it's my lawn and welcome to it

I decided to take advantage of a perk offered by the Region of Peel, which I had often seen advertised on local billboards: a free lawn and garden consultation.

Neither of us garden, but we do try to keep the place looking decent. I was wondering if there were some inexpensive and easy things I could try if I wanted to. Anyway, it's free, I might learn something, so why not. What I did learn is that the free consultation is a bit of stealth marketing, green edition. But Peel's not trying to get you to buy anything. They're trying to get you to use less.

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We see so much water waste out here in the suburbs. It's quite amazing. Our neighbours clean their driveway, outdoor furniture - or anything else outside - by spraying it with a constant jet of water. Instead of sweeping leaves or other debris off their driveway, they stand with a hose, trying to force the leaves into the street.

And of course there's that emblem of suburban wastefulness: the lawn. We don't water our lawn. If it's been dry, the lawn turns brown. That's how it goes. I wouldn't say we're the only ones who take this attitude; I do see a few other brown lawns. But they're rare. Mostly we see sprinklers watering, watering, watering away. Watering the sidewalk. Watering the driveway. Watering the already-wet lawn.

The Region of Peel posts signs for "Water-Wise Wednesdays," asking residents to forgo watering their lawns one day per week. It distributes information on over-watering your lawn: too much water makes the roots shallow and the lawn weaker. Judicious watering cultivates deeper roots and a healthier lawn.

But still they water. And water and water and water.

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Last year I called about the free lawn and garden consultation, but the program was all booked up. I gave my information for a wait list, then forgot all about it. To my surprise, someone from Peel called me earlier this year to make an appointment.

On the appointed day, two friendly women met us in the backyard. I was a little embarrassed at first. As I said, we're not gardeners, and the place is not landscaped. But they were happy to work form our own starting point. I learned two useful tips.

One, a few areas in our backyard have bald patches - dirt with no grass - from the dogs playing. We've overseeded with high-traffic grass seed, and it's filled in about halfway, but it could be better. The garden consultants suggested putting down some clover seed. Most of our lawn is clover anyway, and they told us clover is extremely durable, fills in easily and will spread between the lawn seed to give a fuller, greener look.

Two, they suggested an organic, pesticide-free way to deal with the growth ("weeds") that pops up between the patio squares: spray them with vinegar. Cheap, harmless and easier than any weeding tool. So far the vinegar hasn't worked, but I think we're not doing it often enough.

After the vinegar tip, I asked if that's why Peel was offering the gardening consultations: because of Ontario's pesticide ban. That's when I learned their ulterior motive. The main purpose of the consults is to educate people about water conservation.

On the first sunny day after three days of rain, they see people turn on their sprinklers. People watering their lawns for eight hours at a time. Lawns that are permanently spongy and squishy from over-watering. Waste, waste, waste.

Peel has various means of trying to educate residents about water waste, but to me this seems the most creative and potentially effective: a person-to-person campaign. They left us with a folder of information, some free seeds, coupons for a local nursery, and notes on our meeting. I was left feeling like a good resident simply for keeping my taps shut.

* * * *

The whole concept of "weeds" is a funny thing. Daffodils good, dandelions bad. Kentucky Bluegrass good, crabgrass bad. My great-grandmother cooked kishke, a Jewish version of tripe. Some people shudder at the thought of eating animal intestines, but to some its a delicacy.

Obviously a weed - and a delicacy - is whatever we define as such. In 18th Century New York and New England, lobsters were fed to prisoners, because it was "trash fish". When the ancient Egyptians mummified dead bodies, they preserved certain organs in canopic jars: liver, lungs, stomach, intestines. The brain - thought to be useless - was thrown away.

In the spring, our lawn is full of dancing yellow flowers on long stems, something my parents called weeds. In the summer, it's full of pretty little white flowers that our dogs like to roll in.

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