Shut Up and Dig

Carrying the Message of the Delawning Movement

Possible Replacements
-The Veggie Garden.  Watch for news
about Edible Estates, a national nonprofit that’s creating regional
prototypes in 9 cities, including Baltimore. These front yard gardens,
though sometimes a jolt to neighborhood aesthetics, harken back to
earlier times when even front yards were put to good use.  For useful
information about the "fine art of radical gardening," see www.EdibleEstates.org.

- The Meadow.  A popular recommendation for sunny spots, they
usually contain drought-tolerant grasses and flowers that are
either native to this area or well-adapted to the site. Butterfly-attracting plants can be included, as well as an
underplanting of spring-blooming bulbs. Just don’t assume that meadows
are easy or cheap, or waste your money on those "meadow-in-a-bag"
products supposedly suitable for anywhere.  Careful plant choice and
good soil preparation are necessary, as well as frequent watering and
weeding in the first season or two, at least. Once established,
proponents claim they need mowing only once a year, in the fall, and
that eventually watering can be eliminated completely.

-Woodland Garden.  If lower maintenance is your goal, a shade garden
may be your best bet, since shade reduces both weeds and the need to
water. If your yard is sunny, start with a mix of trees to create
shade, then add shrubs and woodland plants that are native or
drought-tolerant, like ferns, hostas, liriope, moss, sedges, plus
spring-blooming bulbs.  Suggestions about species selection and design are available on
www.LessLawn.com.   

- Hardscape.  Seating, paving, gravel and mulch can all replace lawn, especially
over landscape fabric or another weed-reducing layer.  While low-maintenance, this option is missing the plants we need to
clean our air and water and just to look at, smell and
enjoy.  And clearly it wouldn’t be the first choice of the local birds and bees.

-Astroturf?  Don’t you dare.  Even the NFL players demanded it be declared hazardous.

Ways to Reduce Lawn
-If you remove some turf in order to create
beds around your existing trees, there are ancillary benefits, like protecting them from the ravages of your mower and keeping them
away from the lime you’re adding to your lawn.
-You might cut out your lawn’s corners for planting areas, using the curved lines that make mowing easier.
-The lawn-reducing technique I recommend most often is to create curved beds around the
perimeter of the yard and fill them with small trees, shrubs,
and spring-blooming bulbs.  Homeowners who enjoy caring for plants might also include perennials,
annuals and groundcovers.  And be sure to keep any bare soil well mulched.

Why Keep a Lawn at All?   
Because nothing beats lawn for family
recreation and just plain walking across.  Designers point out that it
rests the eye, meaning it makes everything around it look better.  It
also absorbs water well, thus preventing erosion.  Admittedly there are reasonable people who disagree with this assertion but as a long-time
gardener on a hillside, I’m here to tell you it works.  Another
almost counter-intuitive assertion comes from Ron Barnett of American Plant
Food, who told me that turf produces more oxygen per square foot than
"anything else" and replacing it with a patio or a single tree would be
a net loss to air quality.  Judy Tiger of Garden Resources of
Washington
also reminds us that research has shown that humans prefer open
areas surrounded by larger plants because we’re "savannah animals."
Makes sense to me.

Keeping some lawn but going natural
As Sylvia Wright wrote in
Washington Gardener Magazine, "The problem is not the lawn space itself
but the overdose of everything from fertilizer and pesticides to
water." And though the Chesapeake Club in their terrific Baysafe Program cites our "improper and excessive fertilizing of
lawns" as the biggest cause of nutrient runoff into the Bay, they still
recommend an organic feeding in the fall because thick, healthy lawns
hold more water than thin ones.  So DO stop using chemicals like
synthetic, fast-acting fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.  (For
more details about "Earth-Friendly Lawn Care Throughout the Year" see
my April 2006 article at www.voice.com.)

To go even more natural, plant some cover and do less weeding.  Some
of them actually look good, with a little attitude adjustment. 
Mitch Baker of American Plant Food flies in the face of the American
lawn-care addiction when he brags that his own lawn is more than half weeds. 

What I Do                     
If you’re hoping to reduce
maintenance requirements, think twice about removing your lawn because
the notion that lawns are more work than their alternatives is largely
a myth.  Just ask the owners of the many beautiful lawnless front yards
in our community and they’ll laugh at the notion that it takes less
work.  What does work for me and most of my clients is to use the
lawn reduction technique mentioned above – borders.  Then, to fill them up, I choose plants that can do all these things in their new location:
-Look healthy and beautiful.
-Resist disease and other pests.
-Require little or no supplemental watering, even in droughts.
-Require no staking.

And
not forgetting wildlife, I make sure to provide plenty of feeding,
nesting and cover opportunities for the animals I want to encourage.
Then I let my lawn morph into a lively biodiversity of plants  that looks brown and scruffy by late summer but greens up again after an organic feeding in the fall. And the imperfect and infrequent mowing I do is performed with the kinder and gentler electric mower
that’s now an option for this much-smaller lawn.

If something else works well for you, let me hear about it.

[All rights reserved by Susan Harris.]

Posted by on July 28, 2006 at 6:37 am, in the category Shut Up and Dig.
Comments are off for this post

6 Responses to “Carrying the Message of the Delawning Movement”

  1. Oldroses says:

    That’s exactly what I’m doing! Steadily reducing the area of my lawn with ever-expanding borders and new beds. “Lawn” is very loosely defined in my yard. It’s not entirely grass. It includes anything green.

  2. Oldroses says:

    That’s exactly what I’m doing! Steadily reducing the area of my lawn with ever-expanding borders and new beds. “Lawn” is very loosely defined in my yard. It’s not entirely grass. It includes anything green.

  3. All good suggestions. Looking at my yard I see that I’ve inadvertently put almost all these ideas to work just by letting unhealthy grass die and replacing it with something better suited to the site. I have the woodland shade garden, a high-maintenance meadow (more praire really), lawn flanked by beds rounded at the corners, and a vegetable patch visible from the street. I’ve kept some lawn just because I’m drawn to a small green blanket. My eyes naturally rest on that patch of green.

  4. Kel (NW) says:

    we are down to the small patch the kids play on in the backyard – and counting down the years ;)

    12 layers of wet newspaper and some compost and voila!

  5. Kel (NW) says:

    oh, and I have seen some fabulous “eco-lawns” this years for the first time!

  6. Janet says:

    Great article! It’s so nice to see a balanced approach that examines the question from several different angles.

    The fact that it almost perfectly mirrors my own opinions is, of course, just incidental! ;o)

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