The Freedom Lawn

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We’ve grown a little too obsessed with perfection. It’s everywhere we look. If we turn on the television, all we have to do is tune in to the commercials to see that we are being sold a bill of goods: buy the perfect vehicle, or clothes dryer, or clothing, or grass seed and we too can be perfect (and don’t even get me started on the pharmaceutical commercials!)

What exactly is a “Freedom Lawn?” Well, like the name suggests, it’s a lawn that avoids inputs–so no fertilizer, pesticide, irrigation or other input beside mowing. So what happens?

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As you can well imagine, nature happens. Wildflowers–or to the uninitiated–weeds grow. And granted, not all wildflowers are welcome. For example, we have far too much plantain in our lawn. But it’s there and it’s not terribly unsightly and were we motivated it’s fairly easy to remove with a stand on step weeder–so clearly we’re not terribly motivated.

This strip is right next to the driveway as you might be able to tell. Plantain loves compacted soil. So we would be working at cross purposes by trying to remove it and grow grass in a spot where folks keep driving.

Dandelions are creeping back in, I notice. That’s one thing that doesn’t bother me at all. If you’re a “lawn person,” they drive you crazy. If you’re a pollinator person, you rejoice, because they are one of the earliest flowers for pollinators. Just deadhead them before they seed. I think I can still count them on 2 hands so they’re not a nuisance.

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And violets. I love the violets. I would have an entire lawn of violets if I could–again for my pollinators. This lovely little one is a species of viola moderate that I planted called ‘Freckles.’ The photo at the top of the post afe all wild violets.

Certain butterflies will nectar only from violets–why would anyone want to get rid of them? (Again, you can see that I am clearly NOT a lawn person!)

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Ants have naturalized these muscari for me. Maybe you can see why I am fond of ants. They also spread my violets around.

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We used to have much more clover but since my neighbor’s landscape company mistakenly poisoned my property, most of it was killed off. It’s just beginning to return, thankfully. Where the plantain has run amok used to be wild clover. Ah well.

As the season progresses, I get tiny little St. John’s wort coming up–I’ll post that at some point. The plantain blooms. And of course we get more unwelcome wildflowers like purslane and the vetches and oxalis–not welcome to us, but valuable to wildlife like the later nesting goldfinch who love the seeds.

So rejoice and enjoy a more nature looking lawn–and maybe even consider a “freedom lawn.” Your birds and pollinators will thank you.

The Eye of the Beholder

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I had an interesting thing happen when I was asked about how to control weeds at my last lecture. I began to talk about using low, ground-cover plants as living mulch for weed control and I said that while it was a relatively new idea to the United States, it was being used in Europe for several years and that I had been doing it my house for a decade or more with two different materials–leaves and moss.

The gentleman I was speaking to said, “Moss? Isn’t that something you kill?”

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And while I am just famous for saying that we can’t all like the same thing, I just shudder at that.

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My answer to him was that yes, I had seen the moss-killing products in the aisles of the big box stores, but he might be surprised to learn that moss was actually a living plant, and a very valuable one at that. I told him that if he were to go home and try to buy flats of moss online, he would spend a minimum of $80 per flat and could spend considerably more (that seemed to get his attention!)

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And while I don’t have a spectacular garden of moss-that’s not really my intention, although someday I would love it if that were to happen–but I need to do a lot more than I am doing to make that happen (and probably have a lot more shade and reliable moisture than I do), I do have lots of different species of moss and I just adore them. I encourage the moss whenever and where ever I can. It solves a multitude of problems.

And yes, it makes a great mulch for me as well.

So please, do yourself a favor. Next time you see some moss, don’t just reach for a “product.” Stop to appreciate it–and perhaps put it to work for your as a mulch!

What A Difference A Year Makes!

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See these mushrooms? They’re all over in my lawn. They’re all over in everyone’s lawns!

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Here are some more. You know what this means. It means it’s been raining. And this is a wonderful thing. For the last two and a half years, it wasn’t raining–or snowing much–or even sleeting or hailing.

For the last 2 1/2 years, our lawns were like tinder, our trees lost their leaves, our gardens dried out, I lost many, many established perennials and shrubs, our evergreens died, or got diseased so that we had to remove them–it’s been a really tough time here in the Northeast and it’s not over yet.

And while we haven’t had a plague of locusts, we have had a plague of gypsy moths that threaten to kill many of our large deciduous trees.

You may think that I am harping on the drought and its after effects. But many, many folks come to New England for the fall foliage. And in many places. our landscape is going to be forever changed by these years of drought.

The backdrop of evergreens that set off our blazing fall colors is slowly being killed by disease caused by drought.

The oaks and maples that cause those beautiful colors are being ravaged by the gypsy moths. Fall tourism may never be the same in places, particularly in parts of Massachusetts. It will remain to be seen.

Have any of you heard about any of this in the news? I doubt it.

And I doubt my neighbors have heard–or seen–that it’s raining. On days when it’s raining–even on days when we get an inch or more of rain–they run their lawn sprinklers. One neighbor runs his twice a day, and the second time is at 1:30 in the afternoon! Talk about a colossal waste of water!

But that’s why I put the pictures of the mushrooms up. You know that I don’t irrigate my lawn so you can tell how much rain we’ve had just by the presence of mushrooms all over my yard.

Some of my neighbors have larger mushrooms than I do but somehow it didn’t seem wise to go around photographing them, particularly while I am walking the dog. That could just lead to catastrophe, in more ways than one. So you’ll have to take my word that the mushrooms are larger on other properties (which I guess is something like the grass being greener….)

In any event, with all these mushrooms around, it seems to me that some of these irrigation systems could be given a rest. You know, encourage the grass to develop deep roots for the next drought. But why be forward thinking, I guess?

Wordless Wednesday–Photos from the Freedom Lawn

A little over 2 weeks ago I talked about my “Freedom Lawn.” That post had no photos because we were still having snow!

It has since warmed up enough for things to green up and start blooming so I thought I would post lots of photos so folks could see what I meant by this concept–and either be horrified or not.

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The first thing we do is let the violets grow and bloom. Violets are an important early nectar source for early butterflies and moths. You can see two different types here alone–the deep purple and an “introduced one that has self-sown from my garden, viola odorata, ‘Freckles.’

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This is a close-up of ‘Freckles.’

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This is probably the source of one our biggest battles between the Spoiler and me. I love the moss and he doesn’t. We have a lot of it naturally. He doesn’t understand how sustainable it is, and that where ever it grows, he doesn’t have to mow, water or feed. What’s not to like? This is along one of the beds.20160418_164949

We also have quite a bit of moss naturally in the lawn. People don’t necessarily understand that moss doesn’t need shade to grow. This is on a sunny slope among tree roots. Because our soil pH is so low (it’s in the 3s!) moss naturally loves our soil. You can see all the stoniness too that comes from being on rock ledge.

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Here’s a better view of the moss, tree roots and some other “freedom lawn” inhabitants in that same area. There’s chickweed, some dandelions (which will be weeded out) some grass and some moss. The chickweed will stay. Although it’s very weedy and seedy, birds love the seeds.

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This is an area on the top of that slope where it is slightly shadier so there is more grass–and greener moss.

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Finally, there are grape hyacinths (muscari) that the ants have planted for me all over the slope of this part of the “freedom lawn. ” (More about ants as pollinators during Pollinator Week.)

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I am always careful to cut all the flowers before our first mowing. This was our “harvest this year. Usually I get 4 small vases full. This year it was five. I think perhaps because the mowing was delayed due to the cooler weather, the flowers had a longer time to grow. It was a nice bonus!

So that’s the “Freedom Lawn.” The look is not for everyone. But I am fortunate–several of our neighbors have violet patches as well so they don’t get too upset about ours. We don’t live in a place where perfection is demanded–at least not too often!

The Quest For The “Perfect” Lawn

This is an organic garden blog. You’re not going to find much about any of the conventional 4 step lawn programs here. In fact, you’re going to find a lot of scathing criticism, because, at least in my climate, our local “agricultural” school, UConn, only recommends fertilizing the lawn twice a year at most. (Yes, that school is known for more than its Women’s basketball program.) You can find that recommendation here, along with lots of other great lawn care information for Connecticut lawns.

But–and I’ve posted about this before–what if you don’t want your lawn to be all grass?  Sacrilege, I know, but this past winter, I received mailings from two separate companies that were selling “lawn alternatives.”  And by this, I don’t mean low growing “step on” type plants that we’ve seen in the past like creeping thyme (lovely but only in the right light and soil–which means not mine!)

The first company, Moss Acres, has been in business for decades.  They sell different kinds of moss for all sorts of projects from pavers and patios to large projects like the north side of my home.  I was lucky–my moss came in naturally.  If you want to jump-start a project, this is the company for you!

They also have small quantities for terrariums and craft projects.

Those of you who are long time readers know that I adore my moss–to the Spoiler’s dismay sometimes. I am blessed with large quantities of it at various places on the property. It is one of the best qualities of our property. And it is highly sustainable, requiring nothing at all.  In times of drought it may get brown-ish but it greens right up again as soon as we have the least little bit of moisture.

While this would never be an alternative for an arid climate, it’s certainly suitable for the Northeast, and anyplace with regular spring and autumn rains–as well as acidic soil.

The next company, OutsidePride, is selling seed for a type of clover it’s calling miniclover (and it has trademarked that name). A type of trifolium repens, this clover can be grown on its own or added to existing lawns.  As someone who, again, has an abundance of natural clover in the lawn, I can attest to the benefits of clover in the lawn for a variety of reasons: it attracts pollinators like bees, both native bees and honeybees;  for the most part it deters hungry rabbits from perennials and vegetables (although last year there were so many rabbits nothing deterred them); and it is food for some of the early butterflies like the clouded sulfur. What’s not to like?

OutsidePride also sells mixes for bees, cover crops, native grasses, and for something I just can’t fathom–deer food! To each her own I guess!

 

 

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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

Wordless Wednesday

Moss

Wait, what happened to the herbs?

If you remember my first definition of the herb as a useful plant, this moss is serving the purpose of an herb in our lawn.

It’s been quite a battle between the Spoiler and me over the moss in the lawn. I love it. If the lawn would support it, I’d let it be ALL moss.

But moss needs certain conditions to grow (as any other plant does): it needs either shade, compacted soil, or acidic soil (or all 3).

We’ve got the acidic soil. But we don’t have the shade or compacted soil everywhere.

Where we do, the moss occurs naturally.

And finally, the Spoiler has agreed to let it stay.