by Pat Newman,


Ahhh.  Soothing, beautiful, carpet-of-heaven, green GRASS!


Yes, it’s beautiful, but it can also be dangerous.  Dangerous to our kids. Dangerous to our pets. Dangerous to birds.  Dangerous to small animals.  Dangerous to the Chesapeake Bay and rivers and streams everywhere.


So let’s consider rethinking glorious green grass for a minute.  (I know this is hard for you; you’re happy, even in love with your grass.  But please hear me out:  this is important.)


This may surprise you:  research tells us that lawns were a status symbol in Europe and have since become a way of impressing and being like our neighbors:  part of the American suburban dream! It seems that any intrinsic value is secondary.


I have to chuckle when a client asks for as low maintenance a landscape as possible, but they want to keep a big lawn.  Lawn grass is the highest maintenance plant there is – by FAR.  A lawn requires the effort and expense of weekly mowing and edge trimming for much of the year. If you want your lawn to be highly admired, you’ll likely water it; apply a 4-step chemical treatment twice a year; and possibly aerate, de-thatch, rake, re-seed, edge with a shovel or special tool, treat or prevent grubs……You get the idea.  (And if you don’t do ANY of that except the weekly mowing, string trimming and noxious blowing, then  your lawn would still be considered a high maintenance item, though except for the dirty, noisy and storm sewer polluting of the blowers, I’d be OK with that lawn.)  But my best advice is: as long as it’s green (weeds included), and mowed, it looks as good as it needs to look to enhance the overall landscaping.  It’s really not the element that makes your landscape wonderful.   Put your emphasis elsewhere.


Being a landscape designer, I see it every day:  most homes have their original landscaping, a basic builder’s package of modestly attractive, not too expensive plantings of the period, not a notably beautiful or even well thought out landscape, but one that fits in with all the neighbors’ landscapes, particularly their focal point, lawns.  In the DC area, home landscapes are predominantly grass, front and back (so cheap to put in, that builders would never landscape without it); a white dogwood tree; azaleas along the foundation, (even in sunny spots where they aren’t very happy); an arborvitae tree at the corner of the house in front (it’s grown too close to the corner by now); maybe a holly or a few yews that are way too big now, ill-conceived, size-wise, at the time, and now out of scale.


When called in to make design improvements, I work with these packages, but I’m a fan of getting more up with the times, aesthetically and environmentally.  To me that means at least considering the real costs of your lawn and the real benefits and beauty to be had from newer landscape design alternatives.


Just a few ideas for replacing lawns:  hummingbird-bee-butterfly garden, groundcovers, low maintenance trees and shrubs (some native),  native perennials,  flower garden for cutting, ornamental grasses, xeriscaping, vegetable garden, play equipment, low maintenance plants, larger patio with colorful containers and furnishings, walkways with gravel or bark or pavers, boulders, yard art/statuary, wildlife habitat, gazebo, outdoor BBQ or kitchen, dog run….. and many more, depending on your site.


A big thank you for your environmental conscience and open mindedness on considering giving over at least some of your lawn to new design ideas.


Let me know if you’d like more information about landscaping.  See also the APPENDIX for quotes and data from miscellaneous sources about the impact of lawns on the environment and health, and on some alternatives.

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