Lose Your Lawn

Jill Richardson, Guest Writer
Waking Times 

Turning your lawn into something more beautiful and useful would save time and money while curbing pollution and water usage.

Have you taken your hounds fox hunting lately? You haven’t? Well, maybe you’ve gone to visit a friend’s estate in a horse and carriage? You haven’t done that either, have you? Most of the popular trends of 19th century British aristocracy are not the norm in 21st century America. Except for one: the lawn.

Centuries ago, most Europeans (and their descendants on our side of the pond) produced food on their land. Whether in the form of kitchen gardens, farm fields, or pastures for raising livestock, most folks relied on their land in order to eat.

Only the rich could afford to flaunt their wealth by devoting large areas of land to an inedible, yet beautifully manicured, green lawn. Back then, without lawn mowers, lawn maintenance required paying a servant to “mow” the lawn with a scythe. Lawns were mega status symbols.

The usefulness of the lawn as a status symbol is a thing of the past. Today, if your lawn serves a function at all, it’s as a soccer field or play area for your family. For many Americans, lawns yield no benefit at all. You mow it, you water it, you weed it, you fertilize it. Why?

Your lawn, if you’ve got one, might be covered with snow right now. But the groundhog has spoken and spring will be upon us soon. America’s No. 1 crop is lawn turf. As a nation, we spend $30 billion on our 40 billion acres of lawn each year.

Think about it. Is it time to ditch your lawn?

Lawns were status symbols because they were wasteful. They’ve lost their status, but they’re still plenty wasteful. If all lawns were watered at the recommended levels, then we’d use 238 gallons of water per person, per day maintaining them during the growing season. Most of us also use fertilizer, which is made using fossil fuels and often pollutes our waterways. All to grow a crop we don’t eat.

If your family plays soccer on your lawn, maybe you’ve got a good reason to keep on mowing and watering. If your lawn serves no purpose, consider your other options.

In arid areas where green lawns mimicking Merry Olde England are particularly ridiculous, you can try xeriscaping. That means planting drought-tolerant plants, often native to where you live, that survive and even thrive with little to no work or maintenance on your part. Done right, a yard full of natives can be beautiful. You won’t sacrifice any of your yard’s aesthetics if you go this route, and your neighbors will respect your choice. After an initial investment, you’ll be able to kick back while your neighbors continue investing time and money into their lawns year after year.

Even in parts of the country with plenty of rain, native plants are a good way to go. They’re already adapted to your climate, so they don’t require watering or mowing. I like to choose native plants with edible berries or beautiful flowers, or ones that attract butterflies and songbirds.

If you don’t mind doing a bit more work, start growing some food in your own yard. Vegetable gardens are rewarding, but most vegetables must be planted each year. Fruit trees, on the other hand, live for many years and bear fruit year in and year out.

Instead of ripping out your lawn — a monumental task, no doubt — you can compost it in place. There are many ways to do this, but the principle is always the same: Deny your lawn sunlight and keep it moist. Within a few months, the grass will die and break down, enriching the soil and readying it for whatever is next.

With the economy still in a rough patch, spending money on lawn care makes no sense. This spring, turn yours into something more beautiful and useful.

About the Author

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org

This article originally appeared at OtherWords.org

This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.

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  • Bushman

    Hmm, gardens are great, I have several, but you left out the fact that 25ft X 25ft of lawn produces the same amount of oxygen you breath per day and absorbs the CO2 you exhale. Grass lands in general are far more efficiant than trees, shrubs, and most other plants at converting CO2 into oxygen.

  • Dennis White

    I grew up in an area (large) whereas EVERYONE enhanced their “yards” with natural occuring plants, rock and etc. I repeat – EVERYBODY! I’ve watched the changes as have you. Live “rural” now – again and after our lands were converted into communities and townhouses. Within a short time of moving rural, a HUGE new community (HOA) developed right up to our eastern property line.
    Years and years ago, “yes,” we had green yards – dry land yards – depending upon actual rainfall. But the last ten years have brought us hotter and hotter temps and less and less rain – each year worse than the year before. But this ELITE, rural, out in the middle of dry-land nowhere..this community insists on golf-course quality green grass for all of their homes. Horrendous fines to owners if they do not comply. Just one example that applies to hundreds of thousands of these “new elitest communities” to pop-up (esp during the building boom – no virutually extinct). Pesticides and herbicides sprayed by the hundreds of gallons each year – seed and re-seed. Sod and re-sod. Year after year. And while every grandfathered home/lands in same area are watching dust blow across the fields and buildings. LOOK.. these people don’t get it and never will. Be “nice” with words and see if you can nudge a few to open their eyes. Wonderful. Instead of states locking down agricultural irrigation pumps to “save” water to beautify their precious cities and businesses –
    making “THEIR” cities more inviting for economic growth…simply enforce (!!!!!!!) limitations and xeriscaping. Oh, we had to have a “word” – now we have one; xeriscape. That’s good too.

  • Rachel

    I let the dandylions go to seed and blow into all the neighbors lawns and then they pull the weeds. I’m just sharing healthy food with them! It’s not my fault they don’t know what’s good. Weeds are cozy on bare footsies.

  • Skipper

    Be careful to check your local codes — many good folks are facing fine$ and wor$e for growing vegi gardens where the city and neighbors think that wasteful lawn should be.

  • embization

    Didn’t they have (and the government encouraged) “Victory Gardens” during the second world war? Raised up garden beds for vegetables and herbs were considered to be patriotic. Perhaps we should revive this idea on some level, although I by no means wish to support the wars we are in now. But just as a test of local government, a person could plant their garden, add a little US flag in the corner and perhaps a hand painted wooden sign that says Victory Garden. Let’s see the local town twerps vote down a patriotic victory garden….just a thought.

  • dimitri

    Golf courses and lawned over cemeteries have also got to go. I’m sure there’s a statistic out there somewhere showing how much these two instances of high vanity use up in arable real estate. (If you want to bury your dead, do it out in a desert.) Aside from the waste of real estate a huge consideration is also the tonnage of chemical fertilizers that is applied to it to keep it green. Nitrogen in the water? What nitrogen? We should get over this denial and cognitive dissonance.

  • S Barringer

    Yes, keep pushing the common sense! I am slowly converting my lawn to complete garden. Others in my neighborhood are slowly working in that direction. The only reason everyone hasn’t fully changed over to a complete front and back yard garden, exclusively, is because of the concern over the “code inspector”. There are numerous instances of cities telling their residents that they can’t plant a vegetable garden in their front yards. This is Nazi actions. It’s just got to stop. Let us do what we need/want to do without someone sticking their nose into (our) business and claiming that we can’t do that. American has turned into a bunch of busy bodies who have no concept of personal liberty or responsibility. Everyone is minding everyone else’s business and no one is taking care of themselves. Pathetic! Hopefully the down economy will bring many people to their (common) senses. This is one reason I want to get back out into the country or small town where I can do what I want to do without everyone thinking they need to check on my every activity like its their business when it’s none of their business.

  • rich

    I don’t mow my lawn. My chickens feed on it. I used to let my tenant’s horse forage in my yard. But when the horse got in my garden, the horse had to go.

  • Bravo! Hurray for what should be common sense.

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