Wednesday, July 27, 2016

An Update On My Lawn

We have now gone over 2 months without significant rain.  We are 8 inches below average for the year.
Avoiding monoculture is always a good idea -
even on lawns!  Drought-proof lawn courtesy of
multiple species of plants.

As a result, my lawn is getting a bit crispy - but just a bit.

The clumps of grass that have survived my neglect for the past 34 years are brown and crisp, but the plantain, violets, and especially the thyme are doing just fine.

In fact, the thyme is looking better than it ever has.  

The result is that while my no-work lawn is not lush and green, it looks just fine.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Lawns with No Work

Istanbul on a spring evening
Reykjavik on a January afternoon
A former student just contacted me and pointed out that I have not been updating my blog lately.  He is correct;  since retiring I have been too blasted busy.  I actually anticipate those rare occasions when I have nothing to do for a few hours.  I have been collecting memories of wandering the back streets of foreign cities and eating interesting food, hiking trails in the desert and finding interesting food, and eating ice cream all around the world.

He asked me to repost my 2 rules for a no work, low expense lawn, so here they are:

Rule 1.  Have as little “lawn” as possible.
Sam rests on the rear lawn
Just enough space in front.
Unless you are running a football league or landing ultralight aircraft behind your house, or maybe raising sheep, what good does it do you?  I started off with just enough open space for my kids to run around on, to keep the trees from
encroaching on my house, and to let the sun on my solar panels.  More than that is a waste.  Now that the kids are grown, my gardens are given more and more of what I once had to mow.  Trees, shrubs, perennial gardens, vegetable gardens.

Why do you want to poison your kids?
Rule 2.  Plant those species that can thrive in your area without water, fertilizer, or pesticides.   Water, fertilizer, and pesticides are expensive, and require WORK to apply.  I can’t image why anyone would want to cover their property with poisons that kill insects, the toads and birds that eat them, and require warnings to keep children off.

Here are examples of two lawns, one where my neighbor spends a fortune to keep out anything that isn’t grass, and mine, where I spend next to nothing in either time of money.  Note that after much time and money, my neighbor really does have only grass – and lots of bare patches because lawn grass does not thrive in CT.  I have included several species of plants that don’t want water, fertilizer, or help with insects. 
"Grass or nothing" gives you nothing.
Many species provides a solid carpet

Here is how I follow my own rules.

•    Trees along the perimeter of the property for privacy and the birds that nest high.  Deciduous trees like oak and maple along the south side provide shade in the summer and drop their leaves in the winter to let in the sun.  Evergreens where needed east and north to block the winter winds.

•    I don’t want the trees too close to the house, because they can prevent the flow of air. 
Huge elder blossoms seem to glow at night.
Robins and waxwings love winterberry
The next row in is made up of shrubs that are native to my area:  blueberries, mountain laurel, winterberry, black elderberry, and witch hazel.  The birds love the winterberries, blueberries, and black elderberries.

•    Next in are perennial gardens, because while I like a lot of the annual flowers it is work to replant them every year and I am lazy.  I do plant some zinnias and such each year, but not much.  Those perennials that don’t thrive where I plant them are replaced with a different species.  My gardens seem to get wider every year.

•    Then there is the “lawn”.  I have a ring around the house wide enough for trucks to get in for well maintenance and to take down the occasional tree in back.  Zoning and neighbors don’t appreciate tall plants outside of the gardens so I supplement the grass with plants that don’t grow very high and can withstand being mowed.  There are plenty of species that have evolved along with grazing animals in meadows.

Wild thyme
My lawn includes (I did buy some seeds originally)

Wild thyme – loves sun, dry soil, does not grow above a few inches tall, is great bee and butterfly food, and smells wonderful when walked on or mowed.

White clover – the kind that was included in all lawn grass seeds once upon a time.  Is able to pull nitrogen out of the air to fertilize the lawn free of charge.  More bee and butterfly food.

Violets – green all year, low growing, and every May my lawn turns into a blue and white carpet of flowers.

 Speedwell – a trailing plant that greens up quickly in the spring and covers the lawn with tiny blue and white flowers.
Speedwell and violets
Creeping Charlie

Creeping Charlie / Ground Ivy – this one came out of the woods by itself and is a wonderful ground cover.  Pretty blue flowers.  Food for bees and butterflies….

Broad-leaved plantain – not a favorite of mine, but the other plants keep it under control and it is food for a lot of caterpillars.

Dandelions – yes, those bright yellow flowers that break up the green.  The long tap roots pull nutrients up to the surface and improve the soil.

Chiondoxia and Scylla spread into a carpet of color
Another lazy person’s trick – many (many...) years ago a friend showed me how filling a window with indoor plants means that you don’t have to wash them as often.  She also filled her yard with flowering bulbs.  They provide bright colors in the early spring and of course you don’t want to mow until they start to die back. 
For several weeks after my neighbors have dragged out their mowers I sit on the porch and enjoy the flowers.

End result:  Other than planting a few more bulbs every other fall, the only work I put into my lawn is about 30 minutes every week or so to level off the ‘lawn’.  The rest of the time I just sit and enjoy.