Friday, February 1, 2013

The Death of the American Lawn Part 1

Have you noticed that the traditional expanse of green lawn is becoming less and less prevalent?  I look around my neighborhood and see so many options: xeriscape gardens, meadow gardens, native gardens, and countless more kinds of gardens. Homeowners are more and more looking to different options for their gardens that provide more visual appeal, are less work, and focus on water conservation. This change comes from three main influences, the ever changing demographics of the cultural landscape, expansion of conservationism into private gardens, and proliferation of growing edibles in private gardens.

In the post-war baby boom of the 1950s, home builders struggled to keep up with the demand for housing. Track homes with wide front lawns grew up overnight and ran as far as the eye could see down every block of new suburban neighborhoods. Young children treated these lawns as one gigantic play area, for these unfenced front lawns made ideal locations for baseball, football, and other lawn field based games. As infrastructure caught up with growth, public parks began to supplant the need for open front yards. The advent of “stranger danger” and other crime into areas made parents less willing to allow their kids to play in the front yards and the streets. Children retreated to the backyard or to parks with adult supervision. Bu the front yard lawns remained, static, hard to maintain, soaking up large amounts of pesticides and water needed to keep them green.

In the wake of the environmental movement, home owners started questioning the need for these  lawns, especially if their children were grown or could play in a neighborhood park. Conservationists and gardening aficionados began looking for alternatives to the traditional lawn and found inspiration in nature. They conceived native style gardens that mimicked native meadow, prairie, or chaparral ecosystems. As housing demands push developers to build on undeveloped land, they can attempt to soften the blow to wildlife by providing gardens that provide shelter and food for birds, blooms to provide nectar to local bees, and plants to help sustain beneficial insects. As my county is very susceptible to drought, xeriscape gardens are very popular. There are gorgeous succulents, cacti, grasses, salvia, palms and a host of many more options that can make a water conserving garden appear lush and green. These particular gardens bloom in late winter to early spring and are a gorgeous site to behold among the dormant background. There are a host of options in taking your garden native; if you wish to research options for your new native or xeric garden, I recommend Beautiful No-Mow Yards by Evelyn J Hadden.

Personally, I have no need for a traditional lawn. When Hubby and I moved in to the ‘ol homestead, we promptly killed the existing small piece of lawn by neglecting to water it. That area is now our mini-orchard containing plum, fig, pomegranate, lemon, and tangerine trees. The ground cover is a mixture of mulch and seasonal wildflowers. When the wildflowers die off, I convert the area to vegetable gardening overflow, growing pumpkins, crook-necked yellow squash, zucchini, artichokes, and cucumbers. We save a bundle on our water bill, so much so that our expense is only about $50.00 a month, and most of that cost is taxes and fees. The vegetable garden has been a true harbinger of the death of the American lawn, but I leave that topic for the next time, as I delve into the idea of the edible front yard.

Xeriscaped garden using agave, flax, creeping rosemary and native shrubs.
Succulent garden with tea tree and other water-wise shrubs
A friend just started this succulent and cacti garden with his favorite species.
Neighbors continue to extend their bird and bees garden that attracts local wildlife.

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