Dandelion

Last spring I posted a piece on dandelions, after I had been struck by the preponderance of death-dealing chemicals in the ‘lawn and garden’ section at the local big box store. Moved today by the appearance of tractors spraying herbicide over large expanses of lawn on a beautiful spring day, I once again make a plea.

We can care for our lawns—and other green spaces in and around which we live—without using chemicals that kill.

How we treat our lawns is intimately tied to how we approach the natural world as a whole. Is it a gift to be received, with an order to be reverenced and stewarded, or is it something to manipulated according to our preconceived plans?

Over two thousand years ago Xenophon wrote, “For you’ll gain more produce by sowing and planting what the land readily grows and nurtures than by sowing and planting what you want.” He warned that when we plant we must have an eye for what the land ‘wants’ and that we err in focusing too much on what suits our fancy or convenience. In a similar way, and a fortiori, we should be attentive to which plants the land yields up to us unsolicited—growing in our own little corner of the world:  our backyard.

If we take the time to learn the common ‘weeds’ that grow in our lawn we will find that many of them have wonderful properties. Maria Treben, a best-selling Austrian author on herbs writes that dandelions are “Nature’s greatest healing aid for suffering mankind.” Every part of the plant is thought to have healing properties—especially in the spring. Another great example is common plantain. Look up its picture and its properties; chances are both that you have it in your lawn, if you’ve avoided broad-leaf herbicides, and that you’ll find a use for it–such as in soothing bee stings. These are just two examples of the beneficence of nature at work in our own yards, if we but make the effort to learn, and to adjust our expectations and actions. The list goes on: white clover, burdock…

Some species indeed will rightly be deemed undesirable. There are safe and effective ways to remove these weeds without using poisons that kill whole classes of plants and may well have negative, even if unknown, side-effects on numerous other living  things, including humans.

At the end of the day how we treat our lawns is not about the dandelions; it’s about our own identity. How we care for the earth has profound implications. The book of Genesis intertwines the human vocation and the tilling of the earth. For many of us our lawn is the most direct context in which we interact with the earth. How we act here sets the tone of our broader interaction with the natural world, and the order written into it. As the wise have always pointed out, all is interconnected.

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns

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John A. Cuddeback is a professor and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he has taught since 1995. He received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America under the direction of F. Russell Hittinger. He has lectured on various topics including virtue, culture, natural law, friendship, and household. His book Friendship: The Art of Happiness was republished in 2010 as True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. His writings have appeared in Nova et Vetera, The Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics, as well as in several volumes published by the American Maritain Association. Though raised in what he calls an ‘archetypical suburb,’ Columbia, Maryland, he and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. At the material center of their homesteading projects are heritage breed pigs, which like the pigs of Eumaeus are fattened on acorns, yielding a bacon that too few people ever enjoy. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is baconfromacorns.com.

4 COMMENTS

  1. A timely column. We pull lots of dandelions. By not having the spray man come around, we get to enjoy violets in our lawn.

  2. I live next to a park that is constantly overridden with dandelions. Come late summer, all the seeds blow onto my yard, leaving me with a ton the following year. Is there anything I can do to prevent this from happening?

    • Al, I’m not an expert. It seems to me that regular mowing is going to be the easiest answer. I certainly understand that too many dandelions disrupt a lawn, but hopefully we can learn to live with some, even utilizing them for good ends. Best of luck.

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