Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Clover For Saint Patrick's Day

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,—
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few. --Emily Dickenson

St. Patrick's Day is a good day for clover. I just placed an order for two pounds of Dutch white clover.

If you have trouble keeping your grass watered in late August when there's no chance of rain and the temperatures are hovering around 100, plant clover in your lawn instead. You'll be not only be luckier, but happier.

This is the the story of how the grass that we plant in our lawns was bred to become a mono-culture that requires too much water and too many fertilizers to thrive. It began around the turn of the century before there were lawn chemical companies. This was a time when people actually liked the look of clover in their lawns and mixed the seeds of Dutch white clover with grass seeds. The world was rife with mangy-looking lawns that were healthy and vibrant, thriving with multiple species of plant in them that lived in mutually beneficial harmony.

But then, (cue evil sounding music here), some guy working for a lawn chemical company invented an herbicide that killed the clover. The lawn company wanted to sell the product far and wide. So the company began a marketing campaign that labeled clover a noxious weed. And guileless lawn owners were sold on the idea that their turf had to be made up of single blade plants. And that is how we ended up with the lawn aesthetic that we have today. And clover, once praised by Dickinson and Emerson, was hexed.

A few years ago, I had a grass lawn that was gorgeously green and perfect in every way. A landscaper laid in the turf and the day that she drove away was the last day the grass ever looked good. That's when I discovered clover. Clover is a kind of fertilizer for the lawn. It's nitrogen rich and if you grow it and turn it under, you make your soil all the richer. In early March or late fall, if you seed your lawn with clover, it will grow in the spots where the grass won't grow. It will be green when the grass is dry and thin. It will grow flowers and attract pollinating bees to your garden. And, you don't need to mow as often, because clover doesn't grow more than a few inches tall.

As luck would have it, planting a lawn of three-leaf clover improves your chance of encountering one of the great treasures of St. Patrick's Day, a four-leaf clover. Because the chance of a three-leaf plant mutating into the lucky four-leaf clover is, I've learned, just 1 in 10,000. With a lawn of clover, there's every possibility a mutation is yours for the finding. And get this, I've also read that if a clover leaf is closed up tightly, that is a sure sign that a rainstorm is coming. The Putterer

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