Redefine Your Idea Of Lawn

February 24, 2012

When I was working in Brooklyn a lot of my clients had young kids and many would say the same thing to me, ‘I want something low maintenance. I’d love to have a lawn for my kids and some roses.’ Let me explain why these things are mutually exclusive.

First of all we’ll talk about the roses. Most roses don’t like high humidity or stagnant air, two things Brooklyn is full of. I’m not saying you can’t grow beautiful roses in Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Botanic Garden does, but they are not low maintenance. Second, they have thorns. Kids are, by nature, curious. You can see where this could lead to a trip to the hospital.

Now let’s talk about lawns. By lawns most people mean some kind of turf grass that is either seeded or put down as sod. A lawn requires a tremendous amount of work. Here, in a nutshell, is why. The vast majority of perennials, which includes grasses, has a natural life-cycle. It starts out as a seed, grows (hopefully) into a seedling and then into a full-fledged plant. It blooms, develops its own seeds which it drops and then goes into a resting period we call dormancy, although dormancy can take different forms with different types of plants.

Now, imagine you planted a perennial bed and every time it got to be a few inches tall you mowed it down. That’s what a lawn is. Every time those plants get to be 2 or 3 inches tall you mow them down and they have to start all over again. This is why turf lawns require so much water and so many nutrients.

Photo By Earth Designs

My solution for people who wanted an area in their yard where their kids could crawl around or play but didn’t want the hassle or environmental drawbacks of having a turf lawn was to install what I call a lawn alternative. For sunny yards certain species of Thyme work very well; although it is important to choose the right kind. I’ve experimented and some varieties do not work but some work marvelously. My dad has two Malamutes – the male is 90 pounds – who roughhouse on the Thyme lawn I installed on their property. After three years it is holding up just fine. There are other options for less sunny locations and even areas in full shade.

If you are not ready to completely forgo your turf lawn there is a lot of good information out there about how to shrink your lawn or plant a native lawn. The Lawn Reform Coalition is a great resource. One of their founders, Evelyn Hadden, has just released a book called Beautiful No Mow Yards which has received rave reviews.

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