The L word

From Jim Charlier's garden: fun with the idea of a lawn
From Jim Charlier’s garden: fun with the idea of a lawn

Two days before Earth Day, my regular segment on our local NPR station was aired. I don’t come on as a gardening expert; I am part of a rotation of local editors and media types who chat about issues their publications are covering. We talked about gardening because my magazine always has gardening content, and May’s issue has more than usual. In it, I did an in/out list that included

Out: Adirondack chairs (more wishful thinking—they are becoming so ubiquitous and I find them uncomfortable)
In: Garden tools that let you use your feet (I am finding myself using more tools that let me stand up rather than the hand tools)
In: Reused/salvaged materials used in paving, raised beds,  and other hardscaping (this has been big in Buffalo for a while)
Out: Fairy gardens (as opposed to miniature gardens, though again, wishful thinking)

And so on.

We talked about some of that, but eventually my host asked me about his lawn; he had stopped using weedkillers and other chemical aids on it when his kids were small, but now, with them out of the house, he had gone back to them. I guess he just hates dandelions. There was no time to go into all the alternatives, so I just suggested more tolerance. I don’t have any turfgrass, but my friends who do tell me they just mow whatever is there, weeds and all. That’s the easiest way. Or, I guess there are products like these.

But what I also said is that—with all the problems in our lakes and rivers that we’re struggling to remediate already—I just see any justification for spraying or pouring questionable treatments that, in the grand scheme of things, just aren’t worth it. That’s about as far as I can go with this discussion, except for being really, really glad I never have to deal with the L word myself.

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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 regular 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. Right on! Replacing all lawn with garden is usually more work, but loosening up about lawn perfection means LESS WORK, people! Plus, way better for waterways, kids, dogs, etc etc.
    But I say no-no-no to the idea that Adirondacks will ever go out of style or become uncomfortable! Maybe they’re overdone where you are, so close to the mountains in question. Around DC they’re rare. I’m on my second batch (now made of recycled plastic, so no rotting) and still admire the design, esp the wide flat arms that eliminate the need for side tables. Brilliant, classic. I could go on.

  2. I knew I would hit a sensitive spot with this, Susan! But honestly, everyone has them, all colors, and they were originally meant for rustic cabins in the mountains. And to me, they are quite uncomfortable unless well-cushioned.

    Of course, you can make anything work, from the pictures I’ve seen.

  3. I had those wonderful made in USA recycled plastic Adirondack chairs–only $19!!! But you get what you pay for, as they only lasted one season.
    It makes me ill that people dump poison on their property to have perfect grass.

  4. Love this piece! When you “mow whatever grows” I call it a freedom lawn. There are now seed mixes for lawns that include low-growing flowers among the grass. No more broadleaf “weed” killers, more diversity, more habitat for pollinators and pest predators, and foliage color through a longer season. This idea is catching on in public grounds as well as private.

    • Love that “mow whatever grows” phrase! That’s what we have. So far lawn man, aka spouse, has done nothing this season. Whereas crazy garden lady (me), has been a weeding fiend and spreading loads of compost and hand pulling leaves from ground cover beds. Don’t tell me lawns are more work.

  5. I couldn’t stand those Adirondack chairs personally, because the backs slope too much, making it awkward to look at the view and sip my wine, ha–the 2 activities I sit on my deck for. They’d be ok for a snooze I guess.

    I’ve been ignoring the other plant life in my lawns for years now, and just mowing it all down when needed, and it doesn’t bother me a bit (I even admire some of the flowers that spring up on the “weeds”). Life is too short. But I have also noticed 2 things in doing so: the number of different plant species that turn up in the lawn is constantly rotating, and the grass is always dominant and survives whatever weed invasion appears.

  6. My parents had a very diverse lawn – full of dandelion & clover (one patch was genetically programmed for four-leaf clovers, sometimes even six-leaves!) before it was cool. They tried to turn it into turf several times, re-planting with shade blends or play-surface mixes. No dice. The pine trees all around the house were not turf-friendly, and neither were the nine children with assorted friends and pets. Even now, with considerably less activity, and even taller trees, the lawn is a patchwork of plants. It sort of fits the place.

    But I do love Adirondack chairs. To me they are wonderfully comfortable & suit almost any outdoor area.

  7. My lawn has dandelions, chickweed, hawkweed, escaped violets and a bit of actual grass. I couldn’t care less. We mow it all impartially. And, at least the first day after mowing, it looks as nice and green as all my neighbors’ lawns do. No doubt our refusal to use pesticides and fertilizer drives the more OCD among them nuts, but that’s their problem.

  8. I love, love, love that checkerboard “lawn.”

    Thanks for promoting no-pesticides on the radio – such sad ignorance to start spraying again – after raising the children. Good grief!

    Personally, I could care less what kind of lawn chairs or fairy gardens or whatever people have. If they are outside and happily gardening that is all that matters to me.

  9. I nearly jumped up and down with GLEE when I read your ‘ins and outs’! I have ranted on about Adirondack chairs and unsustainable lawn practices for far too long. I have no time for miniature gardens or fairies as my real garden is far too much work already. But I can see where they’d keep condo owners and apartment dwellers happy. As far as garden tools are concerned, I’m looking for truly ergonomic versions…and many of them are for standing up or using your hands and feet in ways that don’t create repetitive motion damage. Thanks for your post, Elizabeth! You made my day.

  10. We seem to be the only folks in the neighborhood that don’t have a commercial lawn spraying fertilizer and weed killing service. I still can’t fathom paying money to have deadly chemicals sprayed all around your house every month.

    Since we’re already borderline neighborhood pariahs due to the rebellious nature of our garden, we do what we can to minimize the appearance of some of the most visible weeds in the lawn, mostly dandelions. I think that our early summer lawn (which last year was bright yellow with dandelion flowers) is quite lovely, but my wife thinks that the neighbors are plotting to murder us since they believe that our weeds are populating their lawns with dandelions. So we use IronX dandelion killer, it isn’t a chemical weed killer, but iron chelate and kills just the dandelions, giving us at least the appearance of having a “normal” lawn.

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