Tuesday, May 19, 2015

New Front, De-Lawned, Prairie Garden Coming Back

Last May my wife and I received a letter from county weed control that our front lawn was too long -- this was likely brought to their attention by a neighbor. Unlike my neighbors who mow weekly, or thrice weekly for one of them, I tend to mow once a month at most. The front yard always grew slowly, being on a slight slope and in full sun. Still, the lawn was probably around 8-10" on the edges where neighbor sprinklers helped it grow unnaturally fast; this surely led to a slightly unkempt look.

For a few years I'd been trying to get the nerve to do something different out front, and when my wife agreed, we started a plan. We used crowd-funding for the 100% native plant conversion, and many generous donors shared our vision of wanting to create a more sustainable yet beautiful example for suburbs and cities alike. Hopefully, my plan of drought-tolerant drifts and masses, while using a matrix of 50% grasses, will look like wildness ordered -- and be a boon to wildlife while being much less maintenance than lawn. Once the space fills in more, I'll do some writing for local pubs on it and host tours / workshops (it did appear at Houzz this winter). For now, this is what it looks like.

The hellstrip needs weeding / sodding. It's there to help the garden blend in.
Two weeks ago we received 7" of rain in a few hours, which resulted in permanent waves of soil in parts of the garden, washed out mulch, washed out soil, and a few plant losses. Add to this the fact that fescue is poking up through the mulch -- we clearly didn't have the sodcutter set deep enough -- and there's plenty of first-year work to do. Overall, it looks like 90-95% of the grasses and flowers came back. I think the largest challenge during the first years of establishment will be the gangly stage -- namely, forbs outpacing grasses... little bluestem, sideoats grama, and prairie dropseed. Already, pale purple coneflower is shooting up over a foot and the warm-season grasses are barely stirring. I can't wait for the green mulch to fill in and cover the necessary-beast of wood chips.

If you're in the area and would ever like to see the front garden, or the back (nearly 8 years old now), please contact me. Hopefully, the front "yard" will be an inspiration for others.

Back garden last week.


Diana Studer said...

what sort of neighbourly response have you had to your 'well mown lawn' reply?

Benjamin Vogt said...

Not a peep!

sweetbay said...

Good for you! I'm curious, who are the donors?

Benjamin Vogt said...

Sweetbay -- we ran an Indiegogo campaign. It was interesting because some totally hated the idea, condemning us in the process, and others loved the grassroots nature of it. Such is the nature of the beast.

Anonymous said...

Your approach of ordered drifts will work, and I like (for your climate) to leave some lawn paths to walk through the plantings, or access them to maintain them. Actually not that much lawn was removed...they're lucky I don't live there :-)

Now, to read your letter I missed!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Trust me, it felt like a lot was removed -- especially after digging 150 plants in totally bad clay (the back garden soil has markedly improved the last 8 years -- it used to be the same bad bad bad clay vs. good clay).