Have you ever had one of those moments when someone makes an innocent comment and you find yourself looking at the world with brand new eyes? Or with old eyes you had forgotten about? It happened to me a couple of years ago when I was discussing turf maintenance with one of our clients. I mentioned clover and she said...
“What is childhood without laying in your parents front lawn looking for four-leaf-clovers?”
Suddenly, there I was, following my dad around the front yard as he killed dandelions with a 2,4-d based herbicide. Dwight David Eisenhower was still President. Nobody I knew had ever seen a color television set. Dad explained to me that the chemical he was using didn’t harm grass, just broad-leaved weeds, and that although he could kill clover with this stuff, that was a bad idea.
Clover, he said, was the mark of a healthy lawn. Clover takes nitrogen out of the air, where it is the most abundant element, and feeds it to the turfgrass -- for free. Now understand, my dad was no tree-hugger; he built and sold intercontinental ballistic missiles for a living. But he understood free, and he liked it. He spread chemical fertilizer on our lawn every year, but the clover added even more nutrients. He also understood that he should use as little of this toxic chemical as possible. Today, some authors contend that clover in your lawn was once considered to be a status symbol. I don’t remember that, I was only seven; but I believe it.
So what happened? For one thing, people started getting color television sets. And then in 1966, for the first time,the US Open Golf Championship was broadcast in color from the Augusta National Golf Club. Golf balls roll differently in clover than they do in grass, so it is undesirable in fairways, and especially in greens. So at Augusta National, they sprayed those same herbicides on clover. Suburbia has never been the same.
There was instant demand for a way to make a lawn look like golf courses, and the fertilizer companies responded with fertilizer/herbicide granular products called weed-and-feed. And we all got used to the bad idea my dad warned me about. But ya know, people who live next to incredibly smelly places like oil refineries get used to that smell, but that doesn’t make living there a good idea. It’s just what they are used to.
Now it is 50 years later, and an informed mother who is concerned for her kids had to remind me of one of the simple joys of childhood - the healthier world that goes with it, and what a smart guy my dad was.