urban eden's plant rant


Re-conceptualizing the lawn

I am killing my lawn, and my husband is not happy. It is ugly, and the plan has not manifested itself yet. But, oh, there has been a lot of lawn-pondering going on this summer.

To give a little background: I grew up in suburban San Diego where there are lawns aplenty. Folks have property, and it was the 70's (only 20 years after the advent of "a man's lawn is his estate" thinking of the 50's) and the 80's ("I have money and so must spend it on a staff to keep the expanse of green in front of my house sparkle-fresh.") Of course, the drought that lasted the 6 years of my middle & high school tenure meant that you had to water your lawn at night. Not get rid of it in favor of something more appropriate to the, um, desert. Just water when it's dark instead of at noon.

Skip past the years spent on the East Coast where it rains during the summer and hence waters the lawn (New England, surprisingly, has a similar climate to England where the lawns are simply breath-taking.), and past the years in Manhattan where a pot of wheatgrass on your kitchen counter constitutes green space.

Enter the San Francisco years.

I confess, in my early gardening days, I seeded & tended a grass lawn in the garden of the rental where I lived in the Upper Haight. If you are familiar with SF geography/geology at all, everything from the ocean eastward to where Haight Street drops down the hill at Buena Vista Park is a big 'ole sand dune. Lawns are thirsty, and sand doesn't hold water well. Hence, to keep that sucker alive I had to water pretty much every day in the non-rainy season. I dragged the hose out and attached the sprinkler ft-ft-ft-ft attachment, set the kitchen timer for 20 minutes, then went back downstairs and reversed the process. I spent many a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon on my stomach eradicating everything that wasn't a product of the grass seed I had sown (including the glass shards and chicken bones of tenants past). I developed a really good tan on my back. I was dedicated. It was cute, all that green, and sometimes we had parties out there, and did yoga and stuff. But, when I decided to move out of that house I stopped watering the lawn and the traitor died in about 3 weeks. End of story.

Fast forward again to the career change to professional gardener. We learned in school how to lay sod and put in a PVC sprinkler system, how to use the gas-guzzling, noisy tools that go along with lawn maintenance. We were exposed to some of the chemicals used to keep the things nice and green and a weed-free monoculture of grass. We learned about the right mix of seed for warm season areas, cool season areas, perennial grasses & annual grasses, shade-loving and sun-loving. And I decided that in my professional life, I did not want to deal with lawns.

So why did I open this post by telling you that I'm killing mine? When my husband and I met, he had a lawn. He had rescued it from near death, re-seeding and watering and mowing it faithfully. Then, as the garden gradually came under my control (mwa-ha-ha-ha!), he wanted me to take over lawn duty. I told him that if I had to take care of it things were going to change drastically. That scared him into a year or so more of lawn care, but now circumstances have changed and the lawn has been officially handed into my loving, plant-tending hands, and I am killing it.

But, the hardscape being what it is in our garden (read impenatrable if we don't want to rip up the whole thing, which we don't), there is this square patch smack in the middle that just cries out to be walked across and lain on on a sunny afternoon. So what to do??