Letting Go Part 1: The Lawn

This photo and the next four all show beds created from former lawn at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.

WARNING:  This post could be hazardous to your lawn or at least your relationship with your spouse.  It contains lawn profanity as well as intense language and strong opinions and recommends graphic violence to your lawn.  Drug use is discussed, and nudity is recommended.  Read at your own risk.

Depending on how you look at it, I was always ahead of the curve on the lawn issue.  When we bought our property in 1983, I already had it in for the lawn, which encompassed most of our 2 acres.  At the time I didn’t know that “advanced” gardeners were supposed to get rid of their lawn.  I just thought it was a ridiculous waste of garden space and resources like water and very high maintenance: it had to go.  Plus there was never any question of using chemicals to keep it green and weed free as we have been organic from day one.

In 2001, I read this tongue-in-cheek discussion between God and St. Francis and renewed my efforts to eliminate our lawn (click to enlarge):

This clever but provocative piece was printed in the Spring 2001 newsletter of The Friends of Casco Bay, Maine.  It also supports my practice of leaving leaves in my garden beds, see my post Fall Clean-Up.

To me, as pointed out by this article, the whole concept of lawn is inherently ridiculous even before you get to the environmental issues.

Then the scientific evidence kicked in.  Chemically treated lawns are a scientifically documented toxic hazard to your pets.  There is lots of information out there about the cancer causing hazards of commonly used lawn chemicals, for example, see The Truth About Cats, Dogs, and Lawn Chemicals.  After reading this would you let any family member, especially your children, walk on a chemically treated lawn?  

This whole hillside was an eroded, chemically dependent lawn when we moved in.

Lawn chemicals are a major contaminant of the Chesapeake Bay, which is the largest and most biologically diverse estuary in the U.S.  For more information, read this article by the Chesapeake Bay Program by clicking here.  A White Paper produced by a diverse group of scientists and policy experts for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Project outlines the damage being done and recommends encouraging “consumers to question aesthetics-based behaviors (i.e., desire for visually attractive lawns or produce) in lieu of decision-making based on human health and ecological concerns.”  Phrased that way, it is amazing there is any question what the right path is.

The death warrant for my lawn as most Americans know it was sealed in stone in 2007 when I read an article by Doug Tallamy in which he pointed out the dangers of this non-native monoculture to our native flora and fauna.  It is sobering to consider that we have planted 40 million acres of lawn in the U.S. and that every weekend we mow an area eight times the size of New Jersey.  According to the U.S. EPA, “Operating a typical gasoline-powered lawn mower for one hour produces the same amount of smog-forming hydrocarbons as driving an average car almost 200 miles under typical driving conditions.”  Mowing accounts for 5% of air pollution in the U.S (click here for more details).  In Bringing Nature Home, Tallamy explains quite eloquently how our home gardens are the last bastion of space where we can promote biodiversity through planting native plants.  My lawn just did not fit into this scheme.

Lawn veronica, Veronica filiformis, grows throughout my lawn.  It is so beautiful that I wish it would completely replace the lawn.

But now that I had eliminated all the lawn I could, what to do about the lawn that remains?  I still have a large grassy area  where my children play, which though not chemically treated is still a monoculture.  This is where the real horror starts: I let it go wild.  I let every “weed” that you are probably trying to remove from your lawn grow there.  And you know what?  It’s beautiful.  All spring, until we mow, it is filled with pretty “wildflowers” covered with bees, butterflies, and beetles, and visited by birds among other local fauna.  Then, when it’s mowed, it is a green expanse like a lawn “should be”.

The photos above and below show some of the “wildflowers” that grow in my lawn:

Common blue violets, Viola papilionacea (sororia)


Japanese painted fern, Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’


Wild strawberries, Fragaria species


Common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis


Native PA white violets, Viola striata


Winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis


Ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea: I consider this a noxious weed when it appears in my beds, but it is very pretty in the lawn.


Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale


Most of the plants in my lawn are not native.  I consider half of them weeds if they appear in garden beds.  But in the lawn they are beautiful.  You probably don’t see them this way–most people don’t.  I have retrained my eye.  When I see an expanse of weed-free bright green grass, I don’t think what a beautiful law, I think toxic wasteland.

Here is what my lawn looks like in early spring:

This next photo is not for the faint-of-heart:

Creating more “wildflowers” in my lawn.


And here is what the same area looks like once it is mowed:

This is all the lawn I need.  Though it is a large area, I think I would do the same thing if my lawn was smaller.

Carolyn

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), just click here.

Nursery Happenings: Look for Carolyn’s Shade Gardens at the Bryn Mawr Farmer’s Market on Saturday, May 7, from 9 am to 1 pm .  My next open house sale, featuring hostas, ferns, and hardy gernaiums is Saturday, May 14, from 10 am to 3 pm.

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111 Responses to “Letting Go Part 1: The Lawn”

  1. I just printed that “God and St Francis” piece off for FIL. He loves lawns, I am trying to negotiate a chemical-free weed-tolerant wild approach. I think he’d be horrified by your “lawn”, but I love it, and given time I hope to train him to think likewise. I can but hope… I will bookmark this post so that when I have worked on him a little more I can sit him down in front of it!

    • Janet, I said my post could be dangerous to your relationship with your spouse. Not to be sexist, but most of my customers are women and many of their husbands are devoted to their lawns. It just requires education over time to help them understand what they are really looking at when they see a green, weed-free lawn. Carolyn

  2. I really enjoyed your post today. I like lawns that are ‘weed filled’, especially early Spring and early Fall, but Summer, not so much. There is so much variety of plant species and insects. Plus, I hate taking care of lawns. I mowed it the first time yesterday. I do not spray, but all the neighbors do, so by default my 340 square feet of remaining lawn is not overrun with weeds. I do keep it green though since it was sod put in not long ago. I actually took less than one minute to mow the front yard. I bet that makes people envious. But over two-thirds is beds and paths, so I still have lots of work anyway.

    I loved the piece on the conversation between God and St. Frances. I wish it had the author attached. I am curious where you found it. Your garden is wonderful, BTW. It is so far a head of here. The weather is cooperating and things are growing, just behind on blooming.

    • Donna, Your small and manageable lawn sounds very nice. On my terraces I have small plots of grass that “set off” the plants, and they are easy to keep relatively weed-free by hand digging. The God/St. Francis piece didn’t have an author when it was printed in the newslettr of the friends of Casco Bay. Too bad because I think whoever wrote it is very clever. Carolyn

  3. gardeningasylum Says:

    With an acre of property, 1/3 wooded, now another 1/3 gardens, 1/3 grass is just about right for me, especially if the lawn is studded with violets and clover.

  4. I read that article sometime back. Found it amusing and yet very meaningful. I am glad you like it too. I have been removing parts of my lawn every now and then. Very soon, I will have no lawn left.

    Btw, I love the look of your garden.

    • One, when you saw the God/St. Francis article did it have an author. Donna/GWGT wants to know. As you mention, removing your lawn doesn’t have to be dramatic—I have been working on it for 28 years and still have a lot left. Carolyn

  5. Thank you, Carolyn. I also love the look of your garden! I am glad to learn that I am not alone in my love to dandelions. We love strength and persistence in people, but why do we hate them in plants? As for the lawn, I am moving into the right direction. I mean, away from the lawn. Slowly but surely.

  6. brian downs Says:

    In a nutshell, my one acre of Cecil County MD suburbia was a lawn when I moved in 10 or so years ago. Today I can cut what is remaining of my lawn in 50 minutes with a push mower while my neighbors take an hour and a half on a thousand HP, fire -breathing city on wheels type of riding mower.
    The rest of my property is perennials, shrubs, trees, and yes a meadow. It is a haven and while a little bit of lawn serves as a resting place for the eye and ” sets off ” the garden, I am alsways looking for ways to further reduce it.

    • Brian, Your place sounds beautiful. I hate it when I am working away peacefully in the garden and my neighbor’s lawn service comes and cranks up all their machines. It is so loud and annoying. They clear cut their property and have over two acres of green, weed-free lawn courtesy of Lawn Doctor. Carolyn

  7. Fantastic post Carolyn. I’m so energized and motivated by photos of your former lawn. We too have a large lot (3 acres) and immediately banned mowing on about 2 acres when we moved in. We keep the front mowed for appearances but garden beds are starting, ever so slowly, to emerge. I hope that in the future I can look around and see nothing but gardens.

    • Marguerite, At my family’s home in Maine, we just stopped mowing the lawn, and the area grew out with beautiful native plants without any intervention from us. That is probably working where you are in Canada. Down here there are too many invasive exotic plants to take this approach. the lawn must be removed and replanted with desirable plants to keep the invasives from moving in. Carolyn

  8. Your lawn is lovely. I have been lawn free for the last 18 years. In the UK our garden was so small I just wanted borders and gravel paths. Here in Italy it was a very conscious choice. Water is far too valuable resorce to waste on watering grass. There is grass under the olives which, like yours is filled with flowers in spring and then it is cut a couple of times until it is too hot for it to grow, then in autumn it’s like spring all over again when the autumn rains come. Your garden looks wonderful, so inviting; I just want to pop around to see it in person! Christina

    • Christina, Come by any time you are in the US. I should have mentioned that I never water my lawn no matter what the conditions (I rarely water anything). We should start the international chapter of Lawns Anonymous. You can open with your statement that you “have been lawn free for 18 years” and we’ll go around the room like all 12 step meetings :). Carolyn

  9. Judy togniew Says:

    Carolyn, I love your lawn. My lawn has been chemical-free for about 4 years now, and I am happy to report my lawn is the weediest in the neighborhood I have dandelions, clover (which the bunnies love), and some pretty small blue flowers that are gaining ground against the grass. I have also changed many areas of grass into perennial beds. I intend to do more of that this spring. I would much rather have flower beds than expanses of lawn. Keep spreading the word!

    • Judy, The small blue flower could be the veronica in my photo. My lawn is definitely the weediest in my neighborhood. It is a stark contrast with the chemically enhanced grass next door. Thank heavens they put up a fence. Carolyn

  10. Louise Thompson Says:

    I’m with you on lawns, Carolyn, although my husband is not. I particularly love all the violets that beautify the lawn, and they’re low enough that the flower heads don’t all get mowed off in the first mowing. The plant I have problems with, because it’s trying to take over my flower beds, is the one that arises from tiny bulbs near the surface, has a bunch of shiny, almost circular leaves, and bright yellow flowers. They’re ephemeral, but they come up so early and profusely that they actually have smothered/killed some of my low-lying, not-so-early arising, perennials, like several hardy geraniums. But it’s very hard to pull them all out, there are so many, and the little bulbs stay in the soil sometimes. What is that nefarious weed (when it’s in my flower beds)?

    • Louise, I said this post could be hazardous to your relationship with your spouse, and the value of lawns is often a point of disagreement. The plant you are talking about is called lesser celandine, Ranunculus ficaria. This is a plant that I do not allow to grow in my lawn or anywhere else on my property if I can help it. We go around every spring digging it out of our lawn. You have to get the plant plus all the soil around the roots to insure that you have removed all the little bulbs. It should be disposed of in the trash. You must keep after it every year or it will take over. I consider this plant the worst of any invasive exotic in this part of the country. It came up from our stream and, before we realized it, killed off our entire native woodland at the bottom of our property. I should have mentioned it in my post so thanks for bringing it up. Carolyn

  11. Hi Carolyn,
    Very nice polyculture lawn, and all the great early flowering species to provide nectar to emerging pollinators!
    Heather

  12. Amen! Now, how do I get my neighbors to fire the Chemlawn truck that shows up on my street periodically?? My kids walk on those lawns too! Thanks for the great message, carol. Maybe I’ll forward this to them and give them a copy of Bringing Nature Home.

    • Kelly, I would suggest that if your neighbors have children or pets that you print out some of the full length scientific studies documenting that lawn chemicals cause cancer in dogs. About 20 years ago I read a very long study and it was quite scary. You could just hand it to them and tell them you didn’t know if they were aware of the research and wanted to let them know. Carolyn

  13. Mary Silverstein Says:

    Some years ago, 1987 I believe, I decided to get rid of the very long front lawn that came with my row house in Overbrook Park (Philadelphia). It was @15x 30 or 35 feet. I had a lovely curved flagstone path with wider flag steps to the front door put in , replaced the cement “patio” with foundation plantings, added a Carpinus tree which was supposed to get no taller than the house. Along the skinny (one and a half feet) side of the path went spring bulbs and colorful annuals and the lawn itself was planted in low growing juniper. This did quite nicely for a few years, but a neighbor planted a tree in her yard at the side walk edge, and it gradually did in the juniper which, I believe wanted more sun. As they died, I replaced them with a sort of xeriscape –rocks, grasses and a few low growing shrubs and perennials. I have never been sorry about giving up that nasty lawn for an evolving “pleasure garden. At first the neighbors were shocked and disapproving but learned to love it and point it out with pride.

  14. NWPhilly Eric Says:

    Alas, I think that whether in the lawn or a garden bed – the distinction between “wonderful wildflower ” and “wicked weed” becomes a matter of the labor involved in removing it. So those feelings of childhood wonder in blowing the dandelion flower gone to seed become an anxiety laden panic when adults recall all those deeply entrenched tap roots that won’t come up in dense soil without serious labor. Also, the carpet of yellow in early April provided by Ranunculus ficaria – which seems to have invaded furiously here in S.E. Pennsylvania – is a yellow fever we can do without if we’ve got plantings that can be choked out by this invasive. Indeed, in a lawn, it can simply be ignored. By the time a lawnmower is put into service even it’s foliage has gone for the season.

    • Eric, Thank you for being such a loyal commenter. My answer seems to have disappeared so I will try again. I really don’t have any problems removing dandelions from my beds because the soil is so loose. In the compacted lawn it is a problem, but I don’t remove dandelions from there. As I mentioned to Louise above, lesser celandine is a terrible invasive plant that should not be allowed to grow anywhere even the lawn. We dig it out of our lawn religiously. Carolyn

  15. Whether to do away with the lawn has to do with personal preference, available space and the climate where one gardens. We have lawn, lots of lawn. We use no chemicals, no lawn fertilizer, allow it to go dormant in a drought.

    I plant in islands with very wide grassy paths so I can see if there are snakes about.

    • Nell Jean, I have quite a lot of lawn too as you can see by the photos. Without chemicals and watering, the lawn poses no “threat” other than taking up space that could be native. But that is not the typical American lawn–usually chemicals, water, and polluting machinery play a large role in the suburban lawn. Carolyn

  16. I am male. My husband is male. We have a large lawn.

    And I’m desperately working on turning as much of it into flower beds as possible, and the rest? Well, most of it hasn’t been mowed since September, and the rest not since July… We do have some “weeds” in the lawn, but they’re only weeds because I don’t like their flowers; most of all I’d wish to have a lawn like yours, and I think the other half of this male-male household is with me when it comes to preferring pretty flowers over barren expanses of grass. (As long as the lawn is mowed every so often so it can host the occasional game of croquet…)

    • Soren, I replied to your comment a few days ago and am not sure what happened. Here goes again. I am glad there are two male votes against the traditional lawn in your household. It is very important to have an area for a croquet field or other lawn sports. My rule for lawn invaders is they have to be green, not go dormant, and be mowable. Carolyn

  17. Cynthia Kardon Says:

    Carolyn, I love this post. We left behind 1.5 acres of grass and moved to a third acre property. This first thing we did was get rid of all the grass. My husband said he would never mow again. 95% of our yard is garden. I have kept the strip next to the sidewalk (commonly referred to as the hell strip) in a gesture of friendshop to my neighbors. It is the bane of my existence. In fact, I was out there this morning painstakingly removing “weeds” one by one to avoid the use of chemicals. I have to admit, being a competitive sort of person, my stirp finally, after 3 years, is one of the best on the block (but who cares, right?)
    I also have one tiny patch (literally 10×10) out my front door so that I can walk barefoot and lie down and look up at the stars.

    • Cynthia, I admire your approach and am glad that Marty supports it–it’s good for spousal harmony. I love the images of you competitively weeding your hell strip (you know that it would make a great perennial bed–you were looking for more room for plants!) and lying on your small remaining lawn to looking at the stars. Carolyn

  18. Working on the chemical free this year and each year I carve more out of the lawn…I am sure by fall I will have plans to move more lawn out…great post

    • Donna, It is very uplifting to hear from so many great gardeners who are on the same path that I am. For years people looked at me like some kind of mad person breaking all the “rules” of proper gardening. The response “You do what…?!?” was very common when I explained my theories and practices. They would walk away shaking their heads. Carolyn

  19. Carolyn, I really enjoyed this. I had read the God-St. Francis dialogue before, but I had forgotten how funny it is. I enjoyed your photos even more than I have in the past, because I could imagine the location from which each one was taken. When I had to have my septic system leaching field replaced in 2009, the contractor put down grass seed over the top when they were done. Last year, it was a bunch of pathetic, thinly spaced blades of grass. But when I was home last week, I found clover coming up everywhere. What a nice surprise! Clover is my idea of the perfect lawn — green, sweet smelling, and soft.

  20. Ro Francis Says:

    Carolyn – So glad to see this post. My husband and I moved here to suburban Delaware in 1984 and began gardening and “edging” away at the lawn areas gradually. After a couple years, one neighbor said to me in a quite perplexed way, ” You won’t have a lawn left if you keep going!” My answer, ” That’s right.” And what do ya know, a few years later, she herself started to garden. And to this day, more and more of our neighbors have been replacing much of their grass with gardens. It IS catching. I’ve noticed the birds have increased too.

    By the way, the hostas and ferns I got from you were energized by our snowy winter. All look beautiful. Thank you!

    • Ro, Glad your plants are doing well. It just takes one gardener in a neighborhood to get everyone started thinking about things differently. People need to get used to the idea slowly and see the results before they make the plunge. Visitors always comment about how loud the brids are at my house. Thanks for being a great example to your neighborhood. Carolyn

  21. I like your lawn – both full of ‘weeds’ and mowed. Your beds are gorgeous.

  22. Both of our gardens have been lawnfree from the beginning. We had in the first garden, a very narrow strip on the pavement and a push mower – spouse wanted to blend in with the neighbours.
    In this garden I fight kikuyu runners. We, have no lawn, had no lawn, but from somewhere the kikuyu comes. It will also climb happily halfway up the trees. I keep pulling it up, and planting other things, one day we will be kikuyu free. Ha!

    • Diana, I looked up kikuyu grass in Wikipedia, and it said people use it as a lawn grass where you live in South Africa. However, it was described as a very aggressive and noxious weed that makes its own herbicide. I am glad I am not battling that here. Carolyn

  23. What a wonderful lawn post! and what absolutely gorgeous grounds you have!! We are reducing our lawn area as well, but with two small kids we need to keep a little for running around on. I would be happy with a carpet of dandelions for under their feet =)

    • Julia, As you can see from the photos, we still have quite a lot of grass left for the kids to run around on. Overall, I think the kids prefer the woods to the grass, and we are lucky enough to have a creek, which they like best of all. Nothing like blowing on a dandelion flower gone to seed. Isn’t that the classic childhood memory? Carolyn

  24. I couldn’t agree more! I would get rid of every bit of lawn if I could – my husband has strong feelings about it though…dogs and children…we are chemical free though and he is happy with that. He’s been prepared though…as soon as the children and dog are gone; no more lawn…all garden beds and paths! I daydream about it all the time!

    • Cat, As I write these comments, I was thinking what I would do if I actually removed the rest of my lawn. It is a pretty big area, and I am at capacity for the garden beds I can manage. It would have to turn into a natural area that didn’t require any work. I will have to give that some thought. Carolyn

  25. Very inspiring post. However, I do not share your appreciation for ground ivy as I have seen it smother large expanses of lawns. In my area it is a monster.

    • Allan, I don’t really “appreciate” ground ivy. I battle it constantly in my beds. It is just in the lawn and I tolerate it. It has replaced huge expanses of my lawn but that is alright because it stays green and can be mowed to create a lawn effect. Carolyn

  26. Hello Carolyn,
    I loved this piece. Well done to you for putting in all that data on the acreage of lawns and their sterility as an environment, and the resources required to maintain them. We do mossy lawns and paths here, and love them, but also our front ‘terrace garden’ has been created on a base of smashed concrete and shale. We have to crowbar bulbs in, and dig lumps out for planting anything vaguely choice, but the drainage is great, and nothing seems to swamp out neighbours…they just intermingle. It was inspired by Beth Chatto’s gravel garden in Essex, since the last thing I wanted to do in my spare time was mow a lawn, and has not been low maintenance in establishing it, but now its paying huge dividends aesthetically and supporting a very diverse insect population. I’ve just discovered there is something called the Wildlife Gardening Forum in the UK, which is a great source of information on encouraging garden biodiversity and valuing gardens as havens for wildlife in an increasingly industrialised world. Do you have a similar organization in the States? My other pet hate in much of urban UK has been the trend to plant block paving in front gardens, so ripping up all vegetation. Even areas like this could be planted with things like Sea Campion, Agapanthus, Sea Thrift and be brought back to having a value for wildlife.
    Best wishes
    Julian

    • Julian, Thank you for your long and thoughtful response. You inspired me to add data to my post from the US Environmental Protection Agency about the polluting affects of mowing, which accounts for 5% of the air pollution in the US. Ideally my whole lawn would turn to moss, but that just doesn’t seem to happen in my garden. Your terrace garden sounds wonderful. I would love to see photos. Carolyn

      • Carolyn,
        Thanks for your reply. I can’t believe the air pollution figure, its extraordinary! Last year we had PV panels put in, and now we mow our remaining small scraps of mossy lawn with a Lithium ion powered lawn mower… , which we charge when the sun’s shining. It doesn’t give you a bowling green, but it’s still OK for crazy croquet, so at least we avoid the emissions issue, and around June/July when the daisies and selfheal in the lawn are flowering, we let it get a bit longer!
        I’d already pencilled in to do a blog on the terrace garden next, so I should have a few pics up in a couple of days..on http://www.thegardenimpressionists.wordpress.com
        I haven’t yet worked out your natty colour coding system / links, which is really helpful on your blog.
        Thanks again and Best wishes
        Julian

      • Julian, The color coding system/links came with the theme I picked on WordPress. Have you registered your blog on http://www.blotanical.com? I couldn’t find it. You really should because I think a lot of garden blogger would be interested in what you have to say. Carolyn

  27. Carolyn, I don’t do lawns, I do grassy area, so this post perfectly and beautifully illustrates the beauty of flower beds in place of lawn as well as the diveristy of wildlfowers when the green carpet mentality is dropped. Feeding, weeding, watering – all that cost and work just to grow pampered grass. If we stop thinking of gardens as an oudoor room, we might stop primping and let nature continue on its course. A controversial post but the beauty of your garden is testament to the truth here!

    • Laura, I like the term grassy area to replace lawn. I actually thought the post would be more controversial but most readers seem to agree (or maybe the readers who disagree don’t comment). I am especially happy because this post has inspired a lot of my customers to comment. Carolyn

  28. Great post. I have seen this conversation with God about lawns before, and I’m glad someone posted it, because I can’t get enough of it! I appreciate your warning at the top of the post (so funny).

  29. Amen Sister! Technically I have had no lawn for 10 years but there is the strip between sidewalk and street that is owned by the city, but I am supposed to maintain it. I have converted part of it to garden, without permission, and the rest I let green weeds and grasses do what they want. In the fall I run my electric mower over the fallen leaves and spread them in the stirp. One day I will have all of it garden.

  30. Actually I love your ‘lawn’. We’ve done the same here. The previous owners had the requisite two lawns, one front, one back. They looked so absurd in the midst of a woodland, and the front lawn is on a steep slope. I wasn’t mowing that! We let them both go shortly after moving in four years ago. Woodland strawberries, bracken ferns, dandelions, and forget-me-nots abound at the moment, with the occasional errant thistle thrown in. It looks much more fitting than a manicured swath of green, and we seem to have many more native bees because of it. Someday, when we finish the other umpteen million projects already lined up, my plan is convert it into a more diversely planted native garden, but for now I don’t mind it’s unkempt shaggy look in the least. Here’s to retraining one’s eye! 😉

    • Clare, You probably get a lot more native plants moving into your lawn-turning-to-meadow than we do here with our degraded natural areas. The honeybees, which are not native, like all my non-native lawn wildflowers, and they need all the help they can get. Carolyn

  31. This post is absolutely spectacular… your gardening talent amazes me! L

  32. I maintain that we don’t have a ‘lawn’ we have a two acre ‘yard’. I’m trying to reduce it, but I only have so much time for making new beds in a year. Like you, we will probably always have some mowed space, for the dog and for kids, but the thought of fertilizing, or weeding, or watering all that space just makes me laugh. I will mow it occasionally, and tell myself that it is making the neighbors look good by comparison, so they shouldn’t complain.

    I even have a soft spot for the ground ivy – the scent it has when crushed reminds me of my grandparents house. This time of year the purple violets and yellow dandelions look spectacular together.

    I do wish I could get rid of the plantains without getting rid of the rest of the flowers, I hate how they stick up their little flower heads and get gritty pollen or seeds or whatever it is all over my sandaled feet in the summer.

    Also, I am envious of your naturalized ferns!

    • I like the idea of having a scruffy lawn to make the neighbors look good. I will tell people that is what I am doing. Japanese painted fern is seeding (sporing?) all over my garden and has started appearing in the shady parts of my lawn. Carolyn

  33. I mow as little as is needed for snake safety. Looks like I need to make more beds! It’s nice to know there are so many of us out there with the same philosophy.

    • Cynthia, I read your post about all the wild animals at your place and understand why you need to mow for snakes. I have to say I am surprised that so many people do share the same philosophy. Real gardeners don’t do lawns I guess (or something like that). Carolyn

  34. Thanks for the advice Carolyn, I shall explore the links a bit more when I have some more time. Did register with blotanical, but couldn’t really get on with the site….so I’m just posting away for my own records as much as anything, and as a stimulus for further personal research. It’s nice if other folk find what you have to say is helpful… are some pics up now of the terrace garden…. http://www.thegardenimpressionists.wordpress.com
    BW
    Julian

  35. Oh the horror-I really cannot look at that poor lawn. Tongue in cheek of course. I’d much rather have gardens than lawn but I hate all weeds in my lawn and try every so hard to rid them of weeds. Ha! And here you do the opposite. Nonetheless I think if we visited each others gardens we would be most at home. That chartreuse bleeding heart is great. Short supply too as it seems to be in demand. It’s sure happy in your lawn. I like the big layout. You’ve done all this by yourself in the nearly 30 years you’ve lived there? Hat’s off to you! I’ve lived here 10 and thought I was doing good on one acre. Wow on such a big garden and great job!!

  36. Years ago when we lived in a townhouse, we had quite a large yard for a townhouse. We took out the lawn and planted shrubs, small trees, and perennials. It was lovely. Thank you for providing a lot of ideas for ground covers. We are working on taking a lot of the lawn out at this house.

  37. well I’ve made it clear many times on my blog and every where how much I hate the grass! dreadful stuff, there are ‘grasses’ that do not dominate and look alright in much moderation, I would be the happiest gardener ever if I could get rid of the tough horrid grass which I have learnt is ‘lawn’ grass! bred especially for making those green blankets … ugh, it dosen’t have nice florecences (sp), it’s so thick and heavy it keels over if it gets more than 6-8 inches high and suffocates anything that migh dare to try to grow through it,
    a wonderful post glad others feel as I do,
    I smile at your ~ “advanced” gardeners ~ as the only other time I had a bit of garden, in the seventies, I dug up the ‘lawn’ in the small front patch and planted it over with flowers, neighbours were horrified as they all had the green blanket with narrow flower border, kept the bit at the back for the children to play on but it was more daisy and dandelion than grass 🙂
    thanks for a super post, Frances

    • Frances, I love the idea of you horrifying the neighbors in the 1970s. You were way ahead of your time. I think you have a different type of grass you are battling because our lawn grass is really pretty whimpy. Keep up the fight. Carolyn

  38. Carolyn,
    I’m just another of your readers chiming in to agree. You must almost be wishing some lawn-lovers would comment!
    We have had three small gardens in the UK, and none of them had any grass. We did try a chamomile lawn in one house, near the front door, for the scent and to create a green contrast with the surrounding plants. It caused much positive comment, but proved difficult to maintain, and eventually we dug it up and replaced it with a mix of perennials.
    I’m planning to do a post on Paris’ approach to grassy areas in parks: the city is trying to introduce more sustainable practices, and so is stopping treating park lawns, and trying to mow them less, but there are all sorts of challenges in making such changes in public areas.
    And I love that you have Japanese painted fern in your lawn – for me it has always been a choice, expensive little plant. It’s great to think that it grows like a weed for you!

    • Jill, Yes, where are those lawn lovers? At my parents’ house in Maine, there is a lawn totally made out of thyme–very beautiful. I also have a good friend with a whole section of lawn that is nothing but Mazus reptans. I wish something like that would happen here. Japanese painted fern seeds everywhere here. If I didn’t like it so much it would be a “weed”. Carolyn

  39. Your plantings are so lovely and the wildflowers in your lawn are beautiful. We have a relatively new lawn from moving the house 4 years ago; the “topsoil” put in was very poor and acidic, and eventually I want to get it rich enough that it will support a lot of early spring wildflowers.

    • I guess way back when there was such a thing as topsoil, and it was desirable. Now what you get is worse than the soil you already have. I am not a fan of topsoil or peat moss. Compost/humus is the key. A customer just told me that you can buy organic humus at Home Depot. I get it from my township, but if you don’t have a ready supply that source might be worth looking in to. Carolyn

  40. Carolyn, I cannot begin to express my admiration for your garden! I love the spaces and lack of grass. The varieties of plants offer such great interest, not to mention life giving necessities for the wildlife. Very well done! Great post!!

    • Kimberly, I am blushing at the computer, you are so nice. I have been gardening at this location since 1983 and intensively since 1992. Plus it doesn’t hurt that I get all my plants wholesale and plant all the leftovers at the end of my nursery season! Carolyn

  41. Laurel Says:

    Oh, the memories! With me growing up in fastidiously fertilized and mowed suburbia, can you imagine the sumptuously delightful novelty of your “lawn” when I moved in with you? I remember raving about the wildflowers and herbs and dandelions growing in it over the phone to my mom. Have you any idea how much of it ended up in my salads? Delicious!

    • Laurel, It is so exciting to hear from you after all these years (I sent you an email). Great to have an eyewitness so that readers know I didn’t make all this up. Glad you ate part of our lawn too—good thing we don’t use chemicals. Carolyn

  42. I have no lawn because I do not have the space, as all available dirt must be plants, however, you have convinced me should I ever get a lawn to let it do its own thing.

  43. You are an inspiration to all of us! We use corn gluten meal on our lawn to fertilize the grass and discourage “weeds.” But I’m moving more toward replacing grass with other plants. Thanks for the encouragement!

  44. The first thing I did when I moved in was to destroy all the grass in my tiny lot. The neighborhood kids really love my garden: paths are way more fun than grass. Even bare dirt that you can dig in is more fun to them than grass and they are starting to dig up the grass in there own trailer lots with OKs from their parents, and a bit of help from the garden lady.

  45. I have enjoyed reading this post and all the comments! We have three separate areas that are lawn, which are bordered by the larger wooded areas where my gardens are located. We let the zoysia grass grow several inches tall and it naturally crowds out weeds. I put a natural fertilizer on it twice a year. Zoysia goes dormant during drought, so no extra watering is needed. I love the way the lawn sets off the gardens. The open spaces allow the eye to move over the landscape and appreciate the view. The birds love to hunt for bugs and worms in my lawn. I actually think the lawn requires less maintenance than other parts of the garden.

    Now, my neighbors have a chemical company come on a regular basis. Their lawn is on life support. It looks wonderful for a while, then begins to look awful, until the chemical man arrives to give it another fix. The point is, there is a right way and a wrong way to do a lawn.

    Having said all that, my dream would be to have a field of clover!

    • Deb, I have seen the way your garden is laid out, and it is beautiful. I don’t know about gardens in the sun, but my lawn is way more maintenance than the rest of my gardens just from being mowed every week or every other week and I don’t even fertilize it. I maintain my shady garden beds once intensively in the fall when I cut back, weed, and mulch them and once in the spring when I tweak them after the winter. The point of my post was that if you are going to have a lawn, it doesn’t have to be a green monoculture. But the bottom line is, it would be better for the environment not to have lawns. A field of clover sounds beautiful. Carolyn

  46. Rachelle Says:

    I feel the same way about the lawn. After years of fighting erosion in our hilly and wooded backyard , we now have a beautiful woodland garden right outside the kitchen window. We’re not as brave about the front yard but it is getting smaller each year with expanding beds.

  47. Great post!

    I think one of the biggest problems is that people see the initial work & money investment as too daunting to convert their lawns into garden beds. On our prominent public corner, I get a lot of comments about it looking nice but being a lot of work. I say that it is worth it, but I am someone who enjoys gardening already. Perhaps if contractors started offering conversion services for lawns? Yet then they will make less on maintenance.

    • I think you are really on to something. Someone could make develop a good business and help the environment at the same time by specializing in converting lawns to low maintenance beds using inexpensive spreading plants. Maybe that’s a side business for Carolyn’s Shade Gardens!!! Carolyn

  48. Judith Spruance Says:

    Love this peace of mind and harmony with the environment that comes with a more relaxed attitude toward lawns. I haven’t used chemicals on my lawn for years because of dogs and grandchildren and it has some nice violets and clover growing in it! And dandilions and plantain too, sort of ugh but who cares, it’s green. Also, find every time my husband wants to put down some evil grub killing material all I have to do is get him to read the label. It works! My mulch is ground up leaves and plants are looking better every year. Really am getting offended by all the automatic sprinkler systems – a nice brown lawn in August is okay, gives variety!

    • Judith, You couldn’t have put it better. We all need to adopt the motto for our lawns “who cares, it’s green.” That’s the way I feel about the plants growing in my lawn. Most people who use harmful chemicals do not realize the damage those chemicals do or where they end up (in the Chesapeake). A little education would go a long way towards solving the problem. Carolyn

  49. Every year, I do in a new bit of lawn and add more flowers. Eventually, I want the garden to be a grass free zone. (except for ornamental grasses that is).

  50. YAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!! Go (away) lawn, go! Very beautiful, super awesome.

  51. I am so impressed and awed by the more than a hundred comments, the first time to see those number of comments in one post. And you answered each one of them, oh i envy you Carolyn. So Congratulations for making your formerly abused land to a healthy one, and also for helping the world heal. Those wild flowers are beautiful. In this part of the world, we seem like not learning from the experiences of advanced countries like yours. We still have biodiversity, healthy grounds and home environment, yet we seem to be going to the methods you now dread. I am so sorry for our countrymen who are so idiotic enough not to learn from you. We are advancing backwards!

    • Andrea, When you use the word advanced to refer to the US you should put it in quotes if you are talking about the environment. You are right–I wish the Phillipines was learning what not to do from us. We have already irrevocably eliminated most of your wild areas among other things. It is amazing that each country seems to go down the same destructive path. Carolyn

  52. Dear Carolyn, I totally agree with you about both lawns and leaves. Letting go of the lawn is part of a seminar I give on “Gardening Smarter”. I love the conversation between God and St Francis, and have copied it for my students. Excellent, thought-provoking posting with a very amusing introduction – I’m still laughing. P x

    • Pam, I am glad I provided you with a good laugh. I try to use humor in my posts whenever possible. I love the God/St. Francis piece and have been waiting for a chance to use it. I give it out to my customers at my open house sales. Carolyn

  53. Elaine Naculich Says:

    Carolyn, the area surrounding my house is quite hilly, moss grows in abundance and have lots of shade. I also am in love with hostas, have seen a few of the mini ones at a nursery near me but have not invested in any of them yet. Did add several new varieties of hostas to shady area beside the house last year and now plan to invest in mini’s too. My husband is also a “lawn guy” and takes pride in mowing at least twice a week. When I mentionied to him about planting beds where had torn down an old building on a shady side of the house, he had a fit. But I plan to put up a pretty fence with beds on either side of it to get him to convert to garden bed s instead of lawn. Wish me luck.

    • Elaine, Lawns are such incredibly high maintenance. I maintain my shade beds about twice a year vs. your husband maintaining his lawn twice a week. He needs to develop a really engrossing hobby so he won’t have time for the lawn. Good luck. Carolyn

  54. Except for a small patch of city owned land, I eliminated all of my lawn years ago, mainly to get more garden space. Now though I can be smug about it and claim I did it to be a better steward of the environment. Thank you for mentioning the impact that unbroken dedication to growing turf has had on the Chesapeake.

  55. We got rid of our lawn years ago, little by little each year. At one point I rented a turf cutter to cut off the grass just below the root level, then we had to shake all the dirt out and bag the grass into yard bags, a lot of work. However, we now have 200+ different types of plants and bushes growing in our yard (front and back), with mulch paths running around between the major sections. I have no idea “how-many” plants we have, too many for me to count. My wife also has several hanging baskets on our fence, and we also keep a small raised herb garden and I don’t know how many tomato plants growing in top-soil bags laying on the ground (read about how tomato plants like warm roots, it really works). Best of luck to everyone out there, remember, flowers not grass.

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