The “Freedom” Lawn

Before anyone gets too excited, I’d love to claim title to this concept but it’s not mine. As near as I can figure, it dates back to 2005, to a book written by Hannah Holmes called Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn. Holmes is a science writer and she spent the year studying nature in her backyard. During this time, she decided that the overly processed and chemically laden lawn that many homeowners had been routinely slave to (oop– my bias is showing) did not need to be the norm.

I’ve been trying to nudge the Spoiler in this direction–with varying degrees of success-for years. It’s not that he disagrees with the “organic” approach–it’s that he has no idea what a “chemical” is. A week or so ago he tried to tell me that Preen was exactly the same as corn gluten. My head hurts just thinking about it!

In any event, we don’t knowingly use chemicals on the lawn. I’m not quite sure what the Spoiler does when I am working–nothing dire I hope.

In any event, the concept of the Freedom Lawn, as I understand it, is to allow the lawn to be more than just a monoculture of grass (even if it is a blend of different types of grasses as it should be–ryes, fescues, blues, etc.)

Instead, the lawn (if, indeed, you choose to have one at all–with Pam Penick’s new book Lawn Gone, some folks may just decide that there’s no need for a lawn whatsoever!) becomes a blend of lawn grasses, flowering plants, native plants and even, yes,–gasp–weeds. This makes the lawn more heat resistant, drought resistant, insect and disease resistant and it will even stay green a lot longer without artificial irrigation in the summer. What’s not to like?


Here for example are those violets that give most homeowners fits. I find them charming–and so do several species of butterflies that use them as nectar plants. If you want butterflies, you’ve got to stop using pesticides. That’s why we’re losing our monarchs and our bees.

veronica and clover

Weeds? Or Wildflowers? You choose. This is clover and creeping veronica. I’ve also got a dwarf native hypericum, also known as St. Johns Wort, growing in the lawn. Now if you don’t want it there, it’s a weed. That’s how clover came to be listed as one of the “weeds” that are killed on all the pesticide products–because the manufacturers couldn’t figure out how not to kill it when they were killing all the other weeds.

But clover actually fixes nitrogen in the soil–in other word, it helps feed the soil. And the rabbits in my yard like to feast on it, leaving my “ornamental” plants alone.

It’s also a benefit to native bees and some butterflies. So you decide: weed or wildflower?


Finally, I’ve got lots of these ferns popping up spontaneously all over the yard. When they get too large for the lawn, I transplant them to my garden beds–we have plenty of shade for them.

But, for those used to the “golf course” look, there’s a lot not to like here. My yard looks nothing like a fairway and is in no way “manicured.”

But it’s a great habitat for all sorts of wildlife.

So you ask yourself a couple of questions: first–look at what I wrote about the heat resistance, etc.

Next, think about this. Right now, every single house in my neighborhood with children has a yellow sign on the lawn that says that some sort of pesticide has been applied. What’s wrong with that picture? Is it so important that those folks not have crabgrass that they’re applying chemicals where their children play–even though we have a law in this state that forbids us to do the same at their children’s’ schools?

That’s a scary thought–and maybe if more folks thought about it, they’d allow a little more clover, violets and other so-called weeds into their lawns–maybe even crabgrass.

I have no desire to put landscapers and lawn guys out of business–two of my neighbors earn their living that way. And they still could, even if more folks chose freedom lawns. There would still be plenty to mow.

6 thoughts on “The “Freedom” Lawn

  1. Sue May 10, 2013 / 11:43 am

    I use nothing on my lawn. If it’s green, I mow it. Right now I’m dealing with a bumper crop of dandelions that I’ve been yanking (just the tops obviously) with abandon but every night I come home to dozens more that literally have gone to seed overnight.

    My neighbors had a new baby a couple of weeks ago. In two plus they have lived in the house they have never used a lawn service. Two nights ago I came home to a little yellow sign on their lawn. People don’t get it.

  2. gardendaze May 10, 2013 / 12:07 pm

    Hi Sue,
    We use corn gluten, but that’s it. And you’re so right about the dandelions! “The Spoiler” takes one of those old fashioned weeder out every day and digs 50 or so out at at time. I guess I’m lucky to have him after all!

    I get so paranoid about those yellow signs. It’s bad enough that those folks want to poison their own families but at times there’s just no where safe to even walk the dog. You know all that stuff has run off into the street–sometimes the companies have been careless and it’s in the street in pellets. That’s when I really get angry.

    Your story about the new baby and the lawn service just makes me sad, though. I’m sure they’re thinking of it as a time saver–but at what cost?


  3. acairfearann May 11, 2013 / 2:54 pm

    We use nothing on our lawns, which have been in place for well over a century here…the result: thyme, five different types of violets, bluets, native sedges, bunchgrasses, fescues, six different mosses, wild strawberries, buttercups, clovers, escaped dianthus, gill-over-the ground, creeping jenny, blue-eyed grass, pussytoes, english daisies, ox-eye daisies, native orange hawkweed….the list is endless! And it is so fascinating to go out and just look and explore.

    • gardendaze May 11, 2013 / 5:36 pm

      Wow, that’s quite impressive. 5 kinds of violets–very nice. I only have 3 but I love their fragrance. And I love the bluets too. Folks who insist on manicured lawns don’t know what they’re missing!

  4. afrenchgarden May 12, 2013 / 1:44 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more. My “lawn” does get mown but we find all sorts of wild flowers growing there. It is virtually impossible to maintain a moss free, weed free lawn so it provides the ideal marketing situation for all sorts of garden products. In the UK the lawns are the only part of the garden that some people treat, I wish people would wake up to the futility of it and to the harm they do to the environment.

    • gardendaze May 12, 2013 / 8:25 am

      How lovely. It’s so refreshing to find that kind of attitude. I wish more of us shared it here–even in my own state, if not in the rest of the US. I think we’re coming around, but it is a very slow transition (well, think about it–the book about the freedom lawn came out in 2005 and I don’t see any even on my own street yet).

      Glad that your commented. Thanks so much for reading!

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