Walking Lucy the other day was an exercise in patience at a time when I had little. I was on the first week of my new job where I am very fortunate to work right at home. During my lunch break, I wanted to enjoy at least some outdoor time with my girl, but I was on a schedule.
That day, I wanted her to walk, not stop every few steps to take a sniff. When she wandered onto a lawn that was perfectly manicured with one of those lawn service signs stuck in the ground, I abruptly pulled her back. I could smell the chemicals, and the sign confirmed that the grass had just been treated that very morning. I didn’t want Lucy getting chemicals on her paws or bringing them into the house.
I am glad that, every year, our small lawn gets even smaller. Only in suburban America is the manicured lawn considered a status symbol, that vast green welcome mat that says, “We’ve made it!” We spend money and time getting it to look perfect. But, the perfect lawn costs more than just money and time in the end, and here are some good reasons to ditch it for good.
- It’s time consuming. Every single week for most of the year, Mr. President dutifully fires up the lawn mower and week wacker for an hour to mow our ever-shrinking islands of grass. If we let it go more than a week without cutting, it starts to make people wonder if something bigger has happened in our lives. Is someone sick? Are you OK? If it’s a rainy week, he may have to cut it twice. Despite our half-acre of property, our lawn is very small. I would imagine that similar yards in our neighborhood require twice the amount of time.
- Lawns need too much water. We do not water our lawn, but people with a perfect lawn sure do. They set up the sprinklers where most of the water lands on the surface of the grass and evaporates before it can get to the plants’ roots where it is needed. So, they leave the sprinklers running for a long time, especially when the summer heats up. If you’re into having a perfect lawn, that’s what it takes to keep it green.
Lawns require gas. Manly lawn mowers and small tractors run on gas. It’s a small amount compared to a car, but why waste gas on your lawn?
- The perfect lawn is a waste of space. A lawn just takes and takes. It takes your time, money, gas, and water and in turn, provides nothing tangible for you, your area’s wildlife or for the environment.
- It’s boring. Yes, it really is. In agricultural terms, a lawn is a monoculture, meaning it is just one species, planted en masse. A homogenous green carpet is so much less interesting than the nearly endless varieties of color, texture and movement you can get from low maintenance native plants and perennials. Our patches of grass do provide a pleasing resting place for the eyes and a contrast to our gardens which are crammed full with a big, lush, chaotic symphony of perennials that compete for attention three seasons of the year.
- Chemicals. I see the signs in lawns everywhere and the lawn companies leave little flyers in our mailbox taking about weed control and feeding the perfect lawn. What weeds exactly are they targeting? Dandelions and clover? Those are just about the only plants in a lawn that offer any ecologic value. They are important food sources for pollinators when little else is available. I am amazed when I see dogs and children romping around on grass that’s been treated. I won’t even let my Lucy step one foot in that stuff.
If you are the owner of a perfect lawn, I’m not suggesting you go cold turkey and give it up entirely. I realize that for some, it brings a huge sense of pride having the best lawn in the neighborhood.
But, consider for a moment what you could gain from replacing that lawn with something that gives back. For us, that meant doing a lasagna garden to replace a patch of lawn with 11 raised beds that feed us organic fruit and vegetables three seasons of the year. It also meant tearing up even more to plant colorful drought-tolerant perennial beds that provide food and habitat for a growing variety of wild birds, butterflies, and bees. We have even turned some of our lawn into breeding grounds for monarch butterflies by planting native milkweed. Our yard is alive in a way that could never be accomplished with just a perfect lawn.