Will We Miss the Grass?


As all our Rant regulars know, my partner Susan Harris is a big, big champion of going lawn free. I visited her old garden in Takoma Park, which managed to be restful and beautiful without a carpet of grass, and the photos of her new garden suggest that she won’t be out there with a mower at any point soon.

Me, I have mixed feelings about lawns. I had a weekend house in the country for 10 years. And in the country, I loved having a few acres of lawn, surrounded by a wilder meadow that was only cut once a year. The kids and the dog used to run around like crazy people on that lawn, they used to roll down it, and in winter, they’d toboggan down it. Try doing that stuff in a mixed bed!

But, alas, I am selling that country place.  I am gardening now in a city, and cities are different. I have just a 7500 square foot lot, much of that taken up by my house and carriage house.  And as a farmer at heart, I think my land needs to be productive. Grass may be pretty and a good place to play, but it is not productive.

As soon as I moved in, I started taking out the lawn in front of the house and on my hellstrip, mainly because I got sick of dragging a lawn mower from the back of the yard through a barely functioning gate that needs to be replaced.  The only problem with no grass on the hellstrip is that people getting out of parked cars in front of my house are slightly stumped–how do I get to the sidewalk?  But I accept a certain amount of crushing in that bed.  Otherwise, I think the whole deal looks great.  I’m not much of a design person, but the super-lush mix of perennials, bulbs, small shrubs, and fruit trees in front of my house makes a real statement about the generosity of Mother Nature.

Last year, I smothered half the lawn in the back and made a vegetable garden out of it.  The garden wasn’t big enough.  There was no room for pumpkins–and seriously, I need at least a few ‘Jarrahdales’ for pie-making in the fall. I only had room for a single row of potatoes.  Where is the fun in that, if you don’t have enough to store in the basement, so you can cook them whenever you want, to warm you up when the earth is cold?

This year, I started 65 potato seedlings from True Potato Seed that I ordered from New World Seeds and Tubers–exotic stuff that breeder Tom Wagner has engineered in part from old Andean varieties.  Where to put those?  So I’m eyeing the remaining lawn very coldly.  In fact, I seem to have stopped mowing it, which suggests that its fate is already sealed.

I’ll put up a little fence around the garden that will persuade the dog to head to the back of property to pee in the morning. He won’t have quite the same soft options for lying in the sun, however.

I guess the person I’m most concerned about is my 14 year-old daughter Georgia, a great natural athlete.  She lives to ride horses, but I’ve always thought, future hurdler.  Since she was tiny, she’d set up jumps on the grass–structures made of saw horses, buckets, paint cans, and bamboo poles from the garden–and jump over them, pretending to practice her horse jumps.  Without much runway at all, Georgia can sail over a jump that is neck high.

I’ve gotten a ton of pleasure out of sitting on my screened porch, watching her fly over obstacles on the velvety lawn.  But the truth is, she’s 14 and 5′ 7″ now and wears mascara and eye-shadow whenever she can get away with it. There is less hanging out on the lawn than there used to be.

For the future, potatoes are a better bet.


  1. Exotic potatoes! Yummmm. Just a word of caution – recall in my Master Gardener training many moons ago that potatoes are likely to scab in neutral-alkaline soil, which is exactly what lawns like. Also wireworms, another potato pest, prefer newly-cultivated soil. I would consider growing potatoes in the great soil you have on the left and rotate last years’ crops to the new area. Good on you, urban farmer!!

  2. A few pavers in the hellstrip may help your visitors.

    My front yard is mostly lawn, to blend in with the neighborhood, but the backyard has lost a lot of turf over the years. Lawn is easier to care for, but then what would I do?

  3. I’m a lawnophobe as well and wherever I move I end up taking out as much grass as is socially tolerable in the neighborhood. Since I don’t have kids there’s no concern with giving them a place to play. I just need to have enough lawn (behind a fence) for my three special needs dogs for conduct their business. If it wasn’t for the dogs or the scowls from the neighborhood I probably wouldn’t have any lawn at all.

  4. My dog insists on conducting his business in the garden. He won’t go on my grass. I have a little bit of lawn left in the front yard, so the girls have somewhere to make a snowman. They don’t play on the grass, they play on my stepping stones through the gardens. As for grass being easier to care for? My gardens only require a little pruning in the spring to take out damaged branches, and cutting off any dead blooms from the previous year, if I feel like it. If you don’t plant the big ornamental grasses, there really is minimal clean up to be done. And far less weeding with all the mulch than the grass.

  5. Wow I covet a 7500 s/f lot! My Berkeley lot is only 3600. Needless to say he first thing I did when I bought the house was nuke the stupid tiny patch of lawn, quickly followed by all the mildew infested roses… being in the old mixed-use industrial neighborhood means our soil was too contaminated for veggies in the ground, so my food crops are in troughs (though a few years of planting sunflowers and the ground tests safe now). But what little space there is already full with my eclectic plant collection, so to increase my vegetable garden space I just add a few more pots and use spinach and arugula as a ground cover, which the tortoises are happy to keep mowed down.

  6. Oh MY! You’re selling your country garden!

    I don’t think you will miss the lawn, but then with me it’s all about food and flowers. I even preferred the gardens with paths and flower beds and no lawn when I was a kid. Lawns are boring.

  7. Gosh, I hate to say it I planned on a little grass at our place. Preferably a mix of prairie grasses that tolerate some mowing but don’t suck water down. I like the transitional element between beds, the places to stroll with cushy grass between my bare toes, and for maybe-future-grandkids to play ball. The ability to drive the tractor (yeah, we’re talking a bit more than 7500 sqft.) Somewhere to lay on the turf on a blanket and look at stars or clouds. Grass is not evil, it’s better than pavement; as in all things gardening, the right plant in the right place…

  8. Bummer about the country place. Maybe you should dig up the soil in your vegetable garden there and truck it in to the city garden for the new vegetable garden annex.

  9. Being the pro lawn troll that I am you have to do what is right for you. And if that means no lawn then OK.

    The problem with the anti-lawn nazis is this. They hate all lawns, no matter how small a percentage it takes of a residential landscape.

    I know this all too well. I took my 2/3 acre lawn down to 6,000 square feet with only 10% of that getting any regular feeding and weeding. Still it was enough for the stolon stealers.

    Keep off the grass means that keep off my grass.

    the TROLL

  10. I need a lawn. The clippings are an important source of nitrogen for my compost which, in turn, is an important source of organic matter for my gardens.

  11. I suspect you’ll miss more about your country place than just the grass. But I also bet that, having had your place there, you know all sorts of places to stay when you need to get away for your “country fix” (and with no “country maintenance” involved!).

    And I agree: cool “Welcome” pavers in the hell strip! Or, plant a nice ground cover that tolerates being trod upon (chamomile, for instance) and plant a strategically-placed foot-wide swath of that for people to walk through.

  12. In many counties they have the Cash for Grass going on …you call the county and they come out and measure your turf area. Then you remove the grass and they come back and remeasure and write you a check for $$$$ per sq. foot removed. I made enough to put in a petanque court, pay my helper, buy the crushed opalite. If I’d realized I was going to take out more than originally measured for, they would have helped me with the drip system too (on all the little shrubs I filled in with)! You might check with your city first and they could give you the necessary county contact.

  13. Is there any information around about a gender bias in lawn preferences? I find my male clients resist lawn eradication most but it’s such a small sample I’m not sure it means anything.

  14. Grass for the lawn is a must part but making a garden look beautiful without Grass would be a highly appreciable job, Green grass for any lawn makes it look amazing for this purpose many organizations having landscaping ideas like P & M Gonzalez Landscaping and so many others which provide the best landscaping for one’s lawn or garden, We should appreciate their efforts in this concern.

  15. When I was little I almost never played on the grass- I hive out just sitting on a lawn let alone rolling in it. I played in the yard all the time (thanks Dad for planting climbable trees!) So I don’t want a lawn now because I hate mowing it; I’m guessing any child of mine has a good shot of inheriting my sensitivity, so I probably don’t want a lawn in the future either.

    But I did want to mention that in my Northern California neighborhood there’s a front landscape in the manner of a zen garden, with rocks and sculptural shrubs and everything, with the lawn taking the place of the raked sand. It is a beautiful yard, so I have to remind myself there are wonderful uses for stretches of turf, even if I find the traditional giant green rectangle unappealing.

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