Sunday, May 30, 2010

An enchantment

On the way to a client’s home, I pass by hundreds of lawns. Not a believer in lawns, it seems they are perfectly designed for sheep to graze and poop on, month after month.

But more than that, I have come to see lawns as sterile. People pour lime and fertilizer and herbicides and fungicides and are looking for something approximating an English landscape. Except this is not England. We don’t have long cool moist days in summer. This is Virginia, hot and humid with a long running season that can turn most lawns brown. In November and March, with the cool season lawn grass seed mixes, it looks like an English lawn.

It’s not just the rainfall. It’s also the heat and humidity that encourage fungal diseases. And there is the mowing, the fertilizing, the herbicides, the dethatching, the aerating, and all the other stuff that makes folks think that if they only do more, the lawn will respond. Even if you can set up sprinklers in summer, to water the browning lawn, it’s not always enough. In any case, the grasses recover by themselves in the autumn when more rainy days appear. We just don’t have the right climate for livable lawns.

Keep a little bit of lawn around the house and then build a meadow. Add perennials. Add some fun annuals. Plant some great bulbs in the fall. Mow once a year. Benefit from more and varied bird visitors; butterflies and insects will bring your landscape to life. Build a woodland. Buy some young trees and get them started in the lawn. Let the meadow grow up around them.

Some books recommend using herbicides that kill everything, like Round-up, several times, to create a meadow. Kill everything and start anew with well-chosen plants for a stylish meadow. I don’t think that makes sense. The good folks I work with can stand the scruffy bits with the perennial and annual treasures hidden within. The rich fragrance of the meadow is wonderful. In spring and summer, plants come into flower, growing fat and sassy. The autumn light with those long rays will backlight the tall grasses and they will shine. The little spiders will spin beautiful webs that will catch the dew in the morning light. Birds will feast on seeds in the winter. It will be full of life, without the sheep.

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