A post in the New York Times on a lawn's / garden's ability to sustain us -- as in, lawns are dumb. The writer is talking about vegetable gardening almost exclusively, but I may fudge those thoughts with native perennials and shrubs.
-- "True, a lawn is a living, growing thing, a better carbon sink
than concrete (though not as good as a vegetable garden or a meadow),
and even more so if you leave the clippings in place, which also reduces
the need for chemical fertilizer. And most people find a well-tended
My neighbor across the street mows three times a week and bags his clippings most of the time. Another neighbor bags exclusively, setting out those bags for trash collection. I thought we were two decades past not mulching lawn clippings. I suppose this is why my neighbors fertilize 3-4 times a year and water every other day -- even as our rivers run dry amidst the warmest summer ever and top-category drought that covers 95% of Nebraska.
-- "But when it comes to the eye of the beholder, weeds are the same
thing as beauty: to a gardener, grass is a weed; a row of lettuce
surrounded by dark, grassless soil a thing of beauty. To some
gardeners, including me, dandelions are a crop. The
situation, then, is not black-and-white. A yard is not either
unproductive and “beautiful” — as a lawn — or, as a garden, productive
and “ugly.” Many of us can thrill to the look of dead stalks, and even
enjoy watching them rot. This is a matter of taste, not regulation. “In a way, that’s what these battles are about,” says Fritz Haeg, the Los Angeles artist who initiated Edible Estates
and wrote the book of the same name (subtitled “Attack on the Front
Lawn”). “They’re about reconsidering our basic value systems and ideas
For a wildlife gardener like me, I have a double battle to wage: the first is that native plants and the insects they sustain are better suited to our environment and thus potentially easier to maintain (the former), and the presence of a food source for diminishing bird and amphibian numbers is massive to overall environmental health (the latter). The second battle is that to NOT clean up the garden in fall is as important as having the native plants in the first place. Wildlife finds shelter in the standing winter garden, and there is far, far more interest in the garden as the russet, auburn, and tan colors dance in winter sunlight amidst falling snow (not to mention the insulating benefits of snow for plants that can suffer frost heave). Talk about easing the winter blues.
-- "They’re also about a relationship between us and nature. Lawns are an
attempt to dominate and homogenize nature, something that hasn’t worked
out very well. Gardens, however, especially urban ones, make visible
“the intimate relationship between people, cities and food, constantly
reminding us of the complexities and poetry of growing food and eating,”
says Haeg. From which, just about everyone who’s thought about the
subject agrees, we’ve all become alienated.
Even my students freely admit to the disconnect they have with the "wild" world. When is the world torn from our hands? When is it beaten out of our souls? And how can you possibly get it back when education and employment stifle creativity in favor of fixed methods of performing daily routines?
-- "And small-scale suburban and urban gardening has incredible potential. Using widely available data, Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International
estimates that converting 10 percent of our nation’s lawns to vegetable
gardens “could meet about a third of our fresh vegetable needs at
current consumption rates. Ten percent is optimistic; even 1 percent would be a terrific start,
because there is a lot of lawn in this country. In fact it’s our biggest
crop, three times as big as corn, according to research done using a
variety of data, much of it from satellites. That’s around a trillion
square feet — 50,000 square miles — and, since an average gardener can
produce something like a half-pound of food per square foot (you garden
100 square feet, you produce 50 pounds of food), without getting too
geeky you can imagine that Doiron’s estimates are rational."
Wow. I hate corn with a passion. Which means I must now hate lawn three times as much. No problem. And this is neat:
"Gardening may be private or a community activity; people garden together on common land, and most gardeners I know share the bounty freely. (In parts of England and France, people grow vegetables in their front yards and encourage their neighbors to take them.)"
I'll end with a quote from Thomas Rainer's post on the new nature being our backyard and small public spaces:
"The front lines of the battle for nature are not the Amazon rain
forest or the Alaskan wilderness; the front lines are our backyards,
medians, parking lots, and elementary schools. The ecological warriors
of the future won’t just be scientists, engineers, or even landscape
architects. The ecological warriors of the future will be gardeners,
horticulturists, land managers, Department of Transportation staff,
elementary school teachers, and community association board members.
Anyone who can influence a small patch of land has the ability to
create more nature. And the future nature will look more and more like a
On June 8 come see my garden, and let's talk about four seasons of sustainable native plants and wildlife habitat, about how the battle for nature is out my back door. And what a gorgeous, spirit-enriching battle it is.