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Miss Floribunda: A hot topic: moaning about mowing

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Posted on: September 14, 2023

Dear Miss Floribunda, 

When I was a child, I saw my grandfather collapse from heat prostration one summer afternoon when he was mowing his lawn. This, and the fact that summers are getting hotter and I am getting older, is the reason I was very, very interested in your interview with the author of Groundcover Revolution, Kathy Jentz. Not only would I like to take her advice to stop mulching, but I like her idea of replacing a turfgrass lawn with plants that don’t require mowing. This means there are a lot of questions I’d like to ask her. You invited her to come to Hyattsville to give a talk. What’s the status of that?

If she’s not coming anytime soon, I have two other questions for you. What easy-care ground covers can really be walked on without tripping me? As I get older, that’s a real concern. Also, are there legalities that might trip me up? Much as I want to be lawnless, I don’t want to be lawless. 

Still Lawn-abiding 

Dear Still Lawn-abiding, 

Your questions are easy to answer. Question 1: Yes, Kathy Jentz is engaged to speak at My Dead Aunt’s Books on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 10 a.m. My Dead Aunt’s Books is located in the SoHy Arts Building, 5132 Baltimore Avenue. If you need a landmark, it’s across the street from Franklins Restaurant, Brewery and General Store. There is no charge other than a voluntary donation, but you might wish to call to make a reservation: 270.472.9325. And, if you wish, you can stay after the Q&A for a meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society, as well. New members are always welcome, regardless of level of experience.

Question 2: Yes, there are many ground covers that will not trip you, such as most sedges, mosses and serpentine herbs, as well as wild violets, and creeping Jenny or Lizzie. These are listed in Ms. Jentz’s book, along with ground covers that can survive foot traffic, and those that are adapted best for different sites and situations.

Question 3: No, it is not against the law to have a lawnless garden in Hyattsville. In 2021, the Maryland General Assembly passed House Bill 322, which effectively asserted the right of homeowners to engage in “low-impact landscaping,” such as rain gardens and pollinator gardens. 

We must thank an intrepid couple who took the matter to court after they were ordered by their homeowners association to rip up their beautiful garden of pollinator-friendly native plants and groundcovers and replace it with a generic lawn. They argued that homeowners have a right to make ecologically responsible decisions, and they won. 

Perhaps one day, it will be manicured lawns — with their exorbitant use of water and their reliance on chemical fertilizers and weed killers — that are against the law. Generation Z, which is highly conscious that its own survival is linked to the survival of this planet, might well accomplish this.

Ms. Jentz is aware of the resistance some neighbors and community code enforcement have to anything other than outdated notions of lawns and gardening. These attitudes are derived from the intensive advertising and political lobbying that characterized the age of “Better living through chemicals.”  

Fortunately, since the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, in 1962, there has been increased recognition of the dangers not just of such toxic insecticides like DDT but of many other dangerous chemicals and agricultural practices as well. The Hyattsville City Code (ecode360.com/36857779) gives “favorable consideration” to alternative gardens, especially those harboring pollinators. Just click on Chapter 65: Health and Sanitation, Article VI: Brush, Grass and Weeds, § 65-25, D and E for details.

Now, Ms. Jentz does give practical information about how to avoid criticism with tips on how to make your garden look neat and attractive. She advises gardeners to keep edges clipped, and to have a patio or small grassy area as a focal point. For specifics, I urge you to come to My Dead Aunt’s Books on Sept. 16 to hear her speak. You can also buy her book there to keep as a handy reference for the future.

 

Miss Floribunda writes about gardening for the Hyattsville Life & Times. You may email her at fl*********@gm***.com.

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