From hybrid cars to Michelle Obama’s organic vegetable garden, everyone’s going green—except when it comes to their lawn. Even though September and October, and again April and May are prime grass-planting seasons in New England, some green lawns are not very green at all.
There is a free series of workshops called “Tips for the Ultimate Green Home and Lawn” given with solutions for your home and lawn in communities all over the New England region and in Metro West Massachusetts, including Newton and Wayland, that can help free you from lawn care.
“Grass is the biggest crop in the United States,” says Debbie Cook of Greenscapes Massachusetts Coalition, a public-private partnership dedicated to protecting and preserving water. “How we’re handling grass is absolutely the wrong way.” Grass that’s been over-treated by chemical fertilizers can become impermeable to water, she explains. Water that can’t reach the soil has to go somewhere, and that often washes lawn care chemicals down the street into the sewer and into ponds or lakes to grow invasive weeds. Small amounts of fertilizer may end up in the drinking water supply.
Some environmentalists and health professionals have expressed concern that lawn chemicals can get on shoes or pet paws and be brought into the house. Chemicals can last up to a year indoors without sunlight to degrade them.
In 2001, noted environmental expert and green-living/building advocate, Jackson Madnick of Wayland, Mass., decided to handle grass the right way by researching for lower maintenance lawn seeds the world over. After three years of research, further inspiration came from a question that his young daughter, Pearl, asked him: “Daddy, what’s the best grass in the world?” After assembling a team of agricultural scholars, Madnick began his quest to develop a new miracle, ultra low maintenance lawn seed mix based on seeds native or adaptive to this climate. To qualify, it had to be drought resistant, tough enough to grow without petroleum-based chemical fertilizers, slow growing to lessen frequency of cutting the grass and lawnmower fuel, and suited to the New England climate. The seeds had to be natural and could not be genetically modified.
With six years of time and research, Madnick got his miracle, which he called Pearl’s Premium Ultra Low Maintenance Lawn Seed. “This lawn seed mix looks like grass, acts like grass, and is grass—just minus the hassle,” Madnick said. It grows at 1/4 the rate of blue grass and grows 12-inch deep roots. So you water one month then seldom or never again, and only cut it once per month.
Until last year, Whole Foods Market’s (WFM) North Atlantic stores had not carried lawn care products. Whole Foods also made its first exception with Pearl’s Premium Grass Seeds.
“We felt Jackson Madnick’s product was something unique,” says Lee Kane, Eco-Czar/Forager at WFM’s regional headquarters in Cambridge. “Pearl’s Premium sounded like it hit on all the right cylinders for us: Green, local, healthy and native. It speaks to all of those qualities,” he said.
Twenty-two Whole Foods stores all over New England, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, now sell the mix. “At $33, the 5-pound bags have enough premium quality seeds to cover 1,000 square feet,” says Madnick. “When you consider all the time cutting and fertilizer you’re saving, and that no water is needed after the seeds are established, the cost has as little as a 1-week pay back. When you think about a healthier lawn for your family and dog, it’s an easy decision to over-seed it over your lawn.”
According to Madnick, “The seeds don’t require chemical fertilizer, just a little organic fertilizer or organic compost from Boston Bark in Waltham and Concord or other places to help get the seeds started. Some environmentalists warn that toxic chemical fertilizer with pesticides can get on the bottom of your shoes and carried into your living room rug, where they can stay for years. They can especially affect the health of children, elderly, and pets. A chemically treated lawn can be the most toxic thing and not just outside your house, according to the May 2008 issue of Health Magazine. Inside, too, if you don’t take off your shoes.”
“Grass can be both a problem and a solution to the environment,” says Greenscapes’s Cook. “There’s definitely been a growth in knowledge over the last couple of years. People are just starting to become aware and change their practices for healthier, lower maintenance lawns,” she said.
“In spring and summer, your lawn is the best place to entertain and relax, if you go for a healthier variation without chemical fertilizer and over-seed with deep root, drought tolerant seeds, like Pearl’s Premium,” says Madnick. “Your lawn is meant to be lush, green, and healthy, not a place for worries.”
John is a freelance writer living in New England.