by germinatrix | September 16th, 2009
Well, actually I NEVER had a lawn, because the first thing I did fourteen years ago when Jan and I bought this little Spanish bungalow is set out to kill the front lawn. I didn’t even garden yet – I knew nothing about anything other than I didn’t want a lawn. I wanted plants!
This post is part of a call to arms by the new blog Lawn Reform, which is manned by some of the gardeners whose work, energy and commitment to a healthy environment inspire me to go further in my own practice. They are organizing to bring a larger awareness to the issue which is also a big passion of mine – removing or reducing lawns and replacing them with GARDENS! How great is that? Who can’t get behind a goal so simple and so important? My particular focus is the front yard lawn, so let me jump on my platform and hold forth, if you will indulge me!
Why have we chosen to mount an offensive against LAWNS, of all things? Well – I can only answer for myself – so I will. The social construct known as the American front lawn is a tool of conformity and control. The suburban ideal of neighborhoods – single family homes situated far from the city center, tied together by an emerald ribbon, one front lawn seamlessly connecting to the next, and so on, and so on … is woefully outdated. Back when these communities were planned, it was about the vision of everyone having their own piece of luxury; their own mini – estate complete with a greensward. This showed that the family who lived here no longer needed to grow their own food – they could waste formerly precious agricultural space without a worry. The front yard lawn is also the picture of equality; the status of everyone who lives in the neighborhood is essentially the same, says the ribbon of sod. On one hand, aspirational and elitist, on the other, democratic – the lawn is a complicated piece of the American dream! Everybody wanted to live in these houses, each one married to the next with bands of green – and most did.
Keeping a lawn healthy, lush, and weed-free is close to impossible for most of the country – the emerald acres of the mid-Atlantic and the lushness of the Northwest aren’t achievable in the hotter, drier parts of the country. A lawn is also a monoplanting, and insects find it easy pickings … as a result, lawns in some parts of the country relied on massive amounts of water, and others required huge doses of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Most needed all of the above, as well as mowing once a week. But we didn’t care about any of that back then – we wanted to create a the image of universal prosperity, and the lawn became a symbol. And symbols are very powerful.
Now, our environment is in crisis. Most of us have different priorities – we want to preserve the world that we have and its resources for future generations. We want to live healthier lives free of the threat of chemical contamination of our homes and our water supply. We want to know that the food we put in our bodies is wholesome and free of pesticides. The continuing dominance of the front yard lawn as a visual symbol and as a real horticultural problem impacts our world in a variety of ways, so my answer has always been – get rid of it! There are so many better things to DO with this space!
I am primarily an ornamental gardener, even though I do grow food (when allowed to by local wildlife -snif snif!), my heart belongs to my plants. I also REALLY believe in individualism as the very backbone of our American identity, which is why the ubiquitous lawn that makes every house look very much like the one next to it has always bothered me. Don’t we want this part of our home to give the world a clue as to who lives inside? I also love what a front yard garden does to a neighborhood – it brings people into the shared space. As we work in our front yards, we talk to the people who live around us – and in a city like Los Angeles, THAT is a luxury … knowing your neighbor. Front yards with lawns are not living spaces, they are basically hallways – spaces you pass through quickly on your way inside. When the front yard has been turned into a garden, the space suddenly becomes full of life – not only more birds, bees, and butterflies … but YOUR life. As I cut flowers and foliage in my front garden, my friends and neighbors often pass by on foot, or in their cars, and I get to spend a few minutes here and there catching up, making plans, petting dogs, laughing, gossiping – I’m living in my neighborhood in a way that I never would if my garden were confined to my back yard.
I am very concerned with water issues, and so removing all or a portion of front yard lawns as a drought tolerant practice is very important to me, but the change in the quality of life that accompanies the removal of a lawn and its replacement with garden is what really gets me going. It is a gift! A gift to yourself, to your neighborhood, and to the planet. Maybe I’m being a wide-eyed Utopian, but I SO look forward to the day when instead of seeing lawn, lawn, lawn, lawn while walking or driving in the cities where we live, we see the evidence of people’s hearts instead. I want to see what they love – whether it is succulents or mixed grasses or big swaths of daylilies, or a big crazy mishmash like what I have.
I want to receive that gift! I think it can happen, and I CAN’T WAIT!!!