Re-wild your lawn

Start small to build up your garden

Tired of mowing your lawn, but afraid to stop? What would it look like, and what would the neighbors say? I was on a panel discussing “re-wilding” the lawn on New Hampshire Public Radio recently. Here are a few of the points we discussed.

First, a lawn is the easiest, least time-consuming way to maintain your property. If you want a meadow of flowers for birds, bees and pollinators of all kinds, lots of work is involved. You can’t just quit mowing, or rototill the lawn and broadcast some wildflower seeds, and then step back to enjoy. You would get some nice flowers, but your yard would also fill up with weeds and invasive trees.

My advice? Start small. A little corner of the yard, say something four feet wide and 15 feet long, would be a good start. Decide how much time you can commit to it, and how often you want to work in the garden. Can you dedicate half an hour each morning before work? An hour after work? Good gardens are built by people who do something in the garden every day.

Get a soil test done. New Hampshire and Rhode Island have stopped doing tests, Vermont will do them for Vermonters, and Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut accept samples from out of state. Get a home gardener test with as much info as possible.

Next, you have to remove the grass. That means slicing through the lawn to create one-foot by one-foot squares that you can remove and take away to your (new?) compost pile. Don’t try to do it all at once. Do a little at a time.

Do your homework. Read books and go online to see what will work in your yard. Do you have full sun (six hours or more each day), part sun, or shade? Is your site hot and dry or cool and moist? Select flowers that will work in your climatic zone, and get a variety of bloom times: some for spring, others for early summer, late summer and fall.

Improve your soil. All soil can be improved with compost. Buy it by the truckload, not the bag. Get it delivered if you don’t have a truck. Work the compost into the soil after the grass is removed.

If you want to support butterflies, birds and bees, think native plants. Native plants are those that co-evolved with the wildlife. And let wildflowers be part of the mix. Right now Queen Anne’s lace is in bloom along the roadside. It’s a biennial in the carrot family and is loved by the bees. Learn to recognize the small first-year plants, dig up a few and plant them. Once established, the flowers will drop seeds each year.

But what about the neighbors? One of the panelists had done a study in Springfield, Mass. She asked homeowners to mow their lawn either weekly, every two weeks, or every three weeks. So that the neighbors would be more understanding, they put signs in the yards telling others that they were part of a scientific study.

They counted insects and found a two-week schedule for mowing was best for bees and pollinators: clover and dandelions had time to bloom and to provide food without being hidden in tall grass.

To create a sustainable non-lawn, you need to introduce not only those tall, bright flowers like black-eyed Susans and purple coneflower, but groundcovers that will fill in between plants.

One of the panelists, Thomas Rainer, is the co-author with Claudia West of the book Planting in the Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes. In their book they explain that in nature there are plant communities: plants that need roughly the same soil and light, and that co-exist nicely. If you want a balanced plant community, you need a diverse, supportive collection of plants, including groundcovers.

Groundcovers can act a bit like mulch: They can prevent soil erosion and suppress weeds. It is often tough to find good native groundcovers like groundsel or goldenstar for sale, but they are available if you look hard enough. Winecup is a good groundcover for hot dry, sunny places, and is often available. Oregano and thyme can be used as an understory ground cover that bees love, and they are readily available.

And Creeping Charlie? It’s that “weed” hated by lawn-lovers because it can “spoil” a nice lawn and spread like crazy in part shade. But it is a native plant with nice flowers and is loved by bees. Think about letting it proliferate in your “non-lawn.”

Lastly, if you want a landscape that is beautiful and low-maintenance, think about planting trees and shrubs. Many bloom nicely and all are useful to wildlife. Some native shrubs that I grow and love are fothergilla, blueberries, elderberry, buttonbush and our native rhododendron and azalea.

If you stop mowing the grass and want flowers, put up a sign. I recently saw one that was very simple: it said “Butterfly Crossing.” Hopefully that appeased the neighbors a little.

A sign like this lets neighbors know you are not lazy, but letting the lawn grow for a reason. Photo by Henry Homeyer.

In the spirit

Unique Beatles tribute act The Weeklings play Manchester

The Socially Distanced Concert Series closing out the summer at Delta Dental Stadium includes several tribute acts, most of which promise note-for-note recreations of hit songs. On Aug. 28 and Aug. 29, Dancing Queens does ABBA, followed the next weekend by local heroes Recycled Percussion playing their trademark junk rock. Ending the series, Almost Queen appears Sept. 12. They’re exactly as billed, right down to the lead singer’s Freddy Mercury motorcycle jacket.

Beatles Night on Sept. 11 features a very different kind of doppelgänger, however. The Weeklings do cover “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” and “Paperback Writer” in their set, along with several more Fab Four favorites. But the band’s sweet spot band lies in creating originals that sound like lost Lennon & McCartney gems.

Imagine that Revolver had been followed not by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but by another Rubber Soul. That describes The Weeklings’ sound on songs like “In the Moment” and “Little Elvis.” It’s a wonderful glimpse into what might have been, in a show that also includes never-released Beatles tracks.

The John and Paul of the band are Zeek and Lefty Weekling, the stage names of Bob Burger and Glen Burtnik. The two have worked together since the 1980s and share a love of Beatles music. Burtnik’s resume includes stints with Styx and the Broadway hit Beatlemania; he also co-wrote “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” for Patty Smyth and Don Henley.

Rounding out the group are guitarist John Merjave and drummer Joe Bellia as Rocky and Smokestack Weekling.

Burger co-wrote a few Styx songs with Burtnik and has three solo albums out, but for shows like the upcoming one he asks to be quoted as Zeek — that’s how completely he inhabits his character. Like many children of the ’60s, he picked up a guitar after seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and never looked back.

With The Weeklings, the two feel free to follow a muse with an English accent.

“We wrote together for years, very often having to intentionally avoid sounding too much like The Beatles,” Zeek said in a recent phone interview. “So when we got this band together it was like, ‘OK, the gloves are off.’ We could do whatever we wanted to do.”

The band grew out of Birth of the Beatles, a tribute show focused on the Fab Four’s first two albums.

“We found out at that point in their career they were playing live in the studio,” Zeek said. “We said, ‘Well, this is fun, a little self-contained four-piece. … Let’s go take some Beatles songs they didn’t record.’”

Their eponymous debut album, released in 2016, contained “Because I Know You Love Me So,” a McCartney song dating back to their Quarrymen days — the version quotes “She’s a Woman” and “Drive My Car” — along with the Help! outtake “That Means a Lot.” Quickly they diverged from being a pure covers band.

“We had original songs that also fit into the same mode, so we started moving away from the tribute band concept almost immediately, by playing our own arrangements of obscure Beatles songs, and originals that sound like them,” Zeek said.

The formula worked; they’re staples on satellite radio stations The Loft and Little Steven’s Underground Garage, and in demand as live performers. They’ve released a trio of albums; the latest, 3, arrived in mid-January.

A harbinger of Burger’s future success happened in 2003, when he played a Hamptons party for fellow New Jersey native Jon Bon Jovi. Prior to his set, he learned some big names might be at the bash.

“Jon goes, ‘There’s a 25 percent chance that Paul McCartney will come,’” Zeek said.

Sure enough, a jam session broke out with Bon Jovi, Jimmy Buffett, Billy Joel and Roger Waters. But all that star power paled next to Sir Paul, who’d also arrived.

“The rest of them might as well have been bar band players,” he said. “Because Paul McCartney was there. Bruce Springsteen came, but he didn’t play — and I didn’t care.”

Later, he spotted Macca mouthing the words to “Back in the U.S.S.R.” in the raucous crowd.

“Raising his arm, fist in the air, I’m thinking, ‘This is not real….’ It was like a gambling machine, where all the cherries line up in a row,” he said.

Featured Photo: The Weeklings. Courtesy photo.

Socially Distanced Concert Series
Dancing Queens ABBA Tribute –
Friday, Aug. 28, and Saturday, Aug. 29, $23
Recycled Percussion – Saturday, Sept. 5, and Sunday, Sept. 6, $35
Beatles Night featuring The Weeklings – Friday, Sept. 11, $23
Almost Queen – Saturday, Sept. 12, $23

Shows at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, 1 Line Drive, Manchester; shows start at 7 p.m. Tickets at

The Music Roundup 20/08/27

Artful: A free courtyard concert by River Sister offers a wonderful blend of folk traditions and jazz rhythms, pure harmony married to musical complexity. It’s part of the Currier’s Art After Work event, which includes happy hour drink specials and a full menu for purchase outdoors. Timed tickets are available in advance, and highly encouraged. Thursday, Aug. 27, 5 p.m., Currier Museum of Art, 150 Ash St., Manchester,

Tribute: With big tours on hold for now, tribute acts like Pink Houses are getting a lot of action. The band recreates John Mellencamp’s extensive catalog, led by singer-guitarist Doug Hoyt as the Hoosier’s doppelganger, with drummer Jeffrey Brayne, bass player Ken Lloyd and guitarist Justin Carver. The Arts In The Park concert is held adjacent to Belknap Mill, which is sponsoring the event. Friday, Aug 28, 6 p.m., Rotary Riverside Park, Beacon St. East, Laconia,

Forceful: While you can’t catch Metallica in person, a filmed concert by the iconic band screens at a local drive-in, with opening act Three Days Grace. Each carload ticket includes four digital downloads of S&M2, a new live album chronicling their reunion with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra last year, which opened that city’s new (and currently dormant) Oracle Arena. Saturday, Aug. 29, 8 p.m., Milford Drive-In Theater, 531 Elm St., Milford. Tickets $115 at

Authentic: After postponing an appearance last month, Nick Drouin performs at a downtown country themed bar/restaurant. The drummer turned front man has a well-tuned instinct for crafting good songs, as exemplified by “Small Town,” an autobiographical paean to growing up in Candia recorded in Nashville with Jason Aldean’s III Kings rhythm section. Saturday, Aug. 29, 9 p.m., Bonfire Restaurant & Country Bar, 950 Elm St., Manchester,

At the Sofaplex 20/08/27

*Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado (TV-14)
You don’t have to know who Walter Mercado was to understand his place in the 1990s TV ecosystem, thanks in part to clips presented here of his appearances on shows hosted by Sally Jessy Raphael and Sinbad. And that’s just for English-language American audiences; the movie also helps to explain his far greater fame among Latin Americans (both living in the U.S. and in the rest of the hemisphere). An astrologer, Mercado had a wardrobe Liberace might envy and projected a love for all of his viewers that had an almost Mister Rogers-like tone. Certainly, fans meeting him shortly before his death in 2019 seemed to be filled with a kind of giddy awe mixed with childhood nostalgia. As one fan (Lin-Manuel Miranda) explains, his show was the stuff of afternoons spent with grandma and a general aura of unconditional love. Fans, friends and business associates (including one who eventually sued Mercado for use of his own name) explain the legend and the impact of Walter Mercado in this jolly documentary. Even if you aren’t a Walter Mercado fan going in, you will be when the movie is done. A Available on Netflix.

Boys State (PG-13)

Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

Teenage boys who might be some degree of embarrassed by this movie when they are older spend a week giving a pretty good demonstration of modern American politics in the documentary Boys State.

The opening credits remind you of where you’ve likely heard of the week-long, American Legion-sponsored government camp Boys State before: that iconic photo of Boys State try-hard teenage Bill Clinton, shaking hands with President Kennedy at Boys Nation (whose participants are chosen from Boys State). Other notable participants, as the movie highlights, include Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and Samuel Alito (also Cory Booker). As we are introduced to the participants in 2018’s Texas Boys State we meet kids who seem like fitting heirs to that list. In particular, hit-the-ground-politicking Robert MacDougall feels like exactly the sort of kid who would introduce himself by saying he’s the future governor of Texas. We also met Ben Feinstein, a teen who lost both his legs to meningitis as a preschooler. He has worked hard to achieve and, he explains, that has shaped a very “up by your bootstraps” mindset. The big prize of Boys State is to get yourself elected governor (or, as becomes Ben’s goal, be the teen-behind-the-curtain for the kid who does get elected).

“Oh, their poor mothers” I found myself thinking about the crop of boys who are absolutely certain in their world views (so many opinions about abortion!). We also meet kids who arrive ready for a challenge: René Otero and Steven Garza come to Boys State aware that many of their fellow participants are likely more politically conservative than them but they are eager to make their mark nonetheless. Watching them figure out how to work themselves into the boy-created power structure is probably the most compelling action of the early part of the documentary.

Then, about halfway through this movie when I was wondering why Girls State wasn’t chosen as the focus (girls unleashed to be aggressive political animals feels like something more ripe for examination and suited to this moment in history than boys yelling into mics about masculinity), the movie makes a little turn and shows you a story of kids really caring about really making a difference — and really, aggressively playing politics the way you would if your formative political experience was 2016.

Though the documentary clearly anoints its heroes, I don’t really think it turns other kids (and these are just kids, kids who I hope are OK with how this movie shakes out) into villains. You see people with political viewpoints and also political instincts and a desire to win. The movie demonstrates why this is a worthwhile program and not just a resume-burnisher; we see boys care, and care deeply and watch them become genuinely respectful of their peers. It’s a fascinating little study of what this moment in American history means to the practice of politics and how it’s being learned by the next generation of politicians and activists. B+

Rated PG-13 for some strong language, and thematic elements, according to the MPA on Directed by Amanda McBane and Jesse Moss, Boys State is an hour and 49 minutes long and distributed by A24. It is available on Apple TV+.

Clean, The New Science of Skin

by James Hamblin (Riverhead, 253 pages)

He was a doctor with questionable judgment, or so it seemed, when he gave up medicine to become a journalist and, at roughly the same time, decided to stop showering.

So why isn’t Dr. James Hamblin’s new book called “Unclean”?

It’s because there’s an increasing body of evidence that we are doing our bodies no favors with all the soap, deodorant, moisturizers and exfoliants to which we daily subject our skin. Skin isn’t just a covering; it’s the body’s largest organ, and it teems with more organisms than there were residents of New York City before the pandemic.

Meet, for example, the demodex, a microscopic arachnid that lives in your facial pores and eats your dead skin cells.

That seems a good reason to shower hourly, but like the gut flora that keep our intestinal tract happy, it appears that these organisms are there to help, and we are becoming unhealthier by scrubbing them away. “Research into the microbiome seems poised to overturn even our most basic assumptions about how to take care of our skin,” Hamblin writes.

So Hamblin, who was downsizing anyway when he moved from Los Angeles to New York, decided to delve into “the new science of skin” while going three years without washing his face. Before you dismiss him as kooky, know that this is an emerging trend. The internet is full of people who have stopped showering regularly and people who simply rinse off with water, who swear that not using soap and shampoo made their skin and hair healthier. They also insist that they don’t stink.

Hamblin weaves his own journey to becoming one of the “Great Unwashed” with the history of cleanliness, from the Romans’ public baths to Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap. Especially fascinating is how cleanliness became a sign of social status after germ theory was introduced, and an unkempt and soiled person came to be seen as dangerous. “To appear ungroomed suggested that you could not afford to wash, and that your toilets were the excrement pits in alleys adjacent to your tenement. You may be one of the disease carriers.”

That led to a new standard, in which people were required to do more than simply not look or smell gross; “a person was to smell actively good” to signal that they didn’t harbor germs or fleas. Then capitalism, which Hamblin says “sells nothing so effectively as status,” took over, and something human skin had done without for thousands of years — soap — became a necessity. Until late in the 19th century, soap was primarily used for laundry, in part because it was so harsh, such as the combination of lye and animal fat that early colonists made.

In the most compelling chapter, “Lather,” Hamblin tells the origin story of iconic brands such as Dr. Bronner’s, Ivory, Dove and Camay. (Fun fact: Wrigley’s chewing gum was developed to help sell soap that William Wrigley Jr. made. The gum sold better than the soap, which is why Chicago has Wrigley Field. Also, the Dr. Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps “was not a doctor, nor particularly tethered to scientific reality.”

Hamblin is a staff writer for The Atlantic, and some of the content in Clean will seem familiar to the magazine’s readers. He wrote about his no-showering policy in 2016, and I remembered a catchy couple of lines I’d read just a few weeks earlier in The Atlantic: “In October, when the Canadian air starts drying out, the men flock to Sandy Skotnicki’s office. The men are itchy.”

I encounter these reruns with no resentment, however, because Hamblin’s voice is, frankly, delightful. The line about the itchy men and Canadian air could be set to rap music, and we’d all nod along. Hamblin is one of a genre becoming known as “media doctors” and is the best in the burgeoning field. His explanation of how soap is made will make you wish he’d been your high-school chemistry teacher, and he strikes just the right balance of being funny enough to entertain while being wonky enough to trust as a source of medical information.

Which brings us to an elephant in the room, which is the pandemic. Hamblin finished the manuscript in January, before anyone foresaw the horror that is 2020, and his publisher had to worry that a book that suggests we clean ourselves less frequently might raise some eyebrows and serious questions. He addresses this in one paragraph of the prologue, saying “the stories and principles I share are no less relevant in this new era of pandemic awareness, as we recover from one and brace for the next.”

I’m not so sure about that as I survey the supply of soap and hand sanitizer at Hannaford. But Hamblin never says we shouldn’t be washing our hands. And he says that he’s never been one to touch his face. So carry on as you were in that department, but consider his invitation not to scrub every inch of your body so zealously, and with so many products. Your friendly neighborhood demodex will thank you.


The ink was still wet on the World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic when enterprising writers started churning about the novel coronavirus.

On Amazon, you can find books with titles like The Covid-19 Catastrophe, The Coronavirus Prevention Handbook, God and the Pandemic, and (Expletive) Off, Coronavirus, I’m Coloring, many of them self-published.

Enough time has elapsed, however, for other titles appropriate to the global trainwreck called 2020 to emerge, and two are notable this week.

First, Flatiron is reissuing How to Survive a Pandemic by Dr. Michael Greger. He’s a vegan-lifestyle advocate who has built a brand around the words “How Not To.” His previous books include How Not to Die and How Not to Diet. The new paperback (592 pages) is the timely expansion of a book first released in 2006. Greger, who runs the website, says he donates all book proceeds to charity.

A more lighthearted title to be released Sept. 8 is The Lake Wobegon Virus (Arcade, 240 pages), your enjoyment of which may have much to do with whether you’ve forgiven Garrison Keillor for the transgressions that led to his canceling. It’s been three years since he was fired by Minnesota Public Radio for inappropriate behavior, and his publisher must believe he’s been punished enough, because there are two titles scheduled from him this fall. (The other is a memoir, This Time of Year, set for release Nov. 17.)

The Lake Wobegon Virus sounds fun. The description, provided by the publisher: “A mysterious virus has infiltrated the good people of Lake Wobegon, transmitted via unpasteurized cheese made by a Norwegian bachelor farmer, the effect of which is episodic loss of social inhibition.”

Not nearly as fun as that coronavirus coloring book, though.

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