By: Victor Normand
Published: July 2012
Keeping the grounds around your house looking good is an important way to add value to your property. For most homeowners, that includes a well manicured and extensive lawn. The invention of the garden hose and the rotary mower, and the efforts of the American Garden Club early in the last century began the modern era of the lawn for the average American household.
Lawns did not exist at all in America until late in the 18th century. Back then the front yard was typically packed dirt or sometimes a garden of flowers, herbs, and vegetables. A variety of turf grass adapted to the climates found in America only came about through the efforts of the U.S Department of Agriculture in collaboration with the U.S. Golf Association in the 1920’s.
Only recently has the vaulted status of the lawn been challenged. Environmentalists came together in 2009 to form the Lawn Reform Coalition dedicated to spreading the word about alternatives to the established lawn and the reasons why the lawn should be re-considered. In many respects our lawns have become dangerously dependent on our care. The more we use pesticides, herbicides, excess fertilizers and over watering, the more we damage the health of the soil, kill beneficial insects and reduce the drought-tolerance of turf grasses.
So, if we are wasting money, polluting groundwater, rivers and streams, poisoning wildlife and our pets, fouling the air with gas powered mowers and regularly engaging in one of the least desirable activities around the house, mowing the lawn (see the Consumer Report® article below), why do we continue?
There are environmentally friendly, low maintenance alternatives including:
- Drought tolerant trees, shrubs, ground covers and perennials
- “ecolawns” of low grasses and flowering herbs
- Evergreen ground covers and shrubs
- Paths and play areas
- Work and entertaining areas
The last item is one of my favorites. The plan for my yard is to eliminate a large portion of the lawn by building a patio featuring a fire pit in the center. In addition to using up former lawn area, the patio and associated walkways will create defined planting areas for native, site specific low maintenance plantings. My goal is a completely “green” naturally landscaped yard and no lawn. In about a year, you will find my lawn mower and fertilizer spreader on eBay.
Recreational areas will always require maintained turf, but beyond that, a lawn should become a matter of personal preference. In this hectic world we live in, who can object to the labor/time saving aspects of a well planned, low maintenance yard with environmentally sensitive plantings? And will we really miss the sound of a lawn mower on Saturday morning?