More lawn trashing

I may not use a bicycle (not for a fifteen mile commute), I don’t save my scraps for compost (compost heap=yuck), and I don’t recycle as much as I should, but this morning NPR confirmed that by not growing grass, I am helping to spare the natural environment and reduce greenhouse gases.

Of course, I’ve always been against the use of grass in small urban spaces for largely aesthetic reasons. Suburbanites seem to understand the care and feeding of grass and nurture/worship it accordingly—albeit with detrimental chemicals, extravagant watering, and polluting mowers. City-dwellers just seem to throw the seed down and hope for the best. They mow it when the nagging gets unbearable. The plots are usually characterized by bumpy terrain, weeds, brown spots, and bare spots. On my street, every year a few people make pathetically unsuccessful attempts to grow grass in the easeway between walk and street. It never, ever works out—yet, they continue. It’s so sad; eventually, a few thin spears poke out through the burlap. Then, when they take the burlap off, most of the grass comes away with it.

The experts on NPR (actually Great Lakes Radio Consortium) were pointing out a three-fold scenario of the environmental damage done by grass-growing: 1.) the mowers are made without catalytic converters and thus throw out more carbon dioxide (among other contaminants) than the average car; 2.) grass requires near-constant watering, thus depleting a natural resource; and 3.) grass requires high nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizing, creating run-off into nearby streams, lakes, and rivers. The car comparison was the most dramatic: one hour of power mowing may cause as much pollution as driving a car 1300 miles. Some say it’s more like 3200 miles. (Most gardeners already know about water shortages and the dangers of chemicals.)

Digression: There was this guy, an English grad student living in Kenmore (a suburb of Buffalo), who refused to mow his lawn for years. It was covered with three-dozen varieties of wildflowers, many of which he had planted—and he did, in fact, weed and till the space. This guy received death threats, gunshots were fired at the house, and snakes were placed in the yard—all by his neighbors. He was eventually fined by the village for violating an ordinance, which he fought, semi-successfully, in court. Eventually, neighbors mowed the lawn illegally while he was on vacation. He lives in the Appalachian Mountains now. His dissertation was to be on Thoreau. I don’t know if he finished it.

Back to the NPR guys: They had some compromise solutions, like buying drought-resistant grasses, mowing high, and pointed out—another interesting revelation—that a light sprinkling daily may be more effective than deep watering twice-weekly. Whatever. My advice: by any means possible, avoid grass. There are many, many alternatives.

Here are a couple grass-free front yards I spotted last summer:

Addendum: I'm for just about any ground cover over grass, including pachysandra, which I find easy to contain. But there is also sweet woodruff (gallium odorata), vinca, and many, many types of lamium. All of these flower; most lamium will flower for most of the season. I woud also propose hardy geranium (cranesbill) as a potential ground cover. All of these would be great in tough spots, like easeways.


Anonymous said…
i live in kenton and i've been slowly trying to seed clover into my lawn. it requires less cutting and watering and it's a natural fertilizer. in fact, years ago most lawn seed mixtures came with a small percentage of clover.

here's a good link about clover:
Clover Link

EAL said…
Interesting. I pull out a lot of the clover with yellow flowers from my perennial plots, but it is taller than this and I would think inappropriate for lawns.

I encourage many "weeds" as ground cover, especially in the easeway area.
Karen said…
Even suburbanites are getting rid of their lawns now, especially as suburban density is increasing and lots get smaller. I'm seeing a lot of interesting front yards featuring mulch, rocks, plantings (trees, bushes, and flowers), and flagstone paths. Year by year, the strip of grass in my front yard gets narrower as I expand the bed to make more room for flowers and shrubs. I totally despair of what to do with the city-owned boulevard between the sidewalk and the road though. The grass is gone and I don't know what to replace the weeds with.
Anonymous said…
I'm with Karen. I live in an older suburb on something like .14 acres, and it seems silly to mow since I a) spend more time turning the mower around than actually mowing, and b) could use the space a lot more productively.

What gets me though is the "hell strip" between the sidewalk and the road. I'm half tempted to put something really aggressive like pachysandra in there and let it have its way...
Anonymous said…
My mom lives in West Texas and she planted low water, native xeriscaping type plants in her "hell strip." It's sort of a rock and wildflower garden. It looks great and takes very little maintenance.

Her Chocolate Flowers smell wonderful!
Garden Wise Guy said…
Boy, does this ever resonate with me. I've been covering this in my blog with titles like "Murder Your Lawn". Yet it's amazing how many people feel it's their god given right to grow this arrogant patch of green when it really has no business around a home, except for recreational purposes.

Thanks for keeping this on peoples' minds.
Amy© said…
I live in military base housing. We have to maintain a grassy lawn, and can be fined or written up (even booted out) if the grass isn't properly maintained. :( I long for the day I have my own yard which will, indeed, be grass free! In the meantime, I try to be as environmentally conscious as I can given my limitations at this time. I someday hope to get the military housing people on the "green" bandwagon!

My grandparents have a gorgeous "lawn"... lots of low maintenance plants and a groundcover (pretty sure it's ivy) which require very little water. My Gran's worked on it for years. It looks as if it were professionally landscaped, and best of all, doesn't require the use of a sprinkler or a mower!
Garden Wise Guy said…
Hell strip/parkway/easeway solution. Install an in-line drip irrigation system (emitters preinstalled within the tubing) as a series of lines about 12" apart. It goes right on the surface. If you don't have an automated set of valves, just put a hose coupling on the end. Cover the drip tubing with 2" of mulch and plant native low growing ground covers, grasses and herbaceous material anywhere you want in the strip. Google a company called "Netafim" for more information. You can grow anything from trees and shrubs to bulbs and perennials this way and use very little water. Better yet, grow food!
PMerchant said…
Wow, everybody hates lawns. Here in England on my 1/14th acre, I like the look of a new mown lawn. I used to water it a bit in the high summer when it got yellow, but I don't bother anymore. It actually gives me great pleasure to mow the lawn, and I only do it about every two weeks. It takes about half an hour, and gives me a feeling of being outdoors, making the garden look neat, and adding to the compost heap. I like lying on it and walking on it too. (OK, it's only about 30 feet long, But it feels good underfoot). I don't use any chemicals on it, I have a small electric lawnmower, and the other tool I use on it is a big screwdriver for getting out the weeds.

Perhaps you guys are just trying to haev a lawn in the wrong place!

Oh yes, and on the corners of our roads there is a small section of grass between the road and the sidewalk that the residents mow. they don't leave it for the council.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for the article against lawns. I, like a growing number of people in this country, have developed a severe sensitivity to grass pollen. The gas mowers not only pollute, they also throw the grass pollen around. I live in an urban neighborhood with 1/8 acre lots close to the downtown. Every single time someone turns on their gas mower, I have to leave my garden and go in the house.

We have a small, slowly-disappearing lawn in the front and a lawn in the back for the kids to play on. Two years ago, we got a used electric mower at Goodwill, and I noticed a huge difference right away. For some reason, the electic mowers don't throw the pollens up as much as their gas counterparts.

Does anyone know why that is?

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