Archive for natural lawn care

Letting Go Part 1: The Lawn

Posted in garden essay, green gardening, landscape design, organic gardening with tags on May 2, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

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.


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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