by Guest Ranter Hannah Karena Jones
There are a number of noble reasons to replace a lawn with flowers: supporting pollinators and birds, increasing biodiversity, lowering your carbon footprint. I’m going to go on record and admit I did it to curb the appeal of my front yard serving as a favorite poopstop for the neighborhood dogs.
I live in a densely populated and very walkable historic town. For the most part, every house has a sidewalk sandwiched by a stretch of weedy hellstrip and a front yard within the range of two- to ten-feet deep. While flowerbeds and shrubs make their appearances—and there’s definitely been an uptick in flower boxes and stoop container gardens in the last few years of increased pandemic-related gardening enthusiasm—this is a town classically dedicated to the aesthetic of neat and tidy grass lawns. Prime real estate, from a dog’s perspective!
Don’t get me wrong: I totally think grass is fair game. When walking my own dog, he makes use of those hellstrips and I make use of compostable waste bags to pick up after him.
Our other neighbors…not so much.
The town’s dog population spiked as more people adopted pandemic pups. The occasional inconsiderately left piles—let’s assume positive intent and say they forgot their bags just this once—started to become a more difficult-to-excuse regular pattern. Signs have started blooming in front yards on every street: varieties on the theme of “be considerate / be respectful / be responsible / be a good neighbor and clean up after your dog!”
I understand and agree with the sentiment. I pick up after my own dog. I don’t want to pick up after everyone else’s dog in my free time. Also, why, people? This is just gross.
Every weekend I’d walk out to plops and piles on my two-foot by fifty-foot alley-facing hellstrip. And admonitory signs, no matter how well-executed, simply do not go with the theme of my garden.
For all those noble reasons previously cited, plus one more, I dug up the hellstrip and planted catmint, lavender, and irises (as seen at top). Tulips, poppies, and bachelor buttons. Salvia and heather. The bees loved it and I loved looking at it. Something unexpected happened, though: While grass is fair game, apparently nobody seemed willing to let their dogs desecrate a flower bed. This isn’t the temporary respect of a newly planted garden, either. I haven’t found any evidence, not once in three years.
Meanwhile, though, my grass front yard (seen above) remained just as popular with the inconsiderate neighbors as it ever was.
This past summer, I dug up the front yard and converted it to another garden: crocuses and daffodils, bellflowers, geraniums, and garden phlox, with ferns and hostas nestled underneath the shade of the holly tree. The image above shows the early stages of this transformation.
My neighbor texted me the other day, frustrated with the never-ending poop piles on her property, letting me know she was ordering a sign that she hoped would turn the tide, and asking if we were having the same problem on our side of the street.
“Not since we made it a garden!” I was satisfied to report.
Hannah Karena Jones, who lives near Philadelphia, is a PennState Master Gardener and contribute regularly to their online publications. Other gardening writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The National Gardener and GreenPrints: Gardening Stories from the Heart.