Site #11: Above: March 31, 2018, Below: June 3, 2018
Plot #1 from Lawn Lab’s 2019 season, Seton Hall University, NJ

Lawn (Re)Disturbance Laboratory:
Unearthing to Rewild, Remember, Look Forward

Season 1 of the project took place in institutional and residential lawns throughout the city of Troy, NY in Spring–Fall 2018. The second season took place Summer–Fall 2019 at Wheaton College in Massachusetts and Seton Hall University in New Jersey. We are looking for partners for the 2020 season of the project. If you are an institution with a lawn and would like to collaborate get in touch: nextepochseedlibrary (at) gmail (dot) com! Read some recent coverage of the project here.

Past Workshops:

“Pioneer species” are those plants that respond to disaster and disturbance, sprouting rapidly in bare, exposed or otherwise de-vegetated earth to jumpstart the process of ecosystem recovery. Large-scale events like earthquakes, floods, and landslides can churn up soil, exposing it to light, warmth, air and moisture. These ingredients unlock latent energy in the living soil seed bank- seeds that may have been dormant for years or even decades spring into action, providing the basis for ecosystem recovery and restoration.


What seeds are hiding, dormant in the soil, beneath the myriad institutional and residential lawns of Troy? By removing 1 x 1 meter patch of lawn, we can find out!

Map of established test plots, Spring-Fall 2018, Troy, NY
Map of established test plots, Spring-Fall 2018, Troy, NY
Lawn (Re)Disturbance at Freedom Square, North Troy (Sanctuary for Independent Media), photo by Luke Bateman
Lawn (Re)Disturbance at Freedom Square, North Troy (Sanctuary for Independent Media), photo by Luke Bateman
Lawn Lab Worksheet
Lawn Lab Worksheet, Spring 2018

Often labeled as “weedy”, many of the plants that emerge from disturbances produce relatively large numbers of seeds that have a long shelf life. This means they can stay dormant in the soil for many generations until the right kind of disturbance occurs, at which point they sprout and grow rapidly, stabilizing the soil and generating habitat until slower growing species arrive. What species does the city of Troy have waiting in the wings? Maybe a wildflower that was common in 1600 but we never see anymore? Maybe a medicinal herb that was brought by an immigrant from Europe or Asia two hundred years ago? Maybe a dandelion seed that was buried thirty years ago when the foundation for a new apartment building was excavated? Let’s find out!

Through both in-situ and lab-based disturbance and germination tests across a variety of heavily human-impacted landscapes, from long term turf grass monocultures to abandoned industrial sites, this art-ecology experiment will uncover the hidden power of past seed burial for future rewilding in the face of a rapidly changing climate.

Publicly visible test plots will be accompanied by educational information about wild urban plants and city ecology, and results will be shared with the community through group fieldwork days, public presentations and publications, and art workshops and exhibitions.

Below: 1 x 1 meter test plots were established in the landscape and observed over the growing season.

Establishing Site #12 with CMA in Cohoes, NY
Establishing Site #12 with CMA in Cohoes, NY
Test Plot #5, RPI Colonie Apartments
Test Plot #5, RPI Colonie Apartments
RPI Nason (Plot #4), with Vasudha
RPI Nason (Plot #4), with Vasudha Living & Learning Community
Freedom Square, Plot #11, Sanctuary for Independent Media/NATURE lab, photo by Luke Bateman
Freedom Square, Plot #11, Sanctuary for Independent Media/NATURE lab, photo by Luke Bateman

We’re working on video documentation of the project including plot establishment, as seen below:

Below: A sculptural representation of the project is being shown in gallery settings

Lawn Lab at Collar Works Gallery, May 2018, photo by Eleanor Goldsmith
Lawn Lab at Collar Works Gallery, May 2018, photo by Eleanor Goldsmith

Below: Soil germination tests are being carried out in a controlled setting at The Sanctuary for Independent Media’s NATURE Lab, and results tracked over the course of the study

Uncovering the Seeds of a Post-Lawn Future, City Lab, Fall 2019
Lawn (Re)Disturbance Laboratory, C-Platform, Fall 2019

Relevant Related Studies and Articles:

Albrecht, Harald, Elisabeth Eder, Thomas Langbehn, and Clara Tschiersch. “The Soil Seed Bank and Its Relationship to the Established Vegetation in Urban Wastelands.” Landscape and Urban Planning 100, no. 1 (March 30, 2011): 87–97.

Robbins, Paul, and Julie Sharp. “Turfgross Subjects: The Political Economy of Urban Monoculture.” In In the Nature of Cities: Urban Political Ecology and the Politics of Urban Metabolism, edited by Nik Heynen, Maria Kaika, and Erik Swyngedouw, 1 edition. London ; New York: Routledge, 2006.

Ian Graber-Stiehl, “Lawns are an Ecological Disaster“, Earther, May 2018

Ian Johnston, “Keep off the grass: Research confirms that highly manicured lawns produce more greenhouse gases than they soak up“, UK Independent, January 2015

Gu, Chuanhui, John A. Crane, George Z. Hornberger and Amanda R. Carrico. “The effects of household management practices on the global warming potential of urban lawns.” Journal of Environmental Management 151 (2015): 233-42.

Ma, Hongyuan, Haoyu Yang, Zhengwei Liang, and Mark K. J. Ooi. “Effects of 10-Year Management Regimes on the Soil Seed Bank in Saline-Alkaline Grassland.” PLOS ONE 10, no. 4 (April 22, 2015): e0122319.

Thompson, Ken, Stephen Colsell, Jennifer Carpenter, Richard M. Smith, Philip H. Warren, and Kevin J. Gaston. “Urban Domestic Gardens (VII): A Preliminary Survey of Soil Seed Banks.” Seed Science Research 15, no. 2 (June 2005): 133–41.

Seeds Buried in 1967 Time Capsule with be Unearthed to See how BC Crops Have Changed

The 120-yr period for Dr. Beal’s seed viability experiment

Can Soil Seed Banks Serve as Genetic Memory? A Study of Three Species with Contrasting Life History Strategies