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Hamburg takes a new delight in unkempt lawn

Everything is coming up daisies in the front and backyards of this West German seaport. Indeed, carefully groomed lawns, nurtured to impeccable green, are out; weeds of all kinds are in.

Wolfgang Curilla, senator for environmental affairs in the Hanseatic city of Hamburg, has put out a colorful folder with bright red wild poppies and sunny yellow dandelions on the cover. Entitled "Preserving the Environment in Your Garden," the senator admonishes in the foreword: "An English lawn may be a lovely sight for garden lovers, but ecologically it might as well be a plastic lawn."

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Then he goes on to explain that such a beautifully kept lawn offers no living space for insects, birds, and small mammals -- all the creatures that make up a biological balance.

"To help re-create this balance," he writes, "I have prohibited the use of insecticides and pesticides in all of Hamburg's parks. Wild plants will no longer be persecuted with poison."

Moreover, the city is paying a large housing developer to plow under about 8, 000 square meters of lawn and sow portions of the area with a special wild grass and plant seed which is mixed to resemble the proportions found in wild meadows. The remaining portion of the area will be left to fend for itself.

A spokesman for one of the city's large garden centers says that our of every thousand customers, about 50 or 60 now ask for "field and meadow" seeds for their own gardens and, he adds, their number is increasing.

Senator Curilla is well aware that such a wild garden may incur a neighbor's wrath. This will be true especially if the neighbor prefers to keep his lawn traditionally neat and close-cropped without giving crabgrass and dandelions a chance. Senator Curilla suggests talking with the neighbors and pointing out that subsequent generations will be grateful for unkempt lawns.

The senator also urges his fellow citizens to refrain from spraying their roses and vegetable patches to keep bugs at bay.

"Does it really matter if you pick a few roses less this year?" he asks.

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"Aren't you glad that there are more animals around for all of us?" He notes that unless the biological balance is preserved, in less than 20 years more than half of all the wild animals and plants may be extinct in Germany.

Senator Curilla closes his plea for unkempt lawns with the admonition that no plant deserves to be called a weed. Indeed, he says, even the lowliest weed growing by the wayside has a beauty all its own.

Along the same vein, botanists, worried about the threatened extinction of many common plants in germany, have started to plant them in a special "weed museum" in Kommern, not far from Bonn, the West German capital.

The open-air museum has become a paradise for weeds that now grow around historic farmhouses and along the road, carefully planted and tended so that they will thrive and multiply.

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