The front yard of my Red Bank home is a lush and thriving five-year-old meadow, a National Wildlife Federation-certified habitat, providing wildlife with sources of food, water, cover and places to raise young. My steep meadow is filled with native volunteer blackberries and wildflowers, planted blueberry bushes, pollinator flowers and lovely trails through tall native grasses that prevent erosion.
I have chosen to create this sort of yard because I enjoy it and because it’s good for our environment, but the Lexington County Council could be putting that in danger.
Last month, the council gave initial approval to Ordinance 16-15, which requires homeowners in much of the county to keep their swimming pools sanitary, keep up all buldings, including sheds, keep all outdoor items in the backyard or in a fully enclosed structure and keep lawns neatly groomed and free of uncultivated vegetation or weeds. Nothing is allowed to grow uncontrolled except “ornamental grasses, wetlands, woodlands and forested areas, areas next to a stream or pond that are part of water quality buffers required by Lexington County, and land actively cultivated in crop production or engaged in farming or animal husbandry.”
These ideas make sense when aimed at abandoned or bank-owned homes: Nobody wants swimming pools to become stagnant breeding grounds for mosquitoes, or trash to pile up. But what about people like me, who prefer a natural, wildlife-friendly yard?
I use my front porch as a gardening storage space, as I don’t have a shed. Will the use of my covered porch become illegal? When I was house-hunting, I avoided properties that were covered by a homeowners association, which can control how we may use our private property. Do we really want an involuntary taxpayer-funded homeowners association?
At the County Council’s public hearing on this ordinance, the main argument for requiring mowed lawns was to maintain property values — that is, that taller grass or nontraditional yards would lower the value of neighborhoods. I argue that intentional meadows (as distinct from overgrown, untended lawns) add value and provide pollinator habitat to beautify the whole neighborhood.
Lawns entered American culture after World War II, when returning soldiers needed affordable homes. Generations later, Americans now mow about 40 million acres of lawn. They also have planted non-native ornamentals (such as the Asian import Bradford pear), which escape from domestic settings and take over semi-wild spaces. Lawns can be wonderful spaces, but they should not be mandatory. As written, it’s not clear that the proposed ordinance recognizes ecologically sound alternatives to lawns. It needs to be amended to do so.
Native flora support native wildlife, all the way down to the insects. Without native insects, the food web falters, the birds leave, and neighborhoods become silent. Native plants provide food and shelter for 10-15 times as many species as non-natives, including pollinators, which are responsible for one out of three bites of food we eat. Already bee renting — trucking honeybees across America to crops that need to be pollinated — is big business. There aren’t enough native pollinators left to get the job done.
The loss of biodiversity is astounding, but we as concerned citizens can do something about it. Nature isn’t something “out there.” We are a part of it, and we require environmental services to live. Native plants are easier to maintain than lawns, and cheaper, too. Native plants improve our air quality, as they don’t require hours of toil with motorized equipment. They also can generally survive on rainfall, unlike non-native grass lawns, which turn brown in the hot summers unless they are watered. And they’re beautiful and unique to our region of the world. Instead of trying to conquer your lawn on the weekend, why not enjoy your native wildlife community?
My certified wildlife habitat that adds life and color to my neighborhood should not be placed into legal limbo, and you should have the right to transform your own space into a native landscape if you choose.
Please join me in asking the Lexington County Council to add an amendment to this ordinance that clearly allows native landscaping.
Ms. Wilson created an educational community garden at her public library; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.