Aug 23, 2005

Addicted to Lawn

[Note: Verdance clients originally received this article in June, as part of our free monthly newsletter on gardens and gardening. To subscribe to the newsletter yourself, please register at]

Per square foot, no other planting consumes water, fertilizer, chemicals, energy, money and time like a lawn. Normally we would go out of our way to avoid such a demanding specimen; but since we continue to spend and suffer for that patch of green, we might as well face it: we're addicted to lawn.

Does manicured grass satisfy some human urge to control nature? Or is the attraction in our cells, a relic of the days we called the African savanna home? Whatever the origins, today the relationship is largely symbolic: we love lawn because we have always loved it -- its calming uniformity, its cool tickle, its fresh-cut aroma, its evocations of youth and play and carefree days.

As a landscape designer, I can't ignore that even a small lawn can carry big costs to our wallets, our environment and our quality of life. Yet turf does make an excellent play surface, and its bold monochrome is a good foil for more intricate shapes or textures. It even has ecological benefits, generating oxygen, cooling the air, absorbing pollutants and preventing erosion.

We probably will never kick the lawn habit entirely. But we can reduce our dependency by using lawn only where nothing but turf will do (usually a play area), and using as little as will suffice (under 100 square feet for a putting green, around 400 sf. to throw or kick a ball, 8820 sf. for a proper game of croquet).

Beyond that, lawn is mostly aesthetic, and legions of more satisfying alternatives exist. A carpet of chamomile or thyme, for instance, is extremely sensuous. A massing of low ornamental grasses provides bold uniformity. And a charming perennial bed can attract so many birds and butterflies that we forget all about the lawn it replaced.

I could go on an on about ingenious lawn substitutes and efficient care practices. And if you want to know more about these, I'm happy to help. But right now -- if you'll excuse me -- I have to go mow my lawn.

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