1 Comment » Written on July 10th, 2011 by
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My Garden and the Grassless Adventure

I have been in my house for about 14 years, slowly turning our fixer upper into what most folks say is a pretty nice place. I started on the outside about 5 years later, when I had gotten past the worst of the disasters inside. ( We won’t get into the film crew that turned my house BACK to a fixer upper for a movie, so we could relive some of that in a highly speeded up version…)

There were the ancient shrubberies out front, with bare packed dirt around them, and a scruffy front yard with patchy grass on both sides of the walk. This was tended by a yard service that regularly trimmed and mowed for the elderly woman who lived here, but she had long since lost either the interest or ability to do any active gardening. The first few years I tried a few things, put in a few bushes, cut the grass, planted some annuals. Most of the bushes keeled over, the annuals were lackluster, but it was the grass I found most frustrating. I decided that grass was the gardeners’ example of the Law of Diminishing returns. The more work I put into it, I got only the smallest improvement in outcome.

A few things became clear: many of my neighbor’s lawns were yard service productions, which is also known as “Better living through Chemistry.” I didn’t want to put that much synthetic fertilizer into the ground, and so I didn’t use any chemical enhancement, or weed killers. I also didn’t want to get into the heavy water usage that lawns seemed to require. From TURF WARS The Battle Over the American Lawn by Evan Ratliff:

Lawn opponents of all strains cite studies quantifying the cost of Americans’ love affair with grass. Depending on conditions, a 25-by-40-foot yard can drink up to 10,000 gallons of water each summer. In some areas of the Western U.S., lawns account for 60 percent of urban water use. Keeping America’s grass perfectly cropped requires 38 million lawnmowers, most of which use two-stroke engines that generate as much pollution in an hour as a car does during a hundred-mile trip. Each year, Americans apply more than 70 million pounds of pesticides to their lawns, some of which seeps into groundwater, threatening wildlife and human health.

But another factor besides the political/environmental- my yard just didn’t really have enough light to have great grass, and the plantings that I had picked out for it were unsuitable. I thought that I was a serial killer of shrubbery, but it was just not having the right information about what plants to use.

I got help. My gardening friend Holly Noury from …a little Flower helped me start the first grassless corner where I nipped off the darkest part of the yard and put in some hostas and just gave up the part of the yard that ended up as grassless anyway. I let that go a few years. Then another gardening friend helped me take it to the next level, and has been helping ever since. Tracey Hohman helped me dig up the whole side of the yard and enrich the soil. Working out from Holly’s corner, she put in a perennial garden that was amazing. Shade plants! Shrubbery that could take low light conditions! What a concept! We bordered it with pink cobblestones to hold the dirt in place.

On the other side of the yard I started putting in hostas ,shrubs, and planting annuals, gradually pulling out the garden foot by foot until all I had left was a 3 foot strip of grass. But this year I decided it was time to finish what I started. I have now finished yanking out the last bits of grass, my photos show the project under way. Once the myrtle takes, will send a picture of the flourishing ground cover! My rotary lawn mower is nearly superfluous, next year the driveway’s grass ribbon will complete the project.

Happy Gardens.