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Swedish Neighbors Conserve Water by Holding ‘Ugliest Lawn’ Contest

Above Photo: Marcus Norström is the “ugliest lawn” champion in Gotland, Sweden. (Jonathan Fältsjö / Sveriges Radio).

Gotland, Sweden – On the island of Gotland in Sweden, residents have spent this year letting their green lawns die off in a mass effort to conserve water. Irrigation bans led neighbors to get creative, offering a title to whoever ended up with the ugliest lawn.

For this year, Marcus Norström’s lawn took the crown. The jury described the winning lawn humorously as “a really lousy lawn that lives up to all our expectations of Gotland’s ugliest lawn and has good conditions for a more sustainable improvement.” The jury also said the lawn exhibited “meritorious laziness” and “great care for our common groundwater,” as reported by The Guardian.

The prize: a visit from Sara Gistedt, one of the lawn judges and a gardener, who will advise Norström on what drought-resistant plants to add to his property. Gistedt typically suggests hardy herbs like thyme and rosemary for a low-water landscape. But the gardener also offers insight into how to use hardscaping to create a drought-tolerant yard.

“It’s not only the plants themselves to consider, it’s what kind of environment you can create for them as well,” Gistedt explained. “I use rocks in my plantations for shade and to keep moisture for the plants.”

Gotland has been receiving unprecedented amounts of tourists in recent years, putting a strain on groundwater supply as the population can double on the island in the warmest months of the year.

Water availability in Gotland is expected to further decrease in the near future, too, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization. A report noted that Gotland could see a 13.3% decrease in water availability from 2021 to 2050 compared to water availability from 1961 to 1990. Further, demand will continue to skyrocket by over 40% by 2045.

The increase in demand for water supplies coupled with decreasing supply led the island to initiate an irrigation ban, to which the locals responded with their ugly lawn challenge.

Mimmi Gibson, the acting marketing and brand manager at the municipality Region Gotland, explained that the competition would help conserve water and teach residents more about low-water landscaping amid droughts and the climate crisis.

Lawn irrigation systems can use about 16 gallons of water per minute at each station, and sprinkler systems may use over 1,000 gallons of water in one hour of being turned on. And grass is not a great carbon sink the way other plants can be, with a 1,000-square-meter lawn absorbing about one metric ton of carbon dioxide per year. Instead, many sustainability experts recommend switching to low-water landscaping with native plants that can survive droughts, as is the focus of Gotland’s successful ugly lawn competition.

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