Signs of Spring?

Article and photos by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton and the diocesan Stewardship Resources team.

I typically flunk these tests, so let’s see whether you do better than I. Which one of these four does not belong?

  1. Forsythias
  2. Daffodils
  3. “Pesticide Applied” signs
  4. Dandelions

The unifying theme for these four items is, of course, “spring” and “yellow.”

I strongly suspect that we’re all in agreement that the first two are probably fine signs of spring. But I would not be surprised if it’s more challenging to choose between the third and fourth. This choice may even be divisive!

Certainly, when I look at the front yards in my neighborhood, our neighbors seem to be of two minds. Some, with uniformly green, grass-only front yards, display only yellow “Pesticide applied” signs as ornamentation. Others seem to go for a more diverse growth, including dandelions.

I find myself attracted to the latter crowds, and it’s in no small part thanks to a friend and former colleague. Let me explain. We had just moved to the area where we would raise our children to adulthood, and for the first time owned a decent-sized piece of land, a small corner of a former cow pasture. If you could name it, it grew on it. Many things grew on it that I, at least, could not name. But dandelions I knew. So, faithfully, each spring, I would apply fertilizer with broad-leaf weed killer to encourage growth overall and keep the dandelions in check. That’s where my former colleague comes in. We had invited him and his wife over for a picnic on our back porch. He shared that for many years, he had used a lawn service to spray whatever it is they spray. And his lawn was gorgeous. Until, one day, he took a really close look at his beautiful front yard, and noticed that aside from the lawn grass it was devoid of life. That was the last year he used the lawn treatment service. Next year, he did another close-up inspection of his front yard—and found it full of creepy, crawly, fly-y critters, and of course some flowery things mixed into the grass.

That half emptied bag of fertilizer with broad-leaf weed killer of mine ended up sitting in my garage for the next 30 years, untouched.

Now, having solved one problem, I still needed to solve a second problem: how to keep dandelions from completely taking over our front and particularly the backyard? Easy as can be: just set the lawn mower a bit higher. That way, when the little parachute seeds land, some of them don’t reach the ground, and those that do often find themselves in shade and neither one goes to plant. Sure, we still had a good number of dandelions—but now their beautiful golden yellow added to the rich colors of all that grew on that former cow pasture. Instead of seeing them as something to be controlled, managed, or even eliminated from our little piece of former cow pasture, we got to enjoy them.

After thirty years, we left behind that little piece of former cow pasture to move to a more urban setting. When I saunter through my new neighborhood and see a few perfectly rich, dark-green, uniform-height grass-only lawns, with yellow “Pesticide applied” signs as their only decoration, I can’t imagine that God meant His creation to look like this. Wherever else I look, I see variety, sometimes variety so rich, it’s bewildering. I love it.

How did you do on the test? Take a look out your front window, and look at the front yards in your neighborhood. What yellow signs of spring sprout on your neighbors’ lawns, and which yellow signs of spring sprout on yours?

Showing 5 comments
  • Kip Coerper

    Lovely reflection
    I totally agree!!!!
    I love dandelions, and they tase good too!

  • Peter Winkler

    This article by Peter stimulates a personal conflict I fight every spring. Not only do I have a small suburban lawn at my home, I am also the Sexton at my parish at Christ Church in Manlius. Each year, the one of the Property Committee members asks me to spread weed and feed on our church lawn, which, being on a corner lot, is fairly large. Every three or four years, I give in and do it. But most years, the request comes a little late, providing me with the excuse that the dandelions and other broadleaf “weeds” are past their peak growing stage, rendering the weed killer less effective. I haven’t used commercial lawn care at home for about 35 years and only selectively spot kill weeds where they are really dense. So I guess you could say I am not totally committed to biodiversity in either lawn, but in spirit i am supportive of Peter’s article.

    • Eileen Patch

      Totally agree.
      I just take out the dandelions daily before they go to seed. It is great exercise. I do not necessarily get all the roots. I take the blooms, buds and all leaves. That way it has no way to do photosynthesis for the next round of blooms.

  • Barbara V Crane

    Although I stopped using weed killers many years ago and was happy to see lightning bugs come back, somehow I couldn’t break the habit of picking the yellow dandelion flowers and tossing them in an empty field a long way away (even after being picked, the seeds develop & spread). Then one day a friend told me that bees love yellow flowers, and the bee population that is so essential to pollinating fruit trees and many vegetables, is dying off due to many factors, not least of which is the poison people spread on their lawns. So letting bees feed on dandelion flowers is one way to help the both the planet and ourselves.

  • Sondra

    I love to forage, especially on my own lawn. Though I have dandelions and other friends growing everywhere, I nurture a side section of lawn dedicated to dandelions to grow tall for eating. Yum! Sometimes I run low, in which case I can get them at the Regional Market in Syracuse.

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