Posted in Seasonal Sunday

The reliable messengers of spring

It’s that time of year when we dream of new life. Tulips breaking the ground, their faces to the sun. Seeds bursting open with tender roots and delicate shoots. Tiny blades of grass finding their way through last year’s thatch.

Ah, the lawn.

That bane of man’s existence. That symbol of status or flag of defeat.

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This picture undoubtedly elicits one of two reactions in you:

  1. “Look at the pretty little purple flowers!”
  2. “Sweet Mother of God!  That’s Creeping Charlie!”

If you are in the first group, bless your little heart.  Although pervasive, they are pretty.

If you are in the second group, I’m guessing you’re stocking up on herbicides as we speak. I’ve stopped buying herbicides and fertilizers. I buy compost and grass seed.  I rarely water.  I’m gradually planting the yard with flowers and shrubs that need little care, and adding raised gardens. Fresh vegetables eaten right out of the garden?  Now there’s a symbol of status for you. Ideally, I’d like to have just enough grass to sink my toes into while I sip a glass of wine.

As for Creeping Charlie and dandelions, those reliable messengers of spring, they’ll feed the bees until everything else catches up.

Posted in Great Outdoors

Lawns, witch-burning, and blood-letting may have run their course

I have a love-hate relationship with lawns.  My toes like to curl deep in a green sponge of the stuff, but there’s a snake lurking in the grass.


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Lawns became popular in northern Europe during the Middle Ages.  So did witch-burning and blood-letting.  The kind of lawn most people envy today require several supplements, typically in the form of chemicals.

The suffix -cide is added to words to indicate “killing,” or “to kill”, while the suffix -izer is added to indicate “render,” or “to render.”  The words fungicide, herbicide, pesticide and fertilizer suggest we are killing everything off but the grass, and then trying to render it fertile.

It may be time for a change, eh?

Most of us see the yard as an extension of our house.  We ogle pictures of carpet-like green expanses, and click on pictures of outdoor seating areas free of pollen, seeds, bird poop and rain.

The truth is, our yard is part of nature.  The reason we need all those chemicals is because we are forcing it to be something it was never meant to be.  The out of doors, left to its own devices is biodiverse.  The formal lawn is a monoculture.  Mono.  As in one plant.  Grass.  There are very few examples of monoculture in nature.  Most are purely manmade, such as in agriculture.  But your lawn isn’t even being grown for food.  You might as well pour concrete on the whole thing and paint it green.

The weeds in my yard are a symbol of life.  They are nature trying to regain balance.  The weeds import biodiversity.

UntitledIn the early morning I pad out to the yard in my pajamas, frequently barefoot.  I’m foraging for my grand-rabbit’s breakfast.

I acquired the domestic rabbit when my daughter rescued it from her uncle’s farm.  Little more than a baby, someone had apparently set it “free” when they decided they no longer wanted it.  She is a full-grown rabbit now, and quite at home living in my kitchen.  However, lest anyone (my daughter) forget this is not a pet I chose, but one that was bestowed upon me, I will forever refer to her as my grand-rabbit.  Her given name is Mandi, but I call her Rabbit and occasionally just Bun.  But I digress . . .

On my way in, I will often stop by the salad garden to pick the greens for my own lunch .  Better yet, I might make a breakfast salad with green onions, crumbled bacon, homemade croutons, and a poached egg on top.  Drizzled with a maple vinaigrette, it is the best way to jump-start a five-star day!

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On one particular morning this last week, I was adding dandelion blossoms to Bun’s breakfast.  She gobbles them up like candy.  I left two of them intact, as they each hosted about three tiny bees, bobbing their abdomen atop the yellow flowers.  It reminded me that I share this yard — gladly, too.

Bun dines on the leaves and flowers of dandelion, clover, plantain, and creeping charlie.  Yes, I have creeping charlie.  Sounding more like a security issue than a weed, creeping charlie is the scourge of the lawn.  It can choke out small plants, and as its name implies, creeps sure-footedly across expanses of ground.

My research revealed that it was once touted as a hearty ground cover.  Medicinally, it’s been used to cure everything from sciatica to asthma.  After is was brought to America, it was found to be very high in Vitamin C, and is now naturalized in almost every region.  Please note that not any of these are reasons to purposely plant the stuff, but if you just can’t shake that nasty case of scurvy, you may want to steep a cup of tea.

UntitledWell . . . you know I had to try it.  Several writings described creeping charlie tea as severely bitter.  I found it fairly pleasant, and not as bitter as some of the herbal teas in my cupboard.  *Maybe I just didn’t do it right.  I put it in a cup before adding boiling water, as one blog explained.  At any rate, I didn’t add the honey and lemon they all insisted I would need.

My point being that like people, most plants are not all bad.  Even the mint, chives and oregano I planted need to be carefully watched so as to to take over the garden.  And grass is not a bad thing, as long as we plant it responsibly where it can grow without added chemicals —  or water!  I can’t believe anyone is still using water on their grass.

The latest recommendation is that if possible, try to find a three to four foot stretch at the edge of your property that you can let go.  Let the branches fall and become home for worms.  Let the leaves drop and mulch the earth.  Let the weeds grow and the seeds germinate.  Let the pollinators buzz and the butterflies sip.  Let the squirrels dig.  Let the spiders spin.

Between the strip and your lawn, plant a transition of native plants and a deep mulch bed.  The benefit is less watering, less mowing, and your own little nature preserve right at home.

Peace . . .

*There are all kinds of reasons I wouldn’t suggest you try this on my suggestion.  You would want to make sure you were indeed using the right herb.  You would want to wait after a first sip to make sure there is no reaction.  You want to know there are no toxins on anything you consume.  And you might want to make sure you have someone who can dial for emergency if necessary.  Please do your own research.  I am NO expert on the subject!
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Posted in Great Outdoors

In Lawns as in Life

Maybe I ought to take a minute to explain my situation.  I realize that my declaration of seeking peace, balance, wholeness, etc., sounds like I eat local, attend a power-yoga class, and wear sustainable clothing.  I am sorry if I have misled anyone.  I live in a meager home supported by a meager salary.  I like to grow vegetables because they are so good for me and taste better than anything I have EVER bought anywhere, but also to supplement my grocery bill.  My garden this year is disappointing.  Last spring I lacked the funds to buy new seed and replenish spent soil.  So I’m not heading out to Whole Foods in my hybrid each week.  Please understand, this quest is all about doing what I can with what I have.  I am simply your average Joe . . . er . . . Jean.

Just over four years ago I moved into my current residence.  I bought it as a small, four-bedroom rambler, which is now a two-bedroom rambler due to the addition of an office/craft room and a dining room.  There is a nice fenced-in back for Barney and Sabbath.  In the front is a yard with a pretty brick planter.  For the first time ever, I am the proud owner of my very own lawn!

There was a lawn at my marriage home, but aside from my occasional watering and mowing, it belonged to my husband.  It was also the envy of the neighborhood.  So, I thought, how hard can it be?  I know all the terms:  fertilizer, de-thatch, water, aerate, over-seed, pre-emergent weed killer.  Oh yeah.  I’ve got this covered. That first summer, I had nice green grass.  I followed the lawn-care calendar.  The following spring, the bottom third of the lawn was yellow and crispy.  I watered.  I watered some more.  But it was dead!

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Watering the Weeds

Since then, I’ve worked out that I had probably over-fertilized the first fall.  The dead grass left the ground unprotected.  The slight slope began to erode and now has lumpy divots.  Where grass failed to take root, weeds had no problem whatsoever.  The best advice I can get from friends and family is to hire a lawn service.  My checkbook says no.

Let me just say this.  I really don’t even agree with having a lawn at all.  Pouring clean water on grass when a large part of our global population has none to drink or bath in is terribly irresponsible.  Sprinkling chemicals that wash into waterways is criminal.  Polluting the air with the petrol-run mower and disturbing the silence of a Sunday afternoon ought to be considered the height of social rejection.

Yet here I am lamenting over my front yard for the sole purpose of fitting in.  What is wrong with this picture?  I have succumbed to the pressure of society in suburbia.  I rate my curb appeal against other plots, and find myself at the bottom of the competition.  I do not run the risk of having Bob up the street stopping by to ask, “You trying to make us look bad with that lawn?”  (I have heard envious neighbor dudes say that to one another.)

Here is my crossroad — I’m not just talking grass here anymore — for lawns and for life.

  • I can continue to water, keep things green and see what comes up, hoping for more grass than weeds.
  • I can dig the whole thing under and start new.
  • I can just spread some new dirt of the top, level it out, then sprinkle grass seed on top and water it well.
  • Or maybe I could rethink the whole thing and begin to plant native plants and ground cover that need less water, minimize the need for fertilizer, and require less mowing.

Why is it the option that excites me is the one that ignites such self-doubt?  Of course, I’m speaking about the last option.  There is so much to learn and a whole new way to think about my front yard.  It’s the area that is right out there for the whole world to see. I run the risk of Neighbor Bob walking down asking, “Sooo . . what have you got going on over here?”  Reading between the lines I would know he was thinking, “There goes the neighborhood.  Damn hippies.”

Seeking peace, balance, wholeness and all things precious in lawns as in life.  Wishing I didn’t worry so much about what everyone else thinks. Doing what I can with what I have.  Working on my own corner of the world because it’s already as much as I can handle. Trying to do the right thing.