Time the rethink the American Lawn

Changing turf to habitat under a large tree – Before and After

Turfgrass lawns are needy beasts. If someone offered you a plant that required pruning every week, aerating, overseeding and fertilizing every growing season, stayed a plain green but went brown in the heat, produced no intriguing flower, offered neither food nor shelter to pollinators, and had all the visual interest of an empty parking lot, would you embrace such a gift?

While turfgrass has its place, (as a softer, greener version of concrete, turfgrass is a potential path, patio or play surface), it’s time to re-evaluate the extent of its presence in the American landscape.

As part of Backyard Bounty’s plant-driven design imperative, we seek lush plantscapes by default and only carve out enough hardscape sufficient to the purpose and in accordance with the local vernacular of flagstone, carderock, and weathered Pennsylvania stone endemic to this region. In the same manner, it’s best to reconsider how much of our lots we mean to dedicate to turfgrass. After all, imagine if your home was all floor and no furnishings.

That’s why we can’t agree more with (the wonderfully named) Tik Root’s latest in the Post, where he quotes one of our favorite thought leaders, Doug Tallamy.

“‘The number one thing was showing people that it can be a beautiful landscape.’ [Tallamy] said. And when they realized that they didn’t have to spend every Saturday mowing it, that really started to change people’s perception. More broadly, Tallamy said native landscapes can help refocus our gardens on the ecological purpose of plants, which is to produce food.”

Where to start, especially if you’re staring down quite the expanse of green grass? Perhaps along the edges of hardscape to soften the transition, or along a fenceline to create an ecologically rich hedgerow. Or, as Root notes, under the canopies of mature trees, if only to protect the sensitive root zone from soil compaction, or to protect the tree trunk from mechanical destruction a la string trimmers and lawn mowers.

Tallamy provides many more suggestions at Homegrown National Park.

Reimagining a turf driveway barrier – Before and After

But beyond questions of maintenance and the ecological health benefits of swapping out turf, we strive for the sensory enchantments of a garden whose seasonal, even daily variations, delight us on the granular–and grander–scale.

So consider how you can turn your boring outdoor ‘floor’ into a living, furnished garden.