| Lawns are shrugging off their winter rest and growing lushly
now. Green, green, green. Of course, most plants are springing into
activity. Warmth and wetness, plus increasing day length, spells joy for plants
and gardeners. On a recent trip to southern California I was reminded
starkly that sumptuous soft greenery is by no means a universal condition.
Many Palm Desert yards are plain gravel and cactus; San Diego has acres
of neon-pink ice plant covering the ground; while such lawns as are
there often go "crunch" when walked upon.
| Fortunately Seattle is becoming relaxed, less inhibited and more
adventuresome in its gardening. Whereas most of us still have lawns
dominating our yards, many have reduced or replaced them. There is much
appeal in this move. A man in Oregon yanked-out his lawn and planted
solid junipers, gilding his lawn mower and setting it upon a pedestal as
a monument to bygone days. Last year Seattle Tilth sold out its
classes called "Anything but grass --ripping out your lawn, putting in a garden."
| Dreaming, off the wall, as usual, I pretended that a new
incurable disease destroyed all lawns of grass, thereby forcing us to do
something else if we didn't want barren soil or weedy patches. What
creativity flourished as a result! How wonderful to hear no more power
mowers and edgers. There were gardens of flowers, herbs and vegetables.
Permanent beds of resplendent juniper, heathers, moss and more. Every kind
of fancy brickwork, artful paving, more pools and wooden decks.
Crushed rock, shredded bark and more innovative mulches increased in
visibility and value. Alas, my dream didn't reveal what golfers would do to survive.
| The funny thing is, mowed lawns of pure grass are a relatively
new phenomena in human history. Their presence, recently so ubiquitous
and taken for granted, is being questioned more and more. In most places
now you won't risk ostracizing yourself by doing your own thing.
Numerous substitute groundcover plants are available, including lovely
ornamental grasses which are mowed or groomed only once a year or not at all.
| My personal preference is to not utterly eliminate lawns, but to
make them no larger than necessary, and to encourage appropriate other
plants in addition to grass to grow in them. In my own tiny portion of
rough lawn, companion plants include moss, white clover, peppermint,
oregano, chamomile, star of Bethlehem, buttercup, chickweed, speedwell,
campanula, daisy, dandelion, wild onion, creeping Charlie, yarrow, and
an occasional poppy, carrot or other surprise. Absolutely
none of these plants, including the grass, was planted; it all just grew wild on fill
dirt, and I trim it 3 or 4 times between now and November. It is kept low
partly because it is walked on frequently, being a path more than anything
else. The day after some 300 people visited my garden it looked very beat
and tired, but eventually recovered. Out of concern, I even limed
and fertilized it. It has become my favorite spot to sprawl, petting Nikko
the cat, watching the sun go down, listening to the evening song of the
robin, and swatting mosquitoes.
|(originally published in The Seattle Weekly, April 1997)