Grass: can’t live with it, can’t live without it
My precious new ground covers! They’ll gleam like jewels throughout my tattered yard. Even their names are adorable. Snow in Summer. Court Jester Edelweiss. Alpine Mouse Ear. Tiny Rubies. Creeping Wire Vine—okay, that one’s not so adorable, but it makes the point. These are charming little plants, sturdy and bee-loved, ready to take over my boring grass-and-weed lawn and turn it into a tapestry of earthly delights. Everybody’s doing this now.
The thing is, they’ll never become my lawn. For one thing, although these plants are all supposed to be “steppable,” they don’t actually like it when people walk on them. And the notion that they’ll spread like a carpet until my lawn is a field of tiny flowers: no. The grass is very happy where it is, thanks, and it intends to crowd out the ground covers the first chance it gets. For a couple of years, until they die out, I may spot the occasional Court Jester Edelweiss peeking out from under the dandelions. But there’s not going to be a tapestry.
Look, I’m all about lawn guilt. I understand why we should hate grass. Lawns are the biggest “crop” in the U.S., slurping down at least a third of the water we use—and let’s not even think about the pesticides and fertilizers. None of the turf grass in the United States is native. We’re pumping all this effort into keeping alive a non-edible plant that covers an area the size of Texas and was never even supposed to be here.
The nation’s edible crops use only ten percent as much pesticide and fertilizer as our lawns do, and the chemicals we lavish on our grass often end up in our drinking water. Note the polite use of “our.” I myself don’t use any chemicals on my lawn. But I do keep it mowed, so I’m doing my bit to encourage dirty air: an hour of gas-powered mowing creates as much air pollution as four hours spent driving a car. Remember when the Exxon Valdez spewed 11 million gallons of oil in Alaska? Each year, Americans spill 17 million gallons just refilling our lawnmowers.
So, yeah, grass has to go—but the question is: what do we replace it with? (My lawn is lucky if it sees the UPS man once a week.) But it’s not as easy as sprinkling a can of wildflower seed and crossing your fingers. It’s not even as easy as working 100 pounds of clover seed into the soil, which I’ve tried. Yes, I have more clover than before, but clover can’t do much against the Creeping Charlie and plantain that were already thriving here. Should I spend a season smothering my acre of existing lawn and letting the woods take over, as they’re longing to do? I guess I could, but that’s hardly an instant process. I wouldn’t get to live under the shade of majestic oaks in my own lifetime. Instead I’d spend all my time trying to convince myself and the UPS man that underbrush and poison ivy are beautiful.
Okay, then! Let’s solve the problem by installing raised beds so we can grow fresh produce to feed our families. One of the only ways Easterners can help with the California drought problem is to stop relying on year-round fresh vegetables and return to preserving their produce for the off-season. So—well, you should really get going on your raised beds because I refuse to grow my own food until the economy has collapsed. Until then—well, the original point was to spend less time and energy maintaining a lawn, right? Setting up a vegetable garden would mean spending my time and energy raising produce. For deer.
You know what would look nice? Those polished, black river pebbles that people use in flower-pots. If I cover the property with river pebbles, it should only be a couple of years before the lawn takes over again.