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.