In the garden: Reinventing the lawn space
July 27, 2009
A reader picked up the challenge in my recent disparaging article about lawns and, to my delight, sent a critical letter to the editor, pointing out quite correctly that I had not gone nearly far enough. I had neither placed the ecological disaster that is a lawn within the wider context of global climate change, resource depletion and diminishing biodiversity, nor had I offered any solutions.
“… for every critique there must be a plan of action, ways for personal impact…,” Jo Murphy said, identifying several alternatives to the typical monoculture lawn, including replacing them with vegetable gardens. The Jaywalker Lodge, a residential treatment center for alcoholics in Carbondale, has done just that, digging up their large front lawn and replacing it with magnificent garden beds overflowing with flowers and vegetables. When I spotted it from the bus recently, I nearly missed my stop. However, while a well-designed, organic vegetable garden has as much street appeal as any flower garden, it is very energy intensive – the gardener’s energy – and demands a high level of commitment to growing food.
One of my favorite tricks to make exuberant, unrestrained plant growth look like a well-maintained garden instead of a vacant lot is to use judicious grooming, like mowing a swath of grass on either side of the Elk Run path to Arbaney Park, leaving the rest of the right-of-way alone, as the Town of Basalt has done this summer. The tall grasses gleam when backlit by sunshine, rippling and swaying into shifting patterns by to the wind. The whole space seems larger, and more integrated with its natural background of surrounding mountains. The yards of the houses along the path, reflecting the homeowners’ individual tastes and personalities, are somehow unified by the prairie-like border. I glimpsed a variation of this concept in an Aspen garden, where instead of manicuring the perimeter; a smooth, sinuously shaped lawn had been carved out of the middle of a pocket meadow fringed by a small woodland of aspens and spruces.
The most intriguing idea suggested by Jo Murphy is what she calls the minimalist approach of just letting your lawn go wild because it “requires no work, and the average lawn owner acknowledges lack of control over nature and gives their time and energy to something else.” Now there’s food for thought! But that is an issue for another day.