Friday, June 26, 2009

Justifiable Herbicide

What is it about Dandelions and Lily of the Valley that inspires such venomous hatred?
Mars and I recently attempted to give some of the latter to a family member who is landscaping a newly acquired house. "Thanks for the offer, I like it but the dh hates it, at the other house he hacked it out with an ax."

I have gotten this kind of response before. One time I donated some LotV to my garden club's annual plant sale. It was unanimously and derisively banished from the "for sale" section and relegated to the "please, please take one for free" table where it was totally ignored -- except for some Master Gardeners who visibly recoiled at the plant's proximity. At least no one took a sharp steel wood-chopping tool to them.

Dandelion detestation is even more dramatic. I often feel it myself.

Every day I stalk my lawn looking for the slightest glimpse of lion-toothed leaf to root out with my well-seasoned, fork-tongued weeding tool -- "The Herbinator". I actually find this mano-a-mano style of horticultural combat to be quite relaxing.

But gentlemanly dislike often escalates into rabid detestation. Particularly after I've just duck-walked the lawn, dug up that last broadleaf weed and, as I am stretching the muscle spasms out of my back, spot one more insidious yellow-headed outlier. Suddenly blind anger obliterates my pain and, weeding tool in hand, I rush forth in a Norman Bates-like frenzy, stabbing wildly at the missed miscreant -- and vowing not to look for any others as I return my weapon to its storage bucket.

All because of golf, public parks, and Levittown.

Invented on the natural grasslands of Scotland the first golf course in the United States was built 1888 in New York. The sport rapidly developed in popularity creating a grass-roots industry all its own.

"Between 1910 and 1924, the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) helped fund and carry out research in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture about the best ways to cultivate grass. Reportedly the first experimental turf farm in the U.S. resided where the Pentagon sits today.

"In the mid 19th century, as cities grew and became increasingly industrialized, city beautification campaigns became common, and the 'park' was born.
"Eventually lawns migrated from the civic center into North Americans' backyards. A key figure in this movement was Frederick Law Olmstead (1822-1903), a.k.a. the American father of landscape architecture, who planned New York City's Central Park in the 1850s, as well as parks in Boston, Montreal, and elsewhere. Olmstead not only popularized the use of meadows in public parks, but also designed suburbs in which each residential home sported a lawn."
Then came Levittown -- "The Ideal American Community". Built 1948-52 it was the first affordable-dwelling suburb to include established lawns "which residents were required to keep up but forbidden to fence in. The importance of a neat, weed-free, closely-shorn lawn was promoted intensely in the newsletters that went out to all homeowners in these subdivisions, along with lawn-care advice on how to reach this ideal."

Many of these occupants were returning GIs and their young families "trained in neatness and obedience, and these were the conformist fifties...

"Science and technology produced a whole train of inventions: the rotary lawn mower, effective (if not safe) pesticides, the first weed-free grass seeds, combined fertilizers and pesticides (early Weed and Feed products), and spreaders to make their application so easy it was child's play. Out of these developments came the possibility of the weed-free lawn."

There was of course some collateral damage. Clover, a beneficial nitrogen-depositing part of lawns, became the enemy because the new "2,4-D" herbicides could not distinguish that herbaceous three-lobed plant from the broad leaf weeds they were intended to eliminate.

But maybe it could have evolved differently.
A recent New Yorker magazine article told of the restoration of the Askernish golf course, in Scotland -- built in the early 1900's and designed by Old Tom Morris, the founding father of modern golf. In 2005 the course was still in use but not in its original configuration. The restorers were determined to recreate golf holes of the type that Morris and his contemporaries did, in the same way that they would have constructed them. They would not use pesticides or artificial fertilizers, or install any irrigation system. Maintenance would consist of no more than cutting the grass and filling in old rabbit burrows.

To me that seems like the way golf and landscaping were really meant to be -- playing through what nature gives you. Unless, of course, the ball happens to land in front of some Lily of the Valley or dandelion that interferes with my swing. Then, without hesitation, I will reach into my golf bag, take out my trusty Fork-Tongued Weeding Wedge, and chip that sucker right into the nearest trash pail.

Matthew 5:21-22 says "whosoever is angry...without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment."

I plead justifiable herbicide.

(quoted information taken from

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