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Ed Latson: Beautiful lawns come at a price

I recently noticed as I passed Delaware Park on my way to work the beautiful clover blossoms scattered across the lawn. It almost looked like wind-blown snow, impossible in the 75-degree heat, and reminded me of a mountain meadow.

I was impressed by the contrast with the immaculate lawns across the street with the perfection of their thick green turf resembling artificial turf more than a mountain meadow.

This reminded me of a comment overheard a few years ago in a neighborhood hardware store. The gentleman was discussing the then-recent banning of herbicides for lawn use in Ontario and lamenting that he could no longer take lawn chemicals to his summer place in Canada.

“The place will be overrun with weeds! It is crazy to ban these useful chemicals,” was his opinion expressed quite loudly. “I hope they never go so far here,” he added.

I pondered these comments later as I walked my dog in a city park near the Niagara River and began to notice the “weeds” in the lawn, which was neatly, but not recently, mowed while leaving areas near the edges in a more-natural state.

As I looked more closely I saw many beautiful blossoms and interesting foliage on plants adapted to low growth and regular mowing. Happening to have my camera with me, for the next hour I tried to photograph these blossoms and a few on the unmowed edges of the park.

Many were so small one would have to bend over to actually see their beauty and none would exist in the treated lawns we so commonly see.

I am a veterinarian and a few years ago I had a client with two dogs with persistent high liver values on routine lab tests. We could not determine the cause but they did live in an upscale neighborhood with all lawns beautifully tended, often with regular chemical treatment.

Additionally, they lived at the bottom of the gentle slope in the neighborhood. The possibility of lawn chemicals carried by rainwater to the bottom of the hill was considered as a cause of these abnormalities.

As so often happens in life, these folks moved to another town. It was suggested to look for a home in a neighborhood with some dandelions in the lawns and maybe a home at the top of a hill, and they actually did find such a home.

A few months later a message was received that a recheck of the liver enzymes on the two dogs in the new home showed normal levels. Interesting, but of course not proof of anything. Just a story.

During high school I worked at a hardware store and we sold grass seed in bulk. It came in big burlap sacks and we scooped it out for weighing.

We always asked if they wanted clover seed as well and most requested a smaller weight of clover to be mixed in. Clover, aside from producing the beautiful white blossoms I saw in the park, also has the ability to fix nitrogen. That is, taking nitrogen from the air and converting it to a form usable by plants. The clover in the lawn fertilizes the grass, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.

Perhaps that is why the grass in the park looked so lush.

Perhaps the beautifully manicured lawns with no flowers look less attractive to me than they once did. I know which lawn I would rather walk on.