Beauty in the eye of the beholder – Metro US

Beauty in the eye of the beholder

Environment Canada says running your gas-powered lawnmower for one hour is equal to driving a new car 320 to 480 kilometres. So is there really any reason to mow your lawn?

I suppose this is moot for me since my wife bought me a sleek Lee Valley push-mower after I threw out my shoulder with an older model. Still, I wonder. Who says dandelions are ugly, or worse, a pesky weed? Who defines what is weed and what is blossom?

My parents are my models for lawn and garden care. Lenora and Alan would drive around Nova Scotia in their beat-up K-car with eyes peeled to the ditches next to our highways. If they saw something appealing they would pull over — my dad would remove the shovel in the trunk and dig up the wildflowers. The trunk was lined with garbage bags so the flowers, the brush, the trees, would last until they got home. Then each would be transplanted in the most eclectic garden in HRM.

I think my daughter is being brainwashed by the landscaping police. When she was younger she would delight in the bright yellow that would dot our lawn, excited by the coming of spring. Now, she sees the dandelions with mixed emotions, on one hand beholding the beauty and on the other feeling the tug that these are a nuisance, like a carpet that needs to be cleaned. Where did that come from?

The other day I was walking out of our rustic subdivision when a driver kindly picked me up. As we talked she mentioned a house that she felt “had gone too far.” I thought she was referring to a home clearly twice as expensive as any other in the area. But as we chatted it was obvious I was mistaken — she was talking about a home just like ours, commenting on the lawn, the fact it looked untended. Our six-year-old is not immune to these comments. She knows others think our lawns should look like cemeteries and golf courses.

But why do we feel the need to spend all this energy, time and expense to make our lawns look like our carpets, except green?

Some of you may be thinking, “Now that man is just trying to justify his laziness.” Perhaps, but even those who dislike me would hardly call me lazy. I walk more than five miles a day. I just have a hard time justifying doing something solely because “someone” said I should. So, I ask, is there any reason to mow your lawn besides social conformity?

I have no problem with the extra effort to pick up litter around the church where I work and our home, to be careful in disposal of waste (is it compost, recycling or garbage), to walk instead of drive at every opportunity despite living in the “burbs” where cars are king. But I balk at any effort that is motivated by the say-so of middle-class convention.

Like most families we are challenged by time commitments; church, school, friends, volunteer activities, sports, family, social activism. So finding the time and the money to landscape and garden is tough. Lately, it got tougher when a friend asked me to join her on Saturday mornings as she planted some 3,000 bulbs around the Metro Turning Point Centre, Atlantic Canada’s largest homeless shelter for men. It had been Kelly’s vision to plant these gardens in places around Halifax where the homeless gather, to give them the same access to beauty as we middle-class people take for granted.

It turns out that Kelly’s Sanctuary Garden needs more than workers, it needs plants, too — shrubs and vines: Japanese Pieris, Pyramidal Yew, lime or golden Barberry, Dwarf Rhodo, Golden Ninebark, Climbing Hydrangea, Leucothoe, Boston Ivy. Perennials: Sedges or shade tolerant ornamental grasses, Astilbe Columbine, Bellflower (upright), Ligularia, Heuchera, Bergenia (Pigsqueak), a few Hosta, Lungwort (Pulmonaria), Masterwort (Astrantia), Goosenecked, Loosestrife, Lady’s mantle, Solomon’s Seal, Ferns, and Daylily. (Kelly O’Neil, an employee of LIVE Landscaping, can be reached at [email protected] if anyone has any of these plants to donate.)

So now I have a choice. I can spend time push-mowing my lawn to remove dandelions and grass or I can drive (60-kilometre round trip) to the Sanctuary Garden every Saturday morning and help Kelly, her homeless friends and volunteers with their assorted list of donated plants. What should I do?

If my mum was still living she and my dad would be busy driving around Nova Scotia looking for ditch flowers, which I know would be perfect for my property and Kelly’s Sanctuary Garden. Beauty is all around us, whether it is sanctioned by the landscaping police or not. As a profound monk once said, “You can cut back the flowers but you can never hold back the spring.”