It could have gone badly – I was grumpy when I got back from Home Depot and in no mood to deal with two salesmen from TruGreen lawn service. But I decided to turn them away without conversation and wish them luck in the same polite way I do with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sure, I could engage representatives from either organization in a lively debate about the ways our belief systems differ fundamentally but in the end neither of us would change the mind of the other.
I knew if I launched into my questions it would end in a tirade, but I very nearly asked anyway: “Will you get rid of my dandelions? How about the grubs? Do you eliminate clover?” Then I could have explained how I had set out to buy a bag of Dutch White Clover seed but arrived at Paris Farmer’s Union nine minutes after they had closed. I knew it was a long shot, but as long as I was out I tried Home Depot. That store doesn’t sell clover seed but they can sell you a dozen different ways to kill clover.
For many years I pursued the manly American dream of farming a small plot of lush, pristine Kentucky Bluegrass – the kind of lawn that caresses the bare feet with cool, cushiony green. Dandelions were my mortal enemy. When we moved to a house near the seashore I began to pay closer attention to what was washing off of our lawn and onto the beach. I committed myself to pulling out dandelions with a weeding tool. But one weekend I was heading out to the front lawn with dandelion vengeance in mind and encountered my neighbor Caleb. At the time he was about seven years old and had both legs in a cast and a big smile on his face. He sat on the lawn with a fuzzy white dandelion in his hand and blew its feathery seeds into the breeze. Before I could think my next negative thought he said, “I love dandelions. They mean summer is really here.” My perspective on dandelions changed in that moment. I saw their bright yellow joy and besides, what’s the point of battling dandelions when my neighbor is sowing them.
But I still thought I had a problem with clover, until I realized I had been fooled. I was reading up on how to maintain a lawn in a more environmentally sensitive way when I learned the tortured history of clover in lawns. Clover seed used to be a part of all lawn mixtures; it’s durable, drought-resistant, and fixes nitrogen in the soil. But when the Scott Company introduced Weed and Feed in the late 1940’s they found there was no way to kill broadleaf weeds without also killing clover. So they declared it a weed. Once clover was removed from seed mixtures, and Weed and Feed removed it from your lawn, suddenly lawns were depriving soil of nitrogen. The answer: more Weed and Feed, once in the fall and once in the spring.
Out under our big Norway maple in the front yard is a patch of lawn that seemed beyond redemption. The maple hogs more than its share of water and nitrogen from that area and the lawn is patchy and balding despite every effort I have made. In the fall I planted a couple dozen Scilla Siberica bulbs in the patch. It is just beginning to bloom with little blue flowers the bees love for their electric blue pollen. And I returned to buy the seed and have now spread the area with clover which will bring the bees back in mid-summer with puffy white flowers.
And Caleb, and his little brother Sawyer, have continued to joyfully sow dandelion seeds over the last few years. Together we wait for the explosion of yellow that means summer has really arrived. For the bees the dandelion bloom is a watershed point in the year – it is when the hive starts really going gangbusters.
As for the grubs, I haven’t found an answer. The skunks like to dig them up so grubs are two problems in one. I’m still not going to let the TruGreen guys go at it. (Can you really trust guys who don’t even spell “true” properly?) Research is finding a strong connection between imidacloprid, used in grub killer, and honeybee die-off. Products containing the chemical positively litter the shelves at Home Depot. It’s enough to make a beekeeper want to start picking fights.