Summer of 2019.

Last year I wrote about the weedy mess of a perennial bed in front of my town’s most important historic building.

In 1985.

The space had originally been turfgrass, a continuation of the lawn on the other side of the sidewalk. So maintenance was easy – another minute or two of mowing.

Then the city’s director of horticulture got ambitious (in his words), ripped out the lawn, and planted landscape roses, ‘Autumn Joy’ sedums and presumably other perennials that are long gone. He now regrets creating such a high-maintenance bed in such a high-visibility spot, and recommended that it be ripped out and the lawn restored.

This month it was done, and already looks better to my eyes, though I’m hoping some low shrubs will be added to partially hide the ugly lighting fixtures. And our iconic bas-reliefs will get an overdue cleaning this winter. (By sculptor Leonore Thomas Straus, they illustrate the Preamble to the Constitution.)

Anti-Lawn Sentiment on Social Media

The change was noted on two of our local Facebook groups, and I immediately commented that it “made sense” to restore the original turf, since the perennial bed was a weedy mess most of the growing season. But most of the comments were in opposition.

  • “That’s just going in the opposite direction of all environmental advice. Not good.”
  • “Where will the bees and butterflies go? We need to provide a habitat for them to live. Unfortunately reducing maintenance is what it’s all about.”
  • “This makes me sad. I wish I were in better health and could have stopped this. A weedy mess is better for the environment than turf. Better for the environment is better for people in the long-term but some people are short-sighted.”
  • “I liked the weedy mess. Nothing is more boring than turf.”

The former city staffer who created the perennial and rose bed weighed in to apologize for creating it (“my bad”) and support its removal. He added that the roses had partially obscured the bas-reliefs.

One commenter, a nongardener, recognized it as a cost-saving move: “If the City cannot afford $5,000 for bus service in 2020 then it cannot afford the cost of maintaining flower beds. It’s unfortunate, but if our budget really is this tight then services to people must take priority over things that look pretty.”

City Landscapes and Pollinators

So what ABOUT the role of city landscapes in providing for pollinators?

  • Should turf be replaced with perennial beds and maintenance budgets increased accordingly?
  • Or how about just incorporating clover into existing turf?
  • What if cities used out-of-the-way spots for pollinator gardens so that they don’t require regular weeding, for appearance’s sake?

Your thoughts?

(I expanded on this post on the blog at Greenbelt Online.)