Now that Nebraska weather is transforming into warmth again, it’s time to brace myself for lawn care season. Fortunately, most of my neighbors are not lawn purists. Like me, they haul out the mowers every week or so to shorten the growth to conform to the city of Norfolk’s yard ordinances.
Unfortunately, there are a few neighbors who go the extra mile to cultivate perfect lawns. They probably curse the majority of us who are much more casual about what grows in the neighborhood. One of the lawn fanatics is the owner of the four-plex next door to me. Once per month, a professional lawn chemical applicator arrives with a tank truck filled with herbicide and sprays their property. The odor from the poisons drifts through the air and lingers for the remainder of those days. That means I must close the windows so the chemical stink doesn’t enter the house.
I’d dismiss the monthly chemical bath as just something to put up with, but I really cannot. Our properties are immediately adjacent to a small river. Every time we receive rain, there is runoff into that tributary. I have had conversations with the four-plex owner, but she is steadfast in her belief about having an award-winning yard. In the interest of neighborhood harmony, I don’t push the issue too much, in return she never complains about my more natural yard.
Thankfully, the property on the other side of my yard is a vacant lot owned by the city. The city, itself, is quite negligent in its upkeep, so I end up mowing it whenever I mow my own place. Some of the land is covered with a grove of trees that make mowing impossible. This allows it to remain a haven for wildflowers and a habitat for beneficial insects.
At the riverbank, below, there are different types of plants or weeds that are never cut back. Among them are milkweed. These are very special because they are the only source of food for monarch butterflies. That means, each time the butterflies migrate through the area, my yard is a popular resting and feeding place for the beautiful insects. I love to watch them during the years the migration passes through our area.
The part of the neighborhood that is not chemically treated is a micro-habitat for native riverside plant and animal species. The various wild plants attract bees, songbirds and squirrels, too. It’s not unusual to see hawks, beavers, racoons, and foxes in the early morning. At night, there is the hooting of an owl or two that accompanies the concert of singing insects. It is the existance of wildflowers and weeds that allows all of these wonders to survive.
Regardless of the obvious benefits to the environment the native plants provide, there is an artful beauty about the shapes and colors of the plants and their blossoms. The little grove of trees and the immediate surroundings are a sanctuary that preserves a small part of the native prairie that used to predominate in this part of Nebraska. It’s very pleasant and reassuring to have these wild plants nearby.