For a better lawn, go Dutch – Clover Taking Over Ontario

For a better lawn, go Dutch


 I once had an enemy, a stubborn foe who kicked my tuchus more times than I care to remember.

Eventually, humbled by defeat after defeat, realizing the futility of it all, I gave up the fight. Then a curious thing happened.

My nemesis became my ally. I welcomed him. I embraced him. I bought him at Ritchie Feed & Seed for $6.99 a bag.

My foe-turned-friend goes by the name Dutch white clover. I first met him years ago, shortly after moving into my home in Kanata. I was in the backyard with my seven-iron, trying to groove an ungroovy golf swing, when I noticed Dutch nestled in the grass.

He was uninvited, unwanted and quickly uprooted. But Dutch came back. Again, I yanked him out. Again, he returned.

This time he claimed more territory. He crept from his stronghold in the middle of my backyard toward the neglected edges, infringing upon space already claimed by dandelions, the periphery's weedin-residence.

My war with clover had clearly become a lopsided farce. If Dutch vs. Roger was offered on pay-perview, paying viewers would demand refunds. Less clear was why I had engaged in this war in the first place.

I grew up in rural Newfoundland, where people did not fuss over grass. If memory serves, I did not hear the words "lawn" and "care" in the same sentence until I moved to Ontario. The notion that my father would fertilize or aerate or overseed our front yard is downright absurd.

In suburbia, however, neglecting one's lawn borders on sacrilege. As the writer Michael Pollan put it, the suburban vista is an endless "dense springy super-green and weed-free carpet," and tending to your emerald swatch is a civic responsibility.

All it takes is one patchy, yellowed, weed-infested lawn to uglify a whole street. You don't want to own that lawn. It will transform you from an otherwise fine neighbour into an unpopular, vista-destroying reducer of property values.

Merely letting your grass grow a tad high is enough to get tsk-tskers tsk-tsking. An infrequent mower, writes Pollan, is an inferior neighbour. "That subtle yet unmistakable frontier, where the closely shaved lawn rubs up against a shaggy one, is a scar on the face of suburbia, an intolerable hint of trouble in paradise."

My suburb is hardly paradise, as anyone ever marooned in Kanata Centrum, its Byzantine shopping area, would attest. But Pollan is right about the crew cuts suburbanites favour for their lawns. No blades of grass rippling in the wind here. More like green stubble.

Though I found the obsession over lawns strange, I decided to do my part to keep the neighbourhood pretty. A weekly mow. A light watering during dry spells. Easy peasy, right? Ah, no.

Over the years, the freshly laid sod went from lush to limp to "just grow, dang it!" I didn't hire professionals to revive it. I didn't douse it in chemicals, when that was still allowed. I did sprinkle fertilizer now and then, to little effect. Then Dutch came along.

A while after surrendering to Dutch, granting him free reign, I noticed a change in my backyard. In the areas with the most clover, my lawn was thick and green all summer, whereas areas without clover went yellow or just turned to dirt.

I hopped on the Internet and discovered that clover resists drought, thrives in poor soil, grows deep roots, and requires less mowing and no fertilizer. It actually makes its own fertilizer, sucking nitrogen from the air and converting it to food, which it shares with nearby grass. Back in the day, in fact, lawns were grown from a mixture of grass and clover seeds.

That changed when homeowners got a taste for all-grass lawns, perfect monocultures that tolerated no leaf broader than a Popsicle stick. It didn't help that lawn care companies told us clover was a vile weed to be destroyed.

But clover has made a comeback in areas with pesticide bans. In my yard, Dutch is thriving. I spread several bags of clover seed over my lawn in May and once-dead patches have sprung to life. Now my lawn is easier and cheaper to maintain. Clover is also soft underfoot and, in my opinion, pleasant to the eye.

Losing my battle with Dutch was the best thing that ever happened to my lawn, and the defeat brought me no shame. Besides, I'm used to losing disputes on my property. I have, after all, been married for 10 years.

Roger Collier's column appears every second week.

via For a better lawn, go Dutch.