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Rethink That Lawn

Red and white clover and yellow sorrel are pollinator delicacies in this wild and colorful patch. Small birds feast on the sorrel’s seeds.

September is a liminal month, somewhere between the hot house of summer and the winding-down breeziness of fall. What better time to contemplate next year’s garden, especially with the recent spate of rain (Hallelujah! chorus here) and cooling temps giving us some time away from the hose. Finely tuning that idea: What better time to rethink your lawn, if you’ve still got one? Word’s long been out that those mowed expanses do little to feed or facilitate the myriad insects, birds, and animals who pollinate our plants and comprise the key elements of the ecosystem that keeps the world turning. Consider transforming at least part of your green monoculture into an environment that nurtures the pollinators that nurture us—and is a lot more interesting to look at.

As fall gardening catalogs roll in, check out the possibilities for planting a native and/or rock garden instead of more fescue. Maybe a meadow, if you’ve got a generous alotment of sun, or a tumble of graceful prairie grasses, or simply an experiment in letting whatever pops up stay for the duration.

While you evaluate the possibilities, you may want to cover up the section of turf that’s being repurposed (reinvigorated!) with cardboard or ramboard and a topping of compost and woodchips to get it ready for spring planting.  

This article in the New York Times by Margaret Roach, the high priestess of gardening (who conveniently lives in our 5B gardening zone) offers varying degrees of stepping away from your lawn and toward a more functional and ecobeneficial landscape. In this followup article on her site, A Way to Garden, she talks with ecological horticulturist Dan Jaffe Wilder about some practical ways to get started with alternatives to turf grass. Maybe you hadn’t considered a lawn of native strawberries before. Now you can!

As always, we’d love to see your progress, so tag us with some photos, #dirtygaiahv!

Margot Dougherty

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