Great Healthy Yard Project


That’s Diane Lewis, whose New York Times editorial “The Toxic Brew in our Yards” about pesticides stated the problem so convincingly and drew kudos from around the gardening world.   I found the video on the website of her Great Healthy Yard Project.

I’ll be contacting Dr. Lewis to congratulate her on the project and the piece in the Times, and introduce her to her cohorts in the Lawn Reform Coalition.  Speaking of which, coirwinalition member Paul Tukey, who’s been sounding the alarm about yard pesticides almost single-handedly for years, has moved on to showcase organic lawn care at a Maryland art museum, so Lewis’s voice is needed now more than ever.

So, anybody have a question for the good doctor/healthy yard advocate?  I have one, for starters.  Is she the American version of Dr. June Irwin, who started the successful campaign to ban such pesticides across almost all of Canada?  Oh, and what’s her plan for cleaning up yards and drinking water across the U.S.?

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Susan Harris

Susan’s a garden writer, teacher and activist in the Washington, D.C. area. Co-founder of GardenRant, she also wrote for national gardening magazines and independent garden centers before retiring in 2014. Now she has time for these projects:

  • Founding and now managing the pro-science educational nonprofit GOOD GARDENING VIDEOS that finds and promotes the best videos on YouTube for teaching people to garden.
  • Creating and managing DC GARDENS, the nonprofit campaign to promote the public gardens of the Washington, D.C. area, and gardening by locals.
  • Creating and editing the community website GREENBELT ONLINE to serve her adopted hometown of Greenbelt, Maryland (a “New Deal Utopia” founded in 1937).
  • Also in Greenbelt, MD, writing the e-newsletter and serving on the Board of Directors for the cooperatively-owned music and arts venue and restaurant called the NEW DEAL CAFE.

Contact Susan via email or by leaving a comment here.

Photo by Stephen Brown.


  1. It’s great to see this movement gaining some momentum. Living in a place like North Dakota, it takes a while for ideas/movements to filter through and reach the folks here. Thanks for spreading the word.

  2. I simply have a comment about one line in that piece: native plants are not, by definition, more “drought tolerant.” I get a little perturbed by that vague statement I see too often. It’s about the right plant in the right space, native or non native (hopefully native), and NOT trusting plant tags but going online and cross referencing several reputable sites for accurate hort info. Yes, many forbs that do well in a rain garden can also suffer periods of dry conditions, but that’s because they’ve evolved for that — I’m thinking prairie wildflowers here.

    • So glad you mentioned that, Benjamin! That common bit of misinformation leads to some bad plant/site combinations indeed. And when I hear it – natives are more drought-tolerant – I wonder how it could make sense. Aren’t all plants native to somewhere? And plants that are native to wet places – why would we expect them to be more drought-tolerant than plants native to dry places?

      Not to mention that all this marketing about drought-tolerance (of plants from anywhere) leads to people thinking they can stick the plant in the ground and forget it. Oh, until they return it to their local independent garden center, which kindly replaces the plant that would have survived if the customer were better informed.

  3. We’ve got to come up with replacement plants for the vast acreage of “lawn” in public spaces. Government buildings are the worst offenders! Only once Mr. & Mrs. Homeowner see the beauty of useful native plants instead of otherwise barren green space will they think about replacing their own lawns with vegetation. Clover is a wonderful alternative; however, not seeing many bees in it this year. Is it too late?

    • Yes, it’s too late. I just got a neighborly complaint via my city for my 6″ lawn height. Just trying to conserve moisture and not spew out and more petrochemicals than I can, but I clearly don’t belong in the dogma of suburbia….

    • Maybe clover will become more common as a lawn when it’s not covered with bees. I got stung last summer, I think by a wasp that was attracted to my beautiful, low-growing, blooming, spreading thyme. I got multiple stings and it took a month for the swelling and itching to go away. My enthusiasm for this wonderful ground cover that the bees love was killed stone cold dead.

  4. I would like to see these conversations take a different, bigger position — we will never win the battle of convincing people to use less (or not at all) pesticides or fertilizers. There are many people who believe if they were harmful, they wouldn’t be on the market in the first place. We need to make a concerted effort to ban the manufacture of these horrendously dangerous chemicals, and the problem will be solved. Petitions should be circulating to be sent to our lawmakers demanding that these products be taken out of production — but don’t be surprised if the big chemical companies have politicians in their pockets and nothing will be done to protect us. Ahh, the folly of humans…

  5. At our suburban house, we have not used any chemicals on our lawn for the 10 years we have been here and we have great fireflies every summer (and healthy earthworms and butterflies, all types of life). My kids have grown up watching fireflies at dusk every summer of their lives and I am convinced that it is because we do not use chemicals. No one else seems to have fireflies like we do.

  6. I’m a total fruit loop when it comes to our tap water.

    I ordered a reverse osmosis filter I’m so afraid of might be lurking in our water supply. And since water is what I mostly drink, it’s a big issue!

    And this is my first summer going 100% chemical/pesticide free, yay!

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