Lawning Ahead. Enlightened Gardening #1

Winter is entering its final quarter. Are you ready to implement all those garden plans and resolutions? You want to go organic, grow some if not all your veggies, have something in bloom all year long, create a more casual garden to reflect your lifestyle, set up the patio so you can enjoy al fresco meals as often as possible, provide the children with a space that fires their imagination and finally, it all seemed so doable in January but now, you are daunted. Am I right?

Well, you are not alone. It is quite common to feel a bit overwhelmed and not know how or where to start. I get asked about this all the time. Let me reassure anybody who has doubts that all of those goals are not only well within reach but can be achieved this very year. The only thing you need to begin is a deep desire to do what it takes. Make time in your schedule, set aside a minimum of an hour every other day ( every day is better) and a good half day of the weekend ( a whole day is better!). You might not need all that time each day but then, you can use it to just sit and enjoy the garden. I guarantee you will get hooked to puttering in your corner of paradise. It just feels so good!

After hearing from many readers, I’m happy to discuss the several tasks and habits to cultivate (!) that will get you creating the garden you want.

Lets start with the lawn. That ubiquitous green swathe that seems to be the dubious prize of most property owners. A healthy, verdant, well manicured monoculture lawn has become the unofficial American symbol of success. And the struggle to maintain said lawn is the “successful” American way of life. Really America? After all that we now know about the huge cost to the environment and wallet in the upkeep of such a feature, are we still going to continue hankering after this shallow dream? Think about that.

So, if you are keen on such a perfectly superficial and downright wasteful element in your garden, then this article is probably not for you. But, before you leave this site, just pause to ask yourself why you think you must have that pristine lawn and why you are so willing to work so hard to keep it that way. Do you truly believe that such a lawn means you ‘have arrived’? You like having the ‘pure green’ space? You enjoy spending unnecessary amounts of time, money and effort in the pursuit of such a thing? Are you at peace with yourself? Do you believe climate change is not impacted by human activities?
If you said yes to at least three of those questions, then it really is not useful for you to read on. You’re excused.

For the rest of you I have excellent news! Giving up on that perfect lawn is most liberating. You will save time, money, energy ( yours as well as natural earth resources) and at the same time create a healthy, thriving environment.

Take a look at the size of your lawn. Does it need to have those dimension or could you whittle it down? The reduced lawn will make room for more plant beds, shrubs and/or trees which will only enrich the garden. Of course, mowing will also be quicker.

After determining how small ( or big ) a lawn you are happy to live with, banish the thought of it supporting that single crop of grass. The green color that serves as counterpoint to the flowering beds can be from a diverse array of ‘lawn’ plants. Leafy jewels once considered as weeds in the conventional lawn are now free to sparkle. For the most part, this ‘new’ lawn will be a canvas of green but, every now and then, little color will spark it up. Violets, bugleweed, scilla, crocus, clover, forget-me-nots, ajuga, grape hyacinths, wood hyacinths and yes, dandelions. That last one is one of the earliest sources of nectar for bees and hummingbirds. But understandably, one doesn’t want dandelions taking over entirely. Here’s what I do – in my tiny lawn in front, I pull up all dandelion plants in the spring and then only remove the flowers the rest of the growing season. In the ‘meadow’ however, I depend on the dandelions following on the heels of the daffodils and clashing madly with the blues of the forget-me-nots and ajuga flowers. It is such a happy-making sight.
The other lawn flowers are given complete freedom.

Maintaining this type of lawn is easier than you think. I have one word – compost! Compost doubles as fertilizer and mulch. No more chemical fertilizers ever again. By supporting diversity, friendly insects will arrive and they in turn will take care of the pests. No more pesticides ever again. Mulch will restrain true weeds like crabgrass as well as stop the lawn from drying too quickly and hence the frequency and quantity of water consumed will be reduced. Finally, mowing with the blade set at a height of 4 to 6 inches, means you will not have to mow as often. Lawn clippings left on the ‘grass’ after mowing will also mulch and enrich the soil as they decompose into it. Keeping the grass a bit higher will also help in conserving the moisture in the soil. All good!

Consider how this one shift in practice will reduce the volume of chemicals polluting the water-table, save use of water, cut down on fuel use, lower air and noise pollution, create a clean, healthy area for pets and children to play and still look provide the coveted green backdrop.

A 3 inch layer of compost spread when aerating and seeding the lawn in spring will go a long way. I feed this area once again in early summer and finally after leaf raking in the fall. That is it. Imagine how freeing this process is compared to the constant demands of the old, perfect lawn! Are you game to get started?

Whatever will you do with the new found free time?!!

My tiny front lawn - hardly pristine but looks good right?!

My tiny front lawn – hardly pristine but looks good right?!

The lawn nicely complements the perennial beds on either side.

The lawn nicely complements the perennial beds on either side.

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The meadow!

The meadow!

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

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