It was just 2 months ago that I snapped this wide-angle shot of my back garden, and notice all that bare dirt? It’s there because just last fall I’d ripped out the lawn on this hillside and began my quest for a lawn-like
replacement that’s both super-drought-tolerant and requires no mowing.
And the contrast with the next photo illustrates just how FAST sedum acre is filling in to do its lawn-replacement job, after arriving here as a weed and costing me not one cent. (The not-quite-filled-in area in the lower right was planted 2 weeks ago.)
As I wrote last month, there’s also some clover here, both white and red, that I actually purchased for a buck or two but the rest of the plants here are freebies, courtesy of the birds or the breeze – the edible purslane and the lovely (to my eyes) smartweed. In October I’ll plant a bunch of crocuses in this area, and next spring, more red clover.
Now here’s where government comes into the picture. My county has launched a RainScapes Natural Drainage Project that offers rebates to homeowners who engage in all sorts of water-smart projects, like rain barrels and green roofs. And according to their instructions [pdf]: "These projects are designed to slow rainwater entering local streams, increase groundwater supply, and reduce chemical and nutrient pollutants entering waterways." And one of the home gardening projects worthy of a $500 rebate is the removal of at least 500 square feet of lawn.
Now I garden on a hillside, where practically everything I do is about controlling runoff. Water and gravity RULE. And I can report that turfgrass actually did a terrific job of preventing erosion here. Anti-lawn crusaders say otherwise but will usually admit that that’s only where the topsoil is either missing or severely compacted. So turfgrass removal isn’t necessarily the best way to "slow rainwater entering local streams."
And if the goal is to "reduce chemical and nutrient pollutants entering waterways", one need only follow Paul Tukey’s instructions or read the Yardener’s equally nonpolluting advice. Their kind of lawn care is about as far from the multiply polluting steps of Scotts as you can get.
But okay, there’s no argument that conventional, commercial lawn care is super-bad for our waterways, and alternatives to lawns are usually a big improvement. But under my county’s program that $500 is earned only if 75 percent of the replacement plants are "native to the ecoregion or cultivars thereof." When I asked the program administrator why, the answer was: to increase biodiversity. Okay, but when I then asked what natives would work on a sunny hillside, she simply didn’t answer. So I asked my friends in the local native plant society to recommend a native drought-tolerant groundcover for sunny spots and did get an answer: there isn’t one.
Now if it turns out there IS a suitable native plant for this site I’d love to recommend it to my readers and clients but it would take a lot more than $500 to buy enough of it to cover the ground fast enough to actually prevent erosion. Replacing lawn with nonnative plants that arrive as weeds, like sedum acre, purslane, or clover, will just have to be its own reward, I guess.
But readers, any thoughts on how government could best encourage or reward homeowners who get off the Scotts many-stepped treadmill of pollution?