Future Stewards

Meadow gardens reduce unneeded, resource hungry lawn areas © Catherine Zimmerman


As I was meandering through my emerging meadow garden Saturday morning, the clouds were dissipating, the sun was creeping higher in the blue sky—and then the inevitable cacophony of mowers and weed trimmers began in earnest, a typical weekend in the neighborhood.  After all, it takes a lot of man-hours to mow the approximately 50 million acres of lawn spread across America.

I was checking out the finally dry flower buds on my Baptisia australis (Blue false indigo) as I reflected on the record spring rainfall in the Mid-west and Maryland, where I live.  I couldn’t help visualizing the volume of pesticides and fertilizers the watery torrents must have carried off after a flurry of spring lawn treatment programs kicked in.

The EPA estimates about 150 million pounds of these chemicals are applied annually, just to American lawns.   The combination of lawn, agriculture and animal waste runoff pollutes local surface and ground water, which ultimately travels to lakes, bays, or the Gulf where nitrogen and phosphorous rich nutrients are deposited.  An overload of these nutrients causes an algae explosion. The decomposing alga robs the water of oxygen, dropping the available oxygen to a point where marine animals cannot survive, resulting in a dead zone.  The Gulf of Mexico has the largest dead zone in the world as a result of these practices.

So how are we going to fix this crazy assault on the land and water?  I see a big part of the solution in schools.  Schools like Hollin Meadows Elementary in Fairfax County, Virginia where monoculture lawn is minimized in favor of native plantings like a meadow that spans the entire front of the school and is used daily as an out-door classroom.

Students explore the meadow, examining all sorts of critters in the soil, on leaves and in the air.  They are making connections in the natural world and learning the value of all living creatures in a healthy ecosystem.

Elementary students set out to answer the question, “Who or what chewed the leaf and why?” © Catherine Zimmerman

Columbus Jewish Day School in Ohio also has an environmental mandate.  A stream runs through part of the school property, bordered by a natural wetland meadow.  With an environmental focus, the school strives to help students understand, from kindergarten on, that good stewardship of the land is essential to the future health of the planet.  So the students are engaged in planting an upland meadow right outside their classroom windows.

I have the pleasure of being able to work with the students and teachers on creating this meadow habitat.  Before we even got to the design phase, the students studied their local watershed, did soil testing and a site survey so they could pick the right plants suited to the site conditions.  After they researched meadow plants native to Ohio they were ready to start planning. Fifth grader Charlie Breyfogle  dubbed himself and fellow students as S.I.T’s,  Scientists in Training.

CJDS student touches water that he just learned will eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico © Catherine Zimmerman

Planting began this week with enthusiastic meadow makers. The meadow is beginning small, to be planted in stages and expanded by future CJDS stewards of the land.

Students planted their meadow in a break in rainy Ohio weather. © Catherine Zimmerman

I have to close with a remark from one of the very remarkable future stewards I encountered (she is just eight years old).  We were standing in the meadow at Hollin Meadow’s school and she mused, “I was just thinking about Rachael Carson the other day.  I wonder what Rachael Carson would think of our meadow?”

Rachael Carson has commented:

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

Our future stewards will lead the way to a healthier planet!


© 2011, Catherine Zimmerman. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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    About Catherine Zimmerman

    Catherine Zimmerman is a filmmaker and sustainable landscape designer based in the Washington, DC area. She has recently authored Urban & Suburban Meadows, Bringing Meadowscaping to Big and Small Spaces, and is putting the finishing touches on a companion video.

    The book, video and Catherine’s Meadow Project are her efforts to help people rethink their pesticide-ridden, manicured, monoculture lawns and return their land to beautiful, natural habitats for native plants and wildlife. Also see the Meadow Project Facebook Page.


    1. Mike B. says:

      Great post! I do believe that our children will be more in tune with nature with most kids because they have it in their backyard AND their school teaches them about it. They go on hikes and actually learn about birds and insects in the classroom.
      Mike B. recently posted..Banana Slug – Almost the Largest

    2. Elephant's Eye says:

      Today I saw that picture of the Gulf of Mexico with the polluted water in a huge swirling cloud. Frightening.
      Elephant’s Eye recently posted..Berghoff proteas to Chelsea

    3. Sandy says:

      Excellent post! You get right to the point and say it clearly. Something must be done about the acres of dead grass “green space” and the affect all the lawn chemicals are having on our water. Your work with CJDS is the answer….new generation creating new habits and new perceptions. Thank you for all the energy you are putting into our future! And great blog! Love the pictures of the kiddos!

    4. Carole Sevilla Brown says:

      You’re so right. We can only begin to undo the damage that we’ve caused by teaching the next generation of naturalists, scientists, and environmentalists to become stewards of our earth. Big huge kudos to you for doing this work!
      Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Birding Outside the Garden Gate Atlantic Puffins


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