Four ideas for shrinking your lawn
Plus, your mutant vegetables
It’s no secret I don’t have much use for a lawn. Yes, I have some grass, but truth be told it’s mostly clover and dandelions. I never apply chemicals, seldom fertilize, and expand the beds and borders every year, allowing new perennials to besiege it like valiant but ruthless conquerors.
So I related to a post shared by my friend Jeannine that highlights the absurdity of the suburban quest for the perfect lawn.
I tried to find its source but haven’t been able to track down the author, although I did find versions dating to 2001, all without attribution. So I will simply offer my thanks and applause to “Anonymous.”
God’s take on Lawn Care
God to Saint Francis: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.
Saint Francis: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers 'weeds' and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.
God: Grass? But, it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It's sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?
Saint Francis: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.
God: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.
Saint Francis: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it — sometimes twice a week.
God: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?
Saint Francis: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
God: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?
Saint Francis: No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.
God: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?
Saint Francis: Yes, Sir.
God: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.
Saint Francis: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.
God: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It's a natural cycle of life.
Saint Francis: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.
God: No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?
Saint Francis: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.
God: And where do they get this mulch?
Saint Francis: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.
God: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?
Saint Francis: 'Dumb and Dumber,’ Lord. It's a story about...
God: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.
If you’re ready to stop the insanity, consider these options:
Go wild. A mix of wildflower seeds, especially when combined with native grasses, will create a beautiful meadow. To keep things from looking too wild, retain a narrow strip of mowed grass as edging, and consider including a shrub or three. You’ll find great instructions for getting started over at American Meadows.
Plant grasses and grass-like plants in place of the lawn. Consider Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), monkey grass (Liriope), pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris, pictured above) and Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans).
Plant low-growing groundcovers. Many can tolerate at least some foot traffic. If you have difficulty finding them at your local nursery, stepables.com is a reliable online source.
Expand perennial beds and borders into the lawn area, as I have done and continue to do.
👉👉If you’re enjoying this newsletter, why not share it with a gardening friend?
💡 If you do one thing this week…
Launch a hunt-and-destroy mission against slugs. They’re laying eggs now, so check under stones, mulch and garden debris, and eliminate them. Be as ruthless as you know they’ll be with your tomatoes next year.
📬 Ask Jessica
DEAR JESSICA: I am growing basil in a pot. It was thriving until Hurricane Henri. Now the leaves are turning yellow, dying and falling off, plus they have holes in them. I tried spraying with Neem oil. Any idea what happened and how or if I can fix it? — Thelma Taub
DEAR THELMA: I can’t be completely sure of what’s plaguing your plant, but yellowing basil can often be attributed to over-watering, although diseases, pests and nutrient deficiencies also could be to blame.
Because the problem began after the storm, overwatering would seem to make sense. However, since you also report holes, caterpillars could be the culprits. If you see caterpillars around your plant — or find frass, the sawdust-like excrement of caterpillars — treat the plant with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which is a natural bacterium that targets caterpillars but is safe for use around humans, pets and wildlife. There are several species of Bt available so read labels to ensure the one you buy is effective against caterpillars.
There’s also a chance the plant has contracted downy mildew, an often fatal disease that has affected basil plants in recent years. Check the undersides of affected leaves for fuzzy gray, brown or black groupings of spores that look like mold. If you see them, remove the plant, roots and all, seal it in a plastic bag and dispose of it in the trash. Affected leaves should not be eaten. If you aren’t sure of what you’re looking at, you can test plants for the presence of downy mildew by removing a couple of affected leaves and placing them upside-down on a wet paper towel in a closed zipper-top plastic bag. Place the bag in a dark spot for 12-24 hours and then inspect the leaves. If they are infected, the spores will have grown considerably and you’ll know what you’re dealing with.
👏 Sunday shoutout
We have three shoutouts today! Thanks to all who sent photos of their mutant vegetables — well done, everyone!
“Pinup girl” carrot (Jackie Selva, Islip, NY)
“Strawberry heart” (Becky Vachon, Winnipeg, Canada)
“A big nose or…” (John Del Grosso, Islandia, NY)
📧 Send me your feedback!
I welcome your comments and suggestions, so please send them along — as well as any topics you’d like to see covered and questions you’d like answered in the Ask Jessica section.