Two years ago this spring, I moved into a house with a tidy front yard. Clipped hedges outlined a small lawn intersected by a tulip-skirted walk. Though pretty in the spring sunshine, it seemed more a blank canvas than a living garden. That August I wrote in a blog post, “I’m working on a plan to trade my front grass for nasturtiums and fava beans.”
Last week I planted favas in the former front lawn. Also the seeds of lettuce, arugula, green onions, swiss chard, spinach, and a mix of mesclun salad greens.
Turning turf to garden requires removing the grass. I once spent a summer digging up my back yard in Seattle, filling five gallon buckets with heavy sod, setting them curbside for the yard waste recyclers to carry away. It was hard, hard work, and not a fool proof method. Hair-thin roots inevitably left behind allowed grass to continue to sprout. There had to be a better way.
This time I turned the heavy work over to winter. Just before the season of rain, snow, sleet, and hail, I flattened cardboard moving boxes, ripped off the packing tape, and covered the lawn. On top of the cardboard, I spread a thick layer of bark mulch. Under its paper and wood blanket, the sod succumbed to frozen darkness. Last spring, I pushed the mulch aside, gathered up any soggy cardboard that had not rotted, and dug the rotted paper into the soil. The weathered bark would mulch new plantings.
One source of inspiration sprang from reports I read about of new Victory Gardens. In the current context, Victory refers to urban sustainability rather than the war efforts of WWI and WWII, but the approach remains the same. Backyards, front yards, window boxes, patios, porches, rooftops, and unused land are employed to grow food.
Growing food isn’t the only reason to reconsider the primacy of lawn. Providing a diverse environment for insects and birds is another. It’s easy to say no to chemical fertilizers and weed killers, and the noise and air pollution of powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers, if you don’t have a lawn to maintain.
The following books, not all new, are my current main sources of ideas and instruction.
Your House, Your Garden: A Foolproof Approach to Garden Design “If you live on a small enough property . . . consider taking up all your lawn. Utterly surround your house with plants and a sitting area or two so that your home is literally the center of your garden.”
Starter Vegetable Gardens: 30 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens “Food Gardens can be as pretty as they are productive. Including colorful flowers looks great and attracts butterflies and bees as well as scores of pest-eating beneficial insects such as lady beetles.”
Future Project, Remove or Replace Hedge
The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life “The smallest lot may be partially or completely fenced by fruit trees. Dig up the laurel and privet hedge. In their stead, set out espalier fruit trees, blueberries, and raspberries – or any other kind of berry plant that will thicken into a hedge.”