What many hold to be a well-maintained lawn can be, in fact, an assault on our environment’s well-being. Despite the lush green appearance that normally betokens good health, these perfectly manicured yards often result in pollution generated from mowing and trimming, they are doused in harmful herbicides, and the grass becomes dependent on harsh chemical fertilizers that can actually harm the beneficial organisms in the soil.
Please keep in mind, this post isn’t a judgement on anyone. I myself have a grass-covered yard–albeit unfertilized and quite “weedy.” I do hope, eventually, to make it into more of a permaculture landscape, but it’s what I have for now, and I’m not faulting anyone for having the same. But we do need to think about how we’re treating it.
How did boring, grassy, chemical-laden lawns become such a desirable thing? The history of the lawn has a lot to do with showing off money. Lawns as we know them today, though, are not merely an ostentatious show of wealth, but they actually go against nature. It’s time to reevaluate our outlook and aim for a yard full of healthy, natural, varied plants.
Fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers, fed with nutrient-rich compost, are not only better for you and the environment, but are so much more interesting. Plant tomatoes, basil, beets, radishes, fennel, squash, peppers, or whatever you like to eat. Keep a patch of borage, comfrey, and chamomile for the bees–and for beauty. Use cover crops like clover or rye as a green manure (natural fertilizer) in the winter. For a lower maintenance yard, plant native prairie wildflowers. And let those dandelions grow.
Dandelions have–quiet undeservedly–earned the title of weed, but this was not always the case. Highly nutritious, they were once an herb revered by European settlers (the ones who brought them to America) for the medicinal and food qualities. They provided early salad greens in the spring and they were used for wine making. They are still used many to treat a myriad of ailments. Perhaps most importantly, though, they are some of the first forage available to bees in the spring. (And bees are important, since they pollinate most of our food supply.)
If planting so many different things seems daunting, just start small. Quit using herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Mow and trim a little less frequently. Plant one or two new things. Don’t water so much, and when you do, make sure it isn’t running onto your driveway or into the street. And for the love of Pete, don’t water if you don’t need to!! Has it been raining for the last week? You probably shouldn’t turn on those sprinklers the next day. (Yes, I’ve seen people do this.)
Are there other roadblocks in your way? Does your HOA require that you keep a “perfect” yard? Write them a letter or share this with them. State the facts. Don’t be afraid to shake things up…even if you don’t have success right away, you may at least get others to start thinking.
Are your own feelings telling you that anything less than a deep green carpet of sod is unacceptable? Don’t be afraid to question your own preferences, too! Do you cling to the idea of the “traditional” (i.e. less environmentally-sound) lawn because you think it’s truly superior, or because you want to blend in? Are you resisting a beautiful, beneficial ecosystem of biodiversity because you are fundamentally opposed to it, or because it’s what you think everyone else is doing?
If you are thinking about creating a healthier yard, check out a few of these sites to get some inspiration:
Food Not Lawns
Grow Food Not Lawns
Permaculture Research Institute
Article: How to Ditch Your Lawn and Grow Food
Article: Grow food, not grass, to fight climate change
Are you already doing some of these things? We’d love to hear about your journey! Are you facing challenges? Share those too and maybe we can work out some solutions.