In a city that prides itself on the beauty of its natural surroundings and the colourful baskets of living flowers that dot its downtown, there’s an unmistakeable irony in the decision to roll out green plastic lawn on the medians between lanes of traffic.
Plastic grass belongs in the world of Barbi and Ken, the plastic people, not in this world of panoramic lakeviews and natural wild beauty.
I’ll concede that having workers pull weeds between busy lanes of traffic is unsafe, but with careful planting, selection of drought-tolerant, hardy varieties of plants and use of a weed seed-free mulch, watering and maintenance of real plants should also be unnecessary.
Besides, our medians should be lower than our roads, not higher, in order that there’s open ground for roadway runoff to be filtered through prior to it seeping into natural waterways— kind of like a rain garden.
Yet all our medians seem to be raised ones, and many are of impermeable surfaces from which the rain simply runs off, carrying whatever impurities emanate from asphalt—or in this case—nylon, plastic and soy—into the nearest waterway.
We don’t even know what chemical compounds may leach from these man-made materials.
On the other hand, a median of plants and open ground will give off oxygen, take in rainwater runoff and filter it to reduce stormwater pollution, then cool the air around it, instead of heating it up as plastic will do.
However, we do need to change our thinking about what’s beautiful.
Despite what all the ads tell us about the beauty of lush green landscapes, set off with wet green lawns, in the near-desert of the Okanagan, real beauty comes without makeup.
It’s sometimes a shade of green in spring, but after clumps of grass erupt and the heat of summer is upon us, they dry and turn beige and brown, while their neighbours, sages and rabbitbrush, are silver and grey.
Rabbitbrush blossoms at this time of year into golden-yellow brushes that are beautiful with the silvery-gray foliage.
Although we’ve paved over much of their native habitat, there are still some along the Okanagan Connector above Peachland and down Drought Hill along Highway 97, and far more on the hillsides between Peachland and Summerland.
They would be an ideal candidate with bunchgrass or other dryland grasses to plant in a median.
They would provide us with the kind of beauty that’s natural to the Okanagan.
Watch as you leave town and see how the native hillsides are decked out, with yellow sunflowers in spring and dried grasses in late summer, and the occasional wildflower like the elegant Mariposa Lily or Brown-eyed Susan.
Then in fall, they’re filled with colour again as the sumac leaves turn brilliant red against the silver sagebrush, and the rabbitbrush blooms in yellow swatches.
Sage would grow too big for a median perhaps, but rabbitbrush stays low and so do many drought-tolerant grasses.
Watering such plants is unnecessary, as is fertilizing them, and carefully mulched, no weeding should be needed. Most weeds would die anyway without irrigation.
On natural hillsides, such plants grow against a backdrop of granite or other rock, so the occasional large rock would add interest to the scene.
But green plastic? Do we really have so little imagination, no resourcefulness?
And, in the end, whenever that may be, instead of an island of life, we will have a discoloured, tattered chunk of greenish nylon and soy, likely spattered with salt and mud and gravel from passing vehicles.
And, in the end, it will have to added to the landfill.
This is one pilot project I sincerely hope doesn’t appear to be a success in anyone’s eyes,
Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.