Front and backyards for sustainability

Sustainable alternatives to lawns

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Most Americans long dream for the morning when they wake up to a cup of coffee and stare off their front porch at their immaculate green lawn. To some, the constant hum of lawn mowers is strangely comforting. But there’s a problem: having a lawn is expensive to maintain and largely unsustainable.

According to Dr. Bill Chameides, dean of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment since 2007, we seriously need to reconsider the drawbacks of lawns in America, and not just in America, of that we can be sure.

For one, lawns require Americans alone to use about 800 million gallons of gasoline a year to refill the mower, of which about 17 million are being spilled. Lawns use nearly 3 million tons of pesticides. Lawns also cost us about $30 billion annually. And to top it off, we use about 4 billion gallons of water a day in residential water use, according to the EPA. Those are serious interesting figures and should make us all sit up and take note.

Even though there are a couple of alternatives such as Eco Lawn Grass, which still is often the wrong grass for the wrong locations and then there are the Synthetic Turf Fields. But that is man-made and not a good solution, as far as I am concerned.

The best choices would be natural growth which means to design your lawn to fit your environment. Instead of forcing some Kentucky Bluegrass to grow in front of your Arizona home, try designing the lawn to feature natural, drought resistant plants and ecosystems. The best part about this will be the lack of maintenance required: the world around you will do all the work. The same goes for those in Southern California or Texas – maybe lay down some volcanic rock or stones, cacti, and any other native plant life. Mix it up while doing so – have patches of lawn surrounded by native plants and flowers. That way you can still have a place to put a chair or bench, but the resources required will drop dramatically.

And then there is converting lawns to gardens and this is probably the best solution as it gives you some added benefit. Such a garden can still look great as you can grow veggies with flowers and vice versa.

While resources like water will still be needed, and so will be compost and other work such as weeding, this time you’ll be getting something back other than the joy of a green lawn. In fact, you’ll be able to lessen the demand for farming, decreasing the amount of water, fuel, pesticides, and fertilizers that are used. Hopefully, your soil hasn’t suffered too much from the years of pesticides. First, plot out where you want your garden to be and here consider sunlight, natural water irrigation, and shading. Next, start pulling back the sod with a hoe. You can use much of this as compost, so now would be a good time to get a compost system set up.

You could use the sods, turned up, made into “Irish lazy beds” (look those up on the Internet) and use those as “raised beds”. Raised beds are, in my view, together with planters of various kinds, including the serious improvised ones, the way to go for veggie growing.

After you’ve cleared away your area, sorted out your beds or planters get everything read for planting. The choose what you want to grow to harvest and then sow and plant away.

Vegetable gardening and flowers can go very well hand in hand and if you want anything in your garden that is not planted up and is a little like a lawn make a Zen garden. A place of tranquility at the edges of which you can sit, relax and meditate.

You might even inspire your neighbors to follow suit once you have your garden of this nature up and growing, too to set up their own garden of a similar nature and a good thing that would be too. It will be good for the environment and for the food miles too. In addition to that gardening – growing things, other than grass – is good for the soul.

© 2011