Friday, July 8, 2016

In Praise of a Clover-Filled Yard

I was talking to Papa FC&G the other day, and he recounted a story from his grandfather ("Pop").

When my dad was building his first house, Pop told him that he should be sure that he mixed plenty of clover in with the grass seed when he seeded the lawn. According to Pop, the clover would "sweeten" the soil, which was a desirable thing to have happen.

When did we start hating clover in our lawns?  Pop was right, you know. Clover is one of the crops that fixes nitrogen in the soil, making it easier for other nitrogen-loving plants to grow.  In fact, we are often happy to see some clover creep into our garden, although we usually have to get rid of it to make room for veggies.  However, when we do, we use the hoe and cut it off at the surface, leaving those nitrogen-filled root rhizomes in place.

Clover is pretty, too. Remember picking your mother a bouquet of clover and bringing it into the house? I sure do.  I loved to follow those slender stems down to the ground and picking the fluffy little white flowers, which Mom would always put in a special tiny vase (which I believe was a crystal toothpick holder).  And I spent countless summers looking for a four-leaf clover. If you have kids, you should have at least one huge patch of clover just for the entertainment value.

And the bees! We all know we've had problems in this country with colony collapse and a lack of bees to pollinate our fields and gardens. Growing a special "bee and butterfly" garden of flowers is great, but if you also let the clover grow in your yard, you will attract bees like crazy. In fact, we have one special patch of clover just outside the garden that we tend to "forget" to mow about every other time, and it attracts bees to the flowers. From there, it is a short hop over to the cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatoes, and I regularly find bees nestled in the veggie flowers. Yes, I get stung about once a year, but it is generally from a bee that I've stepped on, which seems fair to me. The bees that are already happily gorging in the veggie flowers usually leave me alone if I do likewise, and they tend to be docile, sated, and amenable to a gentle brush of the hand to move them if I really need to get into that plant.

Finally, clovers is a very economical kind of ground cover. Unlike grass, clover simply doesn't grow very high, so the more patches of clover you have in your yard, the less frequently you have to mow and the easier the job is. We have one side of our yard that is currently about half covered with clover, and it is the easiest section to mow and the one that needs it the least.

My temptation when I started this piece was to rail against herbicides and growing grass in monoculture, and I probably will do so another day.  But, on this fine summer day, I'm going to enjoy looking at my yard full of clover. Pop was right: in so many ways, it makes the yard sweet.
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