Lawn culture is the problem, not lawns


And lawn culture is still very much an issue.

My front “yard;” a lawn would never thrive here, even if I wanted one. Later, shade perennials will fill it in.

Otherwise, why would garden centers still be selling so much weed ‘n’ feed? I know from online discussions I see regularly, with gardening a hot Facebook topic every spring and summer here, that people still have lawns and don’t feel at all guilty about having them. What they feel guilty about is that their lawns are not perfectly emerald green and weed-free. Why else would they be asking about how to get rid of clover and other “invaders?”

Otherwise, why would I be able to drive through neighborhoods—not just the suburbs either—and see green spaces dotted with multiple yellow warning signs that indicate recent chemical applications?

Otherwise, why would I be able to google any combination of “weed” and “lawn” and find page after page of search results, most absolutely guilt-free about offering the perfect bag of lawn treatment. (And I’m not sure the “organic” remedies are much of an improvement.)

It would be disingenuous to pretend that “perfect lawn” culture is not still very strong throughout the US. It’s true that most of the gardeners I know don’t subscribe to it; they mow what grows when they think of it, and don’t worry a bit about what’s coming up besides turfgrass. But I can’t live in that bubble. I dislike lawn culture, not lawns.  Lawns are fine as an entity; I may find them kind of boring, myself, but I get that they are useful. Not for insects though, if lawn culture has its way.

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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. Eliz, Exactly! Embrace the ‘freedom lawn’ and save some money as well. I have way too many dandelions, ajuga and plantain in my lawn but no one can have too much clover. I think a perfect lawn is….dare I say it….’A man thing’ and I say that with love. I know, there will be disagreement and I welcome a mature discourse on the subject. If one wants to see a perfect lawn, go to the golf course (some are now embracing organics).

    • Thanks, Layanee. I think we “enlightened” ones tend to forget how much of this is still out there.

  2. I wish we had dandelions and clover in our lawn. We have oxalis (a clover want-a be). No AP weed killer touches it.

    • You can buy white clover seed and add it to your lawn that way. As for oxalis, at least it’s easy to pull! Most weeds, kept mowed, don’t show up that much. I also transplant native blue violets into my semi-shady lawn, which are the host plant for an endangered little blue butterfly.

  3. Over much of the country, the problem is HOAs that insist on a well maintained lawn. Until it is recognized that perennials, annuals, vegetables, or even a meadow are useful and acceptable occupants of the front of the lot, lawns will remain an entrenched feature.

    • Yes, HOA or municipal regulations can be a problem, but mostly they require that lawns be kept mowed below a certain height, often 6″. You might have to remove the ‘obvious’ weeds, like dandelions, with their big golden flowers, but many others can fly under the radar. Also, adding garden beds of shrubs and perennials around trees or lining walkways, etc. is usually allowed, which can minimize the amount of lawn you have.

  4. Do you treat those tulips as annuals, or are they shade tolerant? If the latter, what are the varieties?

    • These are mostly species or greigii that tend to perennialize better and don’t need a baking. I treat many others (in pots or dense plantings) as annuals. Finally, I plant new bulbs every year.

  5. Hear hear! Your article is spot on. My DH (dear husb) and I decided to let the clover thrive in our lawn. We like it. Only prob for me is that I have to constantly edge because it wants to take over the garden beds surrounding the lawn. I don’t mind it as an underplanting for larger shrubs but don’t want it growing into perennials. But it will stay and I will edge.

    We will not use chemicals for many reasons. One of them is that my heart breaks seeing birds going about their daily lives in a space laden with toxicity. Not to mention the other creatures above and below ground.

  6. Can’t say lawn culture is just a man thing. I’ve been trying to add clover, grape hyacinth and more to my yard for years and my wife is the one who freaks out. I never gave lawns a second thought, honestly. Growing up, we had mature trees in our yard that shaded the land just enough that we never even had to use a sprinkle in the heat of summer. Flash forward and now I live in an HOA that requires a well-maintained lawn with sprinkler system. I did the weed and feed a total of one time and it had so many unintended consequences. It killed all the new growth on every oak in my yard, primarily. I haven’t touched it in years. I immediately planted white clover and have added other interesting bits as I can. No, I think it’s more of a keeping up with the Joneses, outdoing your neighbor type of thing. And women can be just as guilty of that as men, lol.

  7. My “lawn” consists of wild violets, creeping Charlie, dandelions, way too many plantains, lots of white mazus, clover, and a little mongrel grass. I like it this way, especially now when the mazus and Charlie are blooming . It makes me think of the ground in medieval tapestries, covered with tiny flowers. Oh, there are a
    Couple of billows of Moss too in the shady spots.

  8. Yes yes yes. I haven’t fertilized or watered my lawn in seven years, and most seasons it looks just fine. Of course it’s a mix of plants: species crocus in early spring, dandelions later, violets in shadier spots, self-heal (prunella), some creeping jenny, and a few other low vining things I can’t identify. Crabgrass, diminishing slowly as the perennial things assert themselves. Plantain, which I weed out sometimes. It’s a pleasure to explore.

  9. PS Tulips: I’ve no idea what I’m doing right, but many of mine are perennializing nicely. Even the parrot tulip Estella Rijnveld, planted for cutting in a vegetable bed, is back for a third year, and it never gets really dry. So is the double Akebono, among perennials. I’d expected both to be annuals, and they stayed in the ground only because I got distracted. Sometimes such laziness is rewarded.

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