
Looking back, my reaction confused me. My grandfather seemed troubled by the disarray and disorganization of the garden at Burns Park, but neither of us said it was ugly. I think it is difficult to call a new version beautiful only if it transforms the space that we are used to. My lawn in Connecticut was ugly because it was foreign and it wasn’t the lawn I knew.
In many ways, I think the most difficult part of working with pollinator gardens is getting people to overcome this hurdle of transition and unfamiliarity. The American lawn has been idealized in this country for over a century. The ideal of white picket fences and bright green lawns has become a symbol of the nation’s prosperity, despite its environmental impact. It is often an unattainable and completely unnatural beauty standard.
The American lawn has always served as a symbol of taste, privilege, and order, but in the aftermath of World War II and the rise of suburbia, the American lawn became synonymous with the American dream. A well-kept lawn began to express the idea that with hard work, decent and decent homeownership was possible for all Americans. Abe Levitt, who developed some of America’s first large-scale suburban housing developments, said of American lawns in 1949: And first impressions are lasting. ” Clearly, value is being placed on the appearance of lawns without really considering the environmental impact of using millions of gallons of water across the country to maintain vibrant green lawns. I did. As long as the grass is mowed and green after the war and forevermore, you have made further progress toward achieving the American Dream.
As American lawns continued to grow in popularity with the growth of the suburbs, New York City’s urban movement sought to establish beauty in a completely different way. In 1973, Liz Christie worked with his group, the Green Guerillas, a community of horticulturists and botanists, to improve abandoned vacant lots in New York City and create community gardens. To encourage wildlife growth in these undeveloped areas, Christie and the Green Guerillas threw seed bombs over fences and into open fields. Seed bombs derive from the ancient Japanese custom of “earth dumping,” which roughly translates to “earth dumping.” In the 20th century, Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukaoka reintroduced seed bombs to the world as a way to encourage the growth of native plants.
Seed bombs are most commonly made from clay, soil, and wildflower seeds, and when thrown onto land, the wildflower seeds scatter. In 1973, with limited funds, Christie and the Green Guerillas took a more unconventional approach to making seed bombs. I filled unused condoms with wildflower seeds, water, and fertilizer.
Seed bombs, especially those used by Christie and the Green Guerillas, seem antithetical to maintaining American lawns. Their aggressive dispersal form precludes careful watering and well-maintained mowing. Seed bombs were used to protest the “ugliness” of New York spaces, spaces completely deprived of nature. result? A space that achieves exactly the same effect and qualifies as a current pollinator garden.
There is an important and timely lesson here. Perhaps it’s true that beauty exists in American lawns, too. I’m willing to admit this. The uniform rows of grass and flowers are beautiful. It’s orderly, neat and satisfying. However, there is beauty in nature too. When we learn that our beautification practices are harmful to the entire ecosystem, we have a responsibility to turn away from them.
Seed Bombs and Guerrilla Gardeners reveal that wild beauty was chosen even at a time when America’s lawns were far more important to the national psyche than they are now. Christie was thinking about what he was doing in the 70’s. When you remove the idea of how a lawn should be, wild grass has both physical and ethical beauty.
As I walked from the pollinator garden in Barnes Park, I thought about how we, as students, can create our own pollinator gardens. I live in a house, so I have access to green space in my “backyard.” However, many other University of Michigan students live in apartments or dormitories and are not in a position to implement many of the practices listed in Ann Arbor’s pollinator-friendly yard care program.
But as we watch news of climate tragedy play out on our screens, it becomes increasingly clear that something must be done. In the future, when we may become homeowners ourselves, we must rethink the way America thinks about lawns and commit to implementing environmentally friendly and sustainable practices. There is too much at stake if we don’t.
For now, as a busy, overtired, overworked student, I explain to my grandfather about the pollinator garden and promise not to rake leaves. I hope to see more bees around here in the spring.
Statement columnist Olivia Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.