Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

The Laidback Gardener’s Worst Enemy

015.KCall this one a rant rather than a blog, but I’d fed up with lawns! In many ways, the lawn is the worst enemy of any homeowner who wants to take a laidback attitude towards gardening. Almost any other garden activity, be it transplanting perennials or trimming a hedge, can always wait a week or two, or the next season, or even indefinitely, but not a lawn: it needs its weekly mowing from from late spring until fall. Even when you are out of town, you have to find someone to replace you: talk about annoying!

In drier climates or ones subject to drought, its water-guzzling habit makes you the scorn of neighbors or even brings the authorities down on your back.

And don’t get me started on lawn care companies. Sure, they take the pressure off, but not only do they cost an arm and a leg, they have no respect for your other plantings. Every year I have to lodge a formal complaint about the herbicides they spray (illegally!) on my neighbor’s lawn, because they manage to poison the flowerbeds that border my property.

And that’s not all: if you listen to the “experts” (i.e. the people who have products or services to sell you), your lawn also needs to be fertilized several times a year, treated for pests, weeds and diseases, rolled, dethatched, aerated, and so on. If shrub or perennial beds required that much work, you would have abandoned them years ago!

I repeat: your lawn is your worst enemy. Keep that concept in mind even if you’re not yet ready to accept it, because one day it will completely change the way you garden.

Because the solution “to the laidback gardener’s greatest enemy” is simple enough: remove the lawn, if not entirely, at least most of it!

Do you really need a flat green surface that requires so much care? A surface which, basically, goes entirely unused most of the time? I’m not so sure! For me, a lawn is a placeholder for future developments, scheduled sooner or later to disappear under a sea of other plants.

At my place, the front lawn disappeared years ago, turning into flower beds and a restful shade garden. I do have a tiny lawn out back (I still need a “peepee corner” for my dog Maggie!), but it doesn’t get much care. And it is simply a mowed surface, not a traditional all-grass lawn, a surface where lawn grasses mingle with flowers and plants (spring bulbs, violets, groundcovers, etc.). I never aerate it, fertilize it or give it any special care. Nor do I get upset about “weeds”. I let anything grow there, as long as it isn’t prickly (thorny plants get yanked on principle: one should, in my opinion, at least be able to walk barefoot on a lawn!).

In my “long-range plan” (mostly in my head, by the way), what little lawn is left is marked “water garden” and “vine-covered pergola”. In other words, I plan to completely eliminate it one day (we’ve decided that the still spry Maggie, 8 years old, will be our last dog).

If you want a beautiful yard without all the hassle of a lawn, I recommend you do the same.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “The Laidback Gardener’s Worst Enemy

  1. We had many subdivision years of living where the upkeep of the lawn ruled the weekend and the checkbook. When you move to a few acres, the lawn just becomes something under your feet that isn’t muddy. We dig up more every year for vegetable gardens and take pride in our fresh tomatoes rather than a lush, weed free, front yard. Dandelions have become a gift of yellow flowers from Mother Nature. 🙂

  2. This year we overseeded our sad, half-dead grass with white clover. The neighbors are appalled, but it will stay green longer than grass does, requires less water, less frequent mowing, and no fertilizer or other chemicals at all. Plus it’ll feed the honeybees and whatever other pollinators wander by.

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