See you on the sidewalk


This essay
in the Guelph (Ontario) newspaper
is a wonderfully sane mediation on lawnless
front yard gardening. I was interested that writer Chris Chamberlain uses the
word “boulevard” to describe what I call the easeway and what others call the
median or the hellstrip. Here’s a quote from it:

As I went about digging up my lawn and boulevard, I was
aware I was in some sense choosing a side—aware also of what was being lost in
that controversy—the freedom to simply enjoy gardening and how the politics of
it all would deter some from doing it altogether.

He also discusses the social aspect of this kind of
gardening, which has always been part of the experience for me. As I crouch in
the dirt, shirt torn, hair falling in eyes, trowel in hand, passers-by often
stop and seem to feel the need to encourage me, no matter how little visible
progress or beauty there is. I like to think it prompts some of our
neighborhood denizens to think, “Hmm, maybe I won’t throw my empty 40 or loser lottery ticket in front of that house.” Or not.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Paul Evans has a great article in Nature Watch in The Guardian Weekly 05 June 09 about “lawnists…people who cannot control their anxieties about grass.” He says, “Road verges, church-yards, parks and gardens must be shaved within an inch of their lives. Long grass, for the lawnists, is an abomination and the weeds and wiggling things it harbours must be purged from the civilised world and transformed into the beautiful and morally enriching form of the lawn.” Need I add, he is not sympathetic to lawnists.

  2. We don’t have a dirt area by any name near the street…the sidewalk is right against the curb. But we called it a tree lawn when I was growing up in Ohio.

  3. My husband dug up our front lawn last month.

    We’ve been amazed at the response. People stop to chat about our newly dug flower beds and drivers beep there horns and give us the thumbs up. We have yet to get a negative comment.

    I can only imagine the response when the flowers actually fill in and it’s not just bare dirt.

  4. Those lawnists must be closely related to the beigists. Can’t they apply their anal retentiveness to something useful, like solving world poverty or fixing up the economy?

  5. I was once puttering around in the shady side of my front yard when some neighbors on a stroll suggested that I soak the whole plot in Roundup and put gravel on top. Having sieved out hundreds of pounds of gravel from the soil of my vegetable garden, I was less than receptive to their suggestion. I can’t fathom why they would say that to someone gardening. I can only suppose they had thing against hostas like Oscar Wilde had against wallpaper.

  6. E said: >> like to think it prompts some of our neighborhood denizens to think, “Hmm, maybe I won’t throw my empty 40 or loser lottery ticket in front of that house.” Or not.<< Oh, if only! It seems the more one cultivates plants in the media and street-side, the more tempting it is for folks to tuck their bottles, cans, bus transfers, etc. in there. *sigh*

  7. When my husband and I moved into our house, we decided that mowing a lawn was just no fun – so DOWN WITH LAWN! We’ve been slowly claiming lawn for garden ever since. I’ve nearly conquered the back yard, and have quite a nice start on the front. A wide variety of people, strangers, stop to tell me how much they appreciate what I have been doing. Heck, even my neighbor has quit asking me, “Aren’t you done yet?” Now he just says how nice it looks.

  8. My housemates and I tore up or mulched over and planted our front lawn. We have had all sorts of neighbors stop to chat or compliment us on the yard. The only negative comment was from our next door neighbor who, when told we were gonna take it out, told us we shouldn’t do that, that we should keep the lawn. He has an overwatered, overmown lawn I might add.
    As for trash in the yard, there’s the same or more, but I’ve realized it gets blown in and now gets caught on the plants instead of blowing on down the street.
    And I call it a hell strip.

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