“I think idly about maybe, just maybe, this year I might just walk the talk and grow a natural yard, my own version of rewilding. Let nature have its way and see what evolves. After all, nature was here first and maybe she knows best what to do here.”
~ Steve Tarlton
Every spring, I’m torn between that burst of energy held in check over the winter and my natural state of laziness. The outdoors beckon and the garden calls for me to come get my hands in the moist soil and plant!
I have noted that our yard is far from a showpiece, even in the confines of our somewhat raggedy neighborhood. There are a few neatly trimmed and fertilized lawns, well-tended flower beds, and ornate displays. However, mostly the neighborhood is old homes, many dating back to the 1870’s, comfortably nestled among a hundred years of lilacs, chokecherry, roses, clover and dandelions. Ancient maple and hackberry trees are slowly giving way to the younger green ash, linden, various oaks and some ornamentals.
Luckily, the city maintains the street trees that line most front yards, and has occasional brush collection drives to remove downed branches, etc. Some of the yards have sprinkler systems, but most of us drag hoses around when we water.
Elsewhere, there is growing interest in offsetting or eliminating cultivation of the typical suburban lawn. Ilana Strauss makes the point, “The more I learned about lawns, the more pointless they seemed. Lawns are a ton of work. You have to mow and weed them all the time (I could never figure out what people had against dandelions). If you’re going to put that much care into plants, why not grow some you can actually eat?”
“And watering is just plain ridiculous. Americans use more than 7 billion gallons of water a day on their lawns. Over half of that doesn’t even help lawns. People overwater, which is bad for the grass. Some water just evaporates or runs into sewers, carrying pesticides with it. That’s a pretty heavy environmental cost.”
There is even an international anti-lawn movement entitled, No Mow May, advocating for elimination of the lawn as we know it. Organized by Plantlife, whose mottos include, “Our countryside: Save it with flowers” and “The future of wild flowers isn’t cut and dried.” (you gotta love their PR people!)
In response, Emily Baron Cadloff quotes Karen Ridges, “You’re asking me not to do a chore that I hate anyway for a whole month? And, in the process, it’s something small that might help the insects in the ecosystem. It seemed like a no-brainer …”
However, I remember as a kid the feel of running through the yard and the cool, dewy grasses on my bare feet (my constant summer condition). Of course, in Texas the morning dew evaporated pretty quickly, but the sprinklers were set out shortly thereafter. The grass was often brown and scratchy and you did have to avoid the scattered patches of goat head stickers that could send you down into a crashing pile of pain.
But if you want the green lawn, sans goat heads, what can you do? Ilana Strauss proposes, “The answer, my friend, is clovers. Clovers make great lawns. They grow easily, and they don’t need as much water as grass. They also don’t need fertilizer or herbicide. They reach a certain height and stop growing, so you don’t have to cut them… Clovers also make soil healthier.”
And don’t forget the dandelions. The bees like them, they grow pretty much anywhere (whether you want them to or not) and, I’m told, “All parts of this plant are edible, including its roots, leaves, and flowers.”
Maybe it is time to change our thinking. After all, to quote singer Bob Rivers,
“Grass grows fast in the hot sun,
I fought the lawn and the lawn won”
Emily Baron Cadloff, Why More Americans Are Rethinking Their Lawns, May 30, 2022, Modern Farmer
Plantlife, No Mow May: How To Get Ten Times More Bees On Your Lockdown Lawn, www.plantlife.org.uk
Bob Rivers, I Fought The Lawn, 2003
Ilana Strauss, Use This Instead Of Grass For Your Lawn, August 1, 2018, TreeHugger
Steve Tarlton, Rewilding, Writes of Nature