I don’t own a house – I rent. It’s a humble home surrounded by sugar maple trees and a few pines. There is no backyard as the old maples have taken over; the side yard would be the equivalent of a typical home’s backyard. It’s where we toss the ball, where the dogs run around, and where we sit to relax under the maple shade during the hottest days of summer. And when I say shade I mean it: the majority of the yard sees no sun at all through the thick jumble of maple leaves overhead. This year I expect it to be even less.
What little light reaches my side yard is only from the spaces left by fallen leaves in autumn.
This week, I saw my ‘lawn’ for the first time since November. I even mustered up the courage to brave the few mucky areas and went out to do some raking. After making several piles of sticks, woody debris, leaves, and a few stones, it started to rain and I went into the house.
Looking out at the cleaned up area only moments later, I realized that the rain was falling on bare soil. None of the grass planted last year had survived except for a few sparse patches. The dogs had torn up their running path, the gas company had ripped up a 4 foot strip, and a moldy fungus had spread itself out in several areas. Needless to say, it’s looking pretty dreary at this point.
Definitely not the green ‘expanse’ I was expecting after the snow melted.
Where is the lush green grass I remember from last year? All that effort and what do I have to show for it? Empty dirt?
Wait…why do I care? Where does this need for a lawn come from?
I began working at Wildflower Farm October 2013. My first task? To read this book. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s a good read. Incredibly interesting insight into lawns and the North American wide obsession with them.
But now it’s several months later, I’ve read the book, I understand the history and still I’m looking out at my bare patch of soil and yearning for something green. Something I can walk on. Something I can manage. If anything, something to hold the soil in place. And if it can meet all three criteria, I’m a happy camper.
There is an intense amount of pressure in Western society to have perfect lawns and this is only reinforced in many communities through by-laws that require grass to be kept short and pleasing to the neighbours. In 2012, a couple in Quebec had to fight to keep their front yard vegetable garden. They had transformed regular lawn into a beautiful full scale vegetable garden. And they had to FIGHT to keep it because Quebec by-laws stated that at least 30% of a front yard had to be grass.
The front yard vegetable garden created by Drummondville couple, Michel Beauchamp and Josée Landry. Photo courtesy of CBC News Montreal.
So what’s a person to do? I can’t feasibly transform my yard into a vegetable garden (as much as I’d like to, it’s far too shady); I can’t let weeds take over (it’s unsightly and uncomfortable to walk on); and I can’t leave it bare (the dogs will erode paths throughout and it will become a mucky mess).
For me, a small side yard makes sense. But it doesn’t have to be traditional. Indeed, I’d rather it be anything but, which is why this year I’m going to try Eco-Lawn in my own yard. It just seems to make sense – it will grow under my shady maples, keep my soil where it should be, and give me a place to laze around on the weekends because I certainly won’t be burdened with mowing it all the time.
You know what also makes sense? Saving water and not using chemicals. In this really amazing 3 ½ minute video, you’ll hear all sorts of numbers that, in all honesty, are hard to imagine. Numbers like these:
- There is 3 times more irrigated turf grass in the US than corn
- 30% of the overall drinking (potable) water supply in the US is used to irrigate turf grass
- 70 million pounds of pesticides are used annually to treat US lawns
And the video is right: grass doesn’t even feed us.
So if I can avoid spending unnecessarily on my lawn, why wouldn’t I? I can use money that would have went into turf fertilizers and put it towards a vegetable garden; the time spent mowing, watering, fertilizing, and just generally caring for my lawn can now be spent trekking through the trails with my dog (or scouring the gardens for new bugs, knowing me).
Couldn’t resist adding in a bug photo – even if it’s a snowy bug photo.
But all jokes aside, it just makes sense. Why do something wasteful if you don’t have to? If there are alternatives that are all around better for us and those around us, what’s stopping us from making the switch?