Many Americans have a love affair with their lawns. That’s not news, of course. It’s been true for as long as I can remember. My father spread lime and fertilizer every year in an effort to get the ‘perfect’ lawn, and I can recall him trying (in vain) to get rid of dandelions in the lawn by digging them up. He even had a special forked weeder for that very purpose he kept hanging in the garage. Apparently I was obsessed too when I was younger, if the below photo is any indication. Thank goodness I grew out of it!
I guess we can blame it on our first president, George Washington. His house in Mt. Vernon has an impressive expanse of grassy lawn out front. So does the White House in Washington, D.C. In 1943, FDR and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden on the White House grounds, and our current First Lady planted a vegetable garden on the south lawn, but so far no one has made the iconic front lawn go away. It’s an American institution, some say, and a necessity for the formal look of the grounds.
I’m not a big fan of lawns, and neither is my wife. To me, a lawn is a boring monoculture that requires too much maintenance and offers little in return. As soon as we moved into Happy Acres, we started making ours go away. We put up a greenhouse, planted a vegetable garden and all different kinds of fruits, and created other gardens for flowers and herbs. Slowly we have made our lawn disappear, while at the same time adding some biodiversity. We love it that way, and so do the birds, bees and butterflies. We’ve still got more lawn than I would like, but there is probably half what there was when we bought the place. That’s a big step in the right direction as far as I am concerned.
Several years ago my wife and I traveled to Italy. Europeans don’t seem to share the American obsession with lawns. Most houses in Italy had small front yards with little grass planted. But almost every house with any kind of land had a garden planted. I could tell that even while riding on the tour bus. The vegetable gardens were easy to spot, with the dark greens of Cavolo nero (Lacinato kale), the lighter colors of salad greens, and the spiky leaves of artichokes. Out in the country, the more spacious homes were likely to have olive trees or grape vines planted out front. It was hard to get photos from a bus zipping down the road, but the images are indelibly etched in my mind.
What lawn we do have here is not exactly a monoculture. We have lots of dandelions, dead nettle, henbit and my favorite, white clover. It’s a favorite for honeybees too, so I do nothing to encourage the grass or discourage the other plants, especially the clover. We also don’t spray any toxic chemicals out there. I know the wildlife appreciates it, and for that matter, so do my wife and I.
Speaking of bees, ours are due to arrive next week. I am really looking forward to having them buzzing around Happy Acres again. The clover is just now starting to bloom, so they are right on time to enjoy it!