Obsessed With Lawns, Or Not

Many Americans have a love affair with their lawns. That’s not news, of course. It’s been true for as long as I can remember. My father spread lime and fertilizer every year in an effort to get the ‘perfect’ lawn, and I can recall him trying (in vain) to get rid of dandelions in the lawn by digging them up. He even had a special forked weeder for that very purpose he kept hanging in the garage. Apparently I was obsessed too when I was younger, if the below photo is any indication. Thank goodness I grew out of it!

me and my first mower

me and my first mower

I guess we can blame it on our first president, George Washington. His house in Mt. Vernon has an impressive expanse of grassy lawn out front. So does the White House in Washington, D.C. In 1943, FDR and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden on the White House grounds, and our current First Lady planted a vegetable garden on the south lawn, but so far no one has made the iconic front lawn go away. It’s an American institution, some say, and a necessity for the formal look of the grounds.

front lawn at George Washington’s house, Mount Vernon (from Wikimedia Commons)

front lawn at George Washington’s house, Mount Vernon (from Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not a big fan of lawns, and neither is my wife. To me, a lawn is a boring monoculture that requires too much maintenance and offers little in return. As soon as we moved into Happy Acres, we started making ours go away. We put up a greenhouse, planted a vegetable garden and all different kinds of fruits, and created other gardens for flowers and herbs. Slowly we have made our lawn disappear, while at the same time adding some biodiversity. We love it that way, and so do the birds, bees and butterflies. We’ve still got more lawn than I would like, but there is probably half what there was when we bought the place. That’s a big step in the right direction as far as I am concerned.

shade garden with hostas, Toad Lily, Astilbe and Bleeding Heart

shade garden with hostas, Toad Lily, Astilbe and Bleeding Heart

Several years ago my wife and I traveled to Italy. Europeans don’t seem to share the American obsession with lawns. Most houses in Italy had small front yards with little grass planted. But almost every house with any kind of land had a garden planted. I could tell that even while riding on the tour bus. The vegetable gardens were easy to spot, with the dark greens of Cavolo nero (Lacinato kale), the lighter colors of salad greens, and the spiky leaves of artichokes. Out in the country, the more spacious homes were likely to have olive trees or grape vines planted out front. It was hard to get photos from a bus zipping down the road, but the images are indelibly etched in my mind.

Lacinato kale (aka Cavolo nero)

Lacinato kale (aka Cavolo nero) in the vegetable garden

What lawn we do have here is not exactly a monoculture. We have lots of dandelions, dead nettle, henbit and my favorite, white clover. It’s a favorite for honeybees too, so I do nothing to encourage the grass or discourage the other plants, especially the clover. We also don’t spray any toxic chemicals out there. I know the wildlife appreciates it, and for that matter, so do my wife and I.

honeybee on white clover

honeybee on white clover

Speaking of bees, ours are due to arrive next week. I am really looking forward to having them buzzing around Happy Acres again. The clover is just now starting to bloom, so they are right on time to enjoy it!

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5 Responses to Obsessed With Lawns, Or Not

  1. Daphne says:

    I’ve never been much of a lawn person either. Here we have very little lawn. Our back yard has a tiny patch maybe 15′ x 8′. The front has a section that is all drivable grass (so we could get rid of some of the blacktop and turn it into my garden). So it is useful lawn. And again not too big. But then the yard isn’t big either.

  2. I live in a very suburban area. I have to keep the neighbors happy, but I have started expanding the foundation gardens, and incorporating pretty edibles (such as runner beans and passion fruit.) My husband planted me a peach tree out front, which I was able to surround with a large round strawberry bed earlier this year. Slowly but surely, I am whittling away at this lawn. 🙂

  3. Jenny says:

    Perfectly said! I could never understand obsession with lawns. Growing up in Europe gardens and flower beds were the norm and back yards were shaded by fruit or nut trees. So of course as soon as we bought our home we stated building garden and plant as much as we could squeeze into our property.

  4. good for you, converting a useless lawn into something edible, beautiful, and organic. Good for wildlife, and good for people. Most of my yard is in vegetable beds, fruit trees, hedges, pavers, nasturtium, allysium, and other flowers, herbs, ferns, and a patch of Zoysia grass, aka Korea grass, that never needs mowing, fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides. My yard is safe for bees and butterflies. Sadly, they fly to my neighbors’ yards and are killed by their toxic lawn chemicals.

  5. Mike R says:

    I’ve attempted to minimize the size of the lawn but don’t know how to get rid of all of it. Much of what was lawn when I moved here has been converted to a “rough” where yard transitions into woods. I mow that high with a brush cutter 3-4 times a year. Still it beats cutting once a week. The high maintenance lawn that remains around the house can be cut in 30 minutes.

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