Start of a Slightly Seditious Experiment

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”

– Dalai Llama XIV

Ken, who helps in our garden, asked me yesterday whether he should mow the grass. It has been a couple weeks since the last shaving. With lawnmowers buzzing on our block every day, I was trying to decide what in Earth to do with our front lawn. Even though much space is given to Victorian lawns (due to by-laws regulating set-backs), they are usually barren, silent places until they get mowed.  After a flurry of mowing activity, they return to quiet, uninhabited, still-ness.

What is the point?

Ever since posting a quote about lawns being nature under a totalitarian regime, something has been slowly growing inside of me. A seed of discontent about lawns, a confusion about their purpose. We considered planting a vegetable garden in the front but we have ample room in the back and not much soil to work with. Not only that, but we have unique and protected trees, plants, mosses and lichens in the front yard. It’s a beautiful balance between the naturally-occurring rocks and greenery. We have several mature and juvenile Garry Oaks in the front we definitely don’t want to disturb.  Lastly, if we replaced the front patches of lawn with vegetables, we’d have to put up 7 foot high fences.  Only this would keep out the deer who wander the quiet streets of Victoria like the sacred cows of India.  A proper deer-proof fence wouldn’t be allowed because of by-laws stating that front yard fences cannot be more than four feet high.

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I wonder if you see where I’m going with this…

I read a book recently about a fellow Victorian who tried to grow a Garry Oak meadow in front of her house. The city didn’t share her noble ambitions and ordered it cut down. I believe the book is Gardens Aflame by Maleea Acker (Thanks Eve!). Neighbours tend to fear *that* house with over-grown ‘weeds’, worrying that it signals seditious on-goings inside. One fellow in my neighbourhood allegedly measures his lawn height with a ruler.

I wonder if you have enough clues now…

I hummed and hawed trying to answer Ken. To Mow or Not to Mow….  That was the question.  Whether ’tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.  Wheels were turning in my heart.  Last week, Ken already removed heavy clods of lawn from the Garry Oaks’ perimeters in order to seed more native plants (see previous post for another before-and-after picture).

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Having reduced it, did we really *need* to cut whatever lawn was left?

I asked Ken that question. He shrugged.

“What happens if I don’t cut it?” I took another approach.

Ken had a think.

I don’t think he’s ever been asked this before.

He said that it was up to me, but neighbours will usually let your grass grow a foot before complaining to the city.

Now that got me really curious. Exactly, just how long could our lawn grow without a neighbour complaining? I felt stirrings inside, a challenge of disquiet, a need to prove or to learn something. The start of another experiment! I haven’t spoken to anyone else about it (hope my husband agrees – if not I’ll make him), but it will be more of a social experiment versus a scientific one. Let me clarify that nobody has asked me to do this nor has anyone encouraged me to do this. I think most people I know would say, ‘What? Why?”

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Lung lichen growing among the moss

There are so many reasons and I’m not sure how to order them in terms of importance. I want to know if this purposeful in/action can give a home to and nurture more Garry Oak pollinators and other elements of the Native Ecosystem. This means encouraging life and  biodiversity. Diversity is not only the spice of life, but the basis by which evolution can occur. We must honour our differences biologically speaking. Without differences, we are literally doomed.

I also am curious about the spoken and unspoken rules here about lawn mowing.  Having lived in Europe for the bulk of my adult-hood, I’ve assimilated different norms, languages and cultures. I tend to think of Canadians (including myself) as very law-abiding. For example at a deserted intersection, most Canadians will wait for the green man to flash before crossing. Even when there are no cars around. Having lived 13 years in Europe, 5 in the US and a tiny bit in Hong Kong I can tell you that nowhere else are people so norm-driven. Helvetian Friends say that even the Swiss won’t wait for the signal to cross when the intersection is empty. I guess I’m curious as to how my neighbours will react to the budding bit of Garry Oak Meadow on their street.

How will the City react and respond?  How long will it take for us to receive a notice to mow?Will we become our street’s pariah? Or will this contribute positive change and encourage avid mowers to promote life and Garry Oak Ecosystems in their front yards?

I suppose I feel like being a little provocative.  Perhaps, just perhaps, provocation is a key ingredient for change.

One thought on “Start of a Slightly Seditious Experiment

  1. Eve

    Hi Deepa,

    I believe the book you are thinking of is Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast by Maleea Acker. She was apparently featured at an Open House at the Garry Oak Preserve in the Cowichan Valley.

    I love your project.
    Eve

    Reply

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