Forgot old-style, formal landscaping for the governor's grounds in Harrisburg, PA; they're way cooler than that, as you can see by these photos. The 3.5 acre-site have been transformed by two serious gardeners – Tom and Michele Ridge. Working with a 12-person committee of experts, they transitioned the landscape to something more usable, sustainable and educational by adding a native plant garden, plus super-sustainable plants from everywhere for the other gardens. A super-smart irrigation system was installed, and – amazing to me – they now let the lawn go dormant during periods of drought. Brown grass in this high-visibility, official site? Wow, maybe there's hope yet for changing our crazy American expectations for a perfect, always-green lawn, water conservation be damned.
Now the Ridge family is long gone but the committee in charge of grounds still meets three times a year to assess and advise, and the current Governor Rendell has – no surprise here! – recently added a vegetable garden. Nothing pro forma for the media, though – it was designed by an actual designer and includes heirlooms and mushroom compost and organically grown plants from local farmers and CSAs. Otay! (Lots more details about all this are here.)
LAWN REFORM NOW!
So with a native-plant garden and vegetables, what more could anyone want, right? Some folks (yours truly) might suggest that the elephant in the room is the harm that's done to our waterways by dumping fertilizers and pesticides on our lawns. So while these changes in Harrisburg are really, really commendable, there's one more important step that needs to be taken – ending the practice of using a synthetic fertilizer to "green up" the lawn in the spring. You know, when it's most likely to run off into the Chesapeake Bay. I spoke with the guy in charge there – Dennis Rydberg with the Penn. Department of General Services – who was very helpful. He's very aware of the issues and predicts that feeding will soon be transitioned to fall. Naturally I nagged him to go that last step – switching to slow-release sources of fertilizer, or feeding using such harmless sources as grass clippings, corn gluten, clover and compost.
Hey, come to think of it, in my research about governors going "green" with their grounds, I have yet to hear of anyone going organic in their lawn care, giving up the petroleum-based fertilizers that contribute to dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay and other bodies of water we care about AND destroy the life in the soil. (It's crazy!) You know who HAS gone natural, though? The National Arboretum stopped putting anything on their lawn three years ago and since then has saved 90% of their yearly lawn care expense. That savings probably includes reduced water usage, since they stopped all watering except for a small area that's seen up-close.
Photos thanks to Dennis Rydberg.