Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Leaves of Grass...and Daisies and Strawberries and...

It’s been cool and rainy for a couple of weeks, so the grass—which had turned brown in late June with the temperatures soared and only a few drops of rain fell—is back to being a lovely green. A feast for the eyes, really, and something that probably humans are hard wired to appreciate. Eons ago when our ancestors were evolving on the plains of East Africa short green grass meant water and grazing animals to be hunted, and those who sought out this landscape did better at being fruitful and multiplying than those who did not.

People all over the world try to recreate the look of the bountiful savannah. Much of the water piped hundreds of miles to Southern California and Arizona goes for grass, while in Singapore gardeners strive to carve green lawns out of jungle. In Montreal, grass turns that lovely colour naturally with the rains and mild weather of late May and early June, but often by mid-summer it’s brown unless you water it.

Or unless you plant something else. I’ve dug up most of my small yard and planted perennials to avoid the whole problem. But in Mount Royal Cemetery the lawns are full of plants other than grass—violets, wild strawberries, white and purple clover, tiny daisies. The most spectacular is something which looks like heather, a magenta sedge of some sort which covers several sunny slopes. Like the characters in Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement who don’t know who planted the thyme between the paving stones on their terrace but do love the smell which rises when they walk across it, we owe a debt of gratitude to whomever planted this absolutely beautiful plant.

(For more about grasses, see an article in The New Yorker by Wayne Graham.)

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