The Popular Topic Of “Lawn Porn”

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The humble lawn might be an Australian backyard staple but they are water guzzlers. They also fall short on the biodiversity front and are heavily reliant on pesticides and other chemicals to stay luscious and green. So is it time to rethink our relationship with lawns or do the benefits outweigh the negatives?

Jock Gilbert, a lecturer on landscape architecture at RMIT University, believes there’s room to reconsider the dominant narrative around lawns and inject more creativity into landscaping choices in Australia.

“The lawn is one spatial type or landscape type that runs from small domestic tiny little spaces right through to municipal and commercial space and agricultural and wild space,” he told The Fifth Estate.

“How we recognise ourselves as Australians on this continent should be reflected in the way we think of the lawn.”

He says the key will be communicating the fact that we live in a continent that has its own set of attributes “and develop our own response to it.”

Where the modern lawn came from

The humble lawn was once not-so-humble and actually a status symbol for English aristocrats in the late 1660s. Back then lawn upkeep was extremely laborious, until the invention of the mechanical mower in the 1830s that made the lawn more widely accessible.

What you need to know about “lawn porn” and why it's so popular

Lawns were meant to be recreations of fields or glades found in nature, and over time the preferred aesthetic became the monocultural lawn (made up of one species of grass) kept short to stop the grass going to seed.

It’s now emblematic of the Western world’s middle class and although it’s a pleasing look, it’s far from the only way to shape the landscape. The French, for instance, let their lawns grow a little wilder and allow them to go to seed and flower.

In Berlin, authorities let weeds grow and flourish in public places – a maintenance regime Gilbert believes developed “by default through lack of resources”.

Gilbert is not against the traditional lawn but it’s overwhelming cultural precedence.

“The lawn itself has become almost industrialised. You walk into Bunnings and are confronted with range of products that can be applied to your lawn to make it grow faster, lusher, do all sort of things.”

He’s pushing for a more creative to approach the lawn and landscaping in general, and says landscape architects are pushing for alternatives to the manicured lawn look.

Adopting native grasses and plants is one option to consider. Native grasses encourage birds, and wildlife, and tend to be more drought reliant than conventional varieties, which is important in a changing climate.

Councils have been putting native grasses and plants rather than conventional lawn grasses on median strips and verges for some time which is “big for both aesthetic reasons and maintenance.”

But lawns aren’t going anywhere in a hurry

Despite heightened awareness of the amount of water lawns consume and the chemicals they need to stay in good condition, Joe Rogers from Lawn Solutions Australia says the popularity of the lawn is enduring. In fact, the rise of social media pages such as Lawn Porn (now with more than 84,000 followers) suggest a “massive resurgence” in lawn appreciation.

Although turf grass has its environmental downsides, Rogers says the garden staple also does “a lot of wonderful things”, including absorbing dust and helping mitigate the urban heat island effect.

Lawns also sequester carbon into the soil (but there’s also the emissions from mowing them to factor in), and Rogers says the average home lawn produces more oxygen than the world’s tallest tree.

There’s also the recreational and biophilic aspect of lawns, with studies showing that access to nature promotes relaxation and therefore less susceptibility to high blood pressure, stress and depression.

RMIT lecturer Jock Gilbert also says despite the criticism levelled at lawns in terms of water use, lawns do play a role in micro climates and help to combat issues of climate change on a broadscale level.

Seen through this lens, traditional lawns are likely better than no plant-life at all in our cities.

“A monoculture is better than no culture. If you concrete over it then you’re no better off.”

Making lawns more sustainable

Technical manager at Lawn Solutions Australia Joe Rogers says the turf industry is under a lot of pressure to find grass varieties that use less water, with drought presently top-of-mind in many parts of Australia. And grasses that require less herbicides and pesticides on the basis of both safety and cost.

Rogers’ business is now using a new variety called TifTuf that needs 38 per cent less water than comparable varieties. Developed by the University of Georgia, the grass is a result of around 25 years of research and development to get to the commercialisation stage.

“We’re starting to make inroads into this kind of stuff, but it’s a long process.”

He says although there’s many varieties that require less water, these grasses also need to be able to withstand the harvesting process and grow fast enough to be viable for commercialisation.

It’s not as easy as choosing native turf grass varieties

Despite native grasses offering biodiversity and climate-suitability benefits Rogers says it’s not that growing native grass lawns is not that straight forward. Most turf grasses used in Australia are imported varieties, such as the popular Buffalo Grass.

It is possible to buy native Australian grass species, however, but there are only a few species that grow fast enough to be commercially viable for the turf industry.

Lawns Solutions Australia is trying to find more native grass varieties suitable for commercialisation. He says although they’ve identified a handful of potential varieties the problem is different native grasses are suited to different parts of Australia.

“It’s hard to find one that will grow Australia wide.”

Source, Images & More: https://www.thefifthestate.com.au

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