They Get It
October 2nd, 2012
Just as I was losing hope after Harrisburg bulldozed a non-profit group’s attempt to grow a community garden in a crime-plagued neighborhood, along came the Plummers.
This young couple from suburban Spring Grove (York County) has no connection with the infamous Harrisburg bulldozing on North Sixth Street… none other than they’re the antithesis of that sordid affair.
Nate and Jessica Plummer are admitted novices when it comes to gardening.
They’ve got two little girls and recently got their first house in a typical suburban subdivision.
What restored my hope is what they’d like to do with their third-of-an-acre yard. They plan to do a whole lot more than the usual azaleas along the house, pear tree out front and grass everywhere else.
Jessica found out that I did Garden House-Calls while searching online for someone who did designs using native plants.
She told me that she and Nate wanted their little girls to grow up knowing nature, that they wanted the girls to see birds, butterflies, and yes, even bees, and that they wanted to be good stewards with their little corner of the Earth.
She said they had no interest in maintaining a big, perfect green carpet of a lawn – the unwritten rule of suburbia.
In fact, she said they’d be happy to end up with little to no grass.
And she said they were very interested in growing their own fruits and vegetables in place of that Scotts Four-Step lawn.
I smiled the whole time as I drew a landscape plan featuring a nearly grassless flower-and-shrub-filled front yard, a bird and butterfly garden along the left side and a four-square vegetable garden surrounded by fruit trees and fruit bushes at the back right. And, of course, a couple of compost bins.
For being so young and inexperienced, the Plummers “get” the big picture. They really have a better handle on how things are interconnected than most older folks (and some city leaders).
As I looked out their front lawn to the homes across the street, I noticed the sea of lawn running down a long, steep hill. What I saw was a textbook example of not getting it.
My guess is most people see the grassy slope as a good way to deal with that land. The grass is neat. It’s regularly cut. It’s free of ticks, snakes and other nefarious wildlife. And it even gets rid of rain quickly by channeling it straight into the storm drains along the curb at the bottom.
All problems solved.
That is, until you think about the bigger picture.
All of the rain running off the roofs, driveways, sidewalks and compacted grass doesn’t magically disappear. It comes out of storm drains at the other end to increasingly flood creeks, streams and rivers, and in turn, sometimes the homes and cars of the people downstream.
You might say, “That’s their problem for living along a creek.” Besides the human torment, the effects spread farther than you think. How much might this increased flood damage affect everyone’s insurance rates? Are you paying more for lumber because demand went up to fix all of the flood damage? Did you lose income because your would-be customers downstream couldn’t buy what they might’ve after spending so much on flood repairs?
Also, how many pesticides are going downhill along with the rain? Did any of it kill aquatic life or pollute drinking water that in turn contributed to you paying higher sewer rates and higher water bills?
How much does all of this grass discourage the bees that pollinate not only the fruit and nuts you buy in stores, but also the plants in your own yard?
You might not like snakes, but they do keep the voles under control that otherwise will tunnel through your green-carpet lawn in winter.
The point is, all of the little choices count. They all are connected to something else, and that can add up to something that helps us all or hurts us all.
The unhopeful me sees an increasingly self-centered world where the motto is, “If something solves my problem right now, I couldn’t care less if it’s a problem for someone else.”
The hopeful me suspects that the main issue is that most people really don’t make the connections, but that once they do, they’ll make choices that help.
The really hopeful me gets to meet a young couple who understands the connections and is investing the time, money and effort right now into the big picture.
That sure brightens my day more than a bulldozed vegetable gardens.
So thanks, Plummers. May you be contagious.