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Monday, February 13, 2017

Less lawn in 2017

Although there’s snow outside my windows, plans for the 2017 garden are swirling in my head. One gnawing issue is the lawn around the deck. It mostly doesn’t exist. 

Spring photos and avoiding looking straight down help disguise sparse lawn grass

     It’s tempting to imagine that this time I’ll really work on that lawn, improving the soil with compost, reseeding, and pampering the new grass with frequent watering. It’s never happened before, but this could be the year. 

     To be a sustainable gardener, though, I resolved NOT to pour resources into lawn grass. Mowing, fertilizing, and extra watering all make lawns environmentally undesirable.

Just about any other plantings are more environmentally sound than a lawn

     Last year I became aware of a major problem for this supposed grassy area—me. I walk over it constantly on my way between the garden, the house, the tools in the garage, and the compost piles in the utility area. The soil is well and truly compacted. What’s to be done? 

Clover, dandelions, plantain, and crab grass predominate in the compacted lawn

     Now that I think about it, the neighbors who maintain lovely lawns stay off them. But not walking on this section of my yard isn’t an option. I could aerate the soil, but my footsteps would soon pack it down again. I could replace the whole lawn with gravel or stone pavers. I don’t want to take on the never-ending job of keeping soil and weeds out of gravel, though, and paving the whole section seems excessive, as well as expensive.

Gravel is kept clean in this British garden. They make it look easy.

    I considered an approach I’d have thought completely philistine until recently—artificial turf. In 2014, my sister-in-law Jennifer Gilbert Asher, a garden designer and sculptor in Los Angeles, tore out the lawn around her swimming pool and replaced it with recycled artificial turf. Her reason was southern California’s longstanding water shortage. I thought she was heroic, but I still couldn’t see it for New England. That was before the Northeast’s 2016 drought.

    This month I noticed some good-looking green grass around a building owned by our electric utility. I’d walked by the place many times and never recognized that the lawn was artificial. I can see why it fooled me, because the “grass” is deep green, soft, and doesn’t look plastic. 

Artificial turf in Florida. It looks a lot better these days.

     Jennifer laid her artificial turf on a layer of sand, which I think means that her lawn doesn’t include the toxin-containing “crumb rubber” layer that’s used in artificial athletic fields. Of course, it doesn’t require mowing, watering, or fertilizing. 

     There are negatives, though. Artificial turf doesn’t provide the animal habitat offered by a natural lawn. It might heat up uncomfortably on summer days. When it came time to remove the polyethylene artificial turf, it probably wouldn’t be recyclable.

    Jennifer replaced her front lawn with a thick layer of arborist wood chips. That might be my best option for the area around the deck. I could replace part of the lawn with low-growing perennials and make some wide wood chip paths to get me where I need to go. 

More wood chip paths could be a solution

Then I could stop feeling bad about this pathetic grass and focus on plants that are more fun.

Coming soon--spring bulbs

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