By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America
I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those gardeners who see a perfectly manicured lawn and thinks to herself that there must be something more. Here in America, we seem to have an obsession with the pristine, green and weed free lawn, but is this is at all practical for the world we live in now? Lawn grass is the largest crop that we grow, and it serves no real purpose and requires so much water to keep it green and alive.
Lawns as we know them today began to appear in the 18th century England and France, when the trend began to move towards the large open landscape. A large swath of overly manicured green lawn with a deer park or a bowling green was seen as a sign of affluence, but today we are living in a world with completely different environmental challenges. Our pollinator populations are in peril and what makes sense is to find new ways of living sustainably in the natural world, adopting greener approaches to landscaping.
Sometimes it’s best to learn from the past. Consider allowing your lawn to revert to its original state of luscious and abundant variety or what medievalists would call a “flowery mead.” That would happen naturally if you stopped weeding and seeding.
First would come the dandelions and the sweet little flowers of chickweed and purslane would probably be next. Quickly you would begin to see small patches of flowers and different grasses and herbs begin to emerge in small patches and very quickly, all types of pollinators would begin to find them. It seems to happen like magic, but the biology is easy. Birds and small animals eat the flowers, herbs and fruits but the seeds are generally indigestible. As their droppings begin to be deposited in your lawn, these seeds begin to sprout and very quickly, a natural flowery meadow will begin to establish itself!
If you are quietly wondering if I’ve suddenly taken leave of my senses, you need look no further than the beautiful French tapestry named “Unicorn in Captivity”. The captured unicorn is sitting in the fenced paddock, surrounded by a sea of low growing flowers and herbs. That is a perfect example of a medieval “flowery mead,” or flowering meadow!
My father was an organic gardener who allowed his yard to evolve in this way and the results were truly beautiful. He turned the perimeter of his property into an English style border filled with historic roses, lilies, daisies, and many other flowers and herbs. Once his borders were well established, he allowed his lawn to be slowly transformed into the mead he desired. The result was a still a composed garden, but it was much wilder and very much alive.
My father was frustrated by the amount of work that it took to simply keep his lawn green and healthy every year. A grass lawn is a monoculture and by its very nature, not easily sustainable without a large quantity of human interference, excessive amounts of water, chemical pesticides, and herbicides. Dad’s gardening philosophy was that all plants needed different companions to thrive and his lawn was no exception to that rule. His thought was that left to its own, a lawn will revert quickly into a beautiful meadow, so why not help it along and at the same time support our pollinator friends? What started out as an amusing experiment turned into a romantic and beautiful green space. My father’s yard was always filled with the buzzing of honeybees, fluttering butterflies, and bird song.
He began by allowing plants to be naturally introduced into his lawn like violets and perennial pansies, little wild strawberries and sweet woodruff, bluebells, beautiful blue flax flowers, lady’s mantle, ground ivy, and buttercups. He had huge patches of lilies of the valley and beautiful swaths of coltsfoot everywhere.
He loved the dandelions and let them stay, knowing that they provided the first suppers for the bees every spring.
He allowed the chamomile and thyme to take off and spread. He let daisies spring up wherever and whenever they wanted. He had abundant amounts of multi-colored cosmos in his border that reseeded. With so many different plants his garden ecosystem easily remained strong and healthy. He had virtually no disease among his plants. On the rare occasion a plant would perish, others quickly replaced it.
If he were doing this today his yard would qualify for HSA’s GreenBridges™ certification. The GreenBridges™ Initiative creates opportunities for the safe passage of plants and pollinators and avoids habitat fragmentation. Each GreenBridges™ garden is a link in the chain across the nation, providing safe movement for the plants and pollinators that help maintain healthy ecosystems.
If you are tired of trying to keep your lawn green and alive every summer, I encourage you to consider planting your very own wild garden. A wildflower meadow is a thing of beauty. An easy way to start is with a low-growing wildflower seed pack. I’ve had great luck simply scattering the seed, but it works even better if you can lightly loosen up the top 2 inches of soil where you want your meadow, toss the seed, and then cover them with compost and/or straw. Be sure to water frequently and soon you will be rewarded with a beautiful flowering meadow of your own. All you’ll need then is a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, some fruit, cheese a good book and thou…..
Just curious! Do you love or hate your lawn? Let me know in the comments!