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Between the Rows

Between the Rows: Why mow?

What has your lawn done for you lately? That is the question asked by “Beautiful No-Mow Yards” by Evelyn J. Hadden and published by Timber Press ($24.95).

My husband would answer “Not much.” He was happy to find a strong boy to give the lawn a final mowing just before Thanksgiving. The lawn requires a fair amount of time and equipment to keep it mowed, even on the irregular schedule we manage to keep. We never fertilize or water, but even so, the lawn is definitely work.

Evelyn Hadden is a founder of Lawn Reform Coalition, which aims to teach people about sustainable, healthier lawns. In “Beautiful No-Mow Yards” she proposes 50 alternatives to mowed grass lawns, offering solutions to cutting down on grass cutting in ways that are likely to appeal to every kind of gardener: new gardeners who are more interested in flowers or vegetables, experienced gardeners who are looking for new ways to garden and environmentally concerned gardeners who want to cut down on the use of fossil fuels, herbicides and their own energy.

The table of contents lists some of the ways to think about no-mow gardens, or elements that will eliminate a lot of mowing. Play areas, patios and ponds do not need any mowing. Rain gardens keep rain water on site, with beautiful and varied plants. They never need mowing and if you live on a residential street, your rain garden will also keep water out of stressed storm sewers.

Other chapters give advice about shade gardens, meadow and prairie gardens, edible gardens and stroll gardens, but it is not necessary to devote yourself to a single garden type. Many of us have patios and play areas, but still have lawns, after all. Hadden has spoken to couples like the Maybergs who have a patio and fire pit where they can sit and “enjoy views into two shade gardens, a mini-prairie and a pond garden.” Curving paths lead into spaces that create different moods, but none that require mowing.

We have too much lawn at our house, but a number of years ago I realized that the common thyme growing in my herb garden had jumped to the west, overtaking the grass around a row of roses and even jumping into the weedy field beyond. After that, I began digging up clumps of thyme and planting them in a section of our front lawn where the soil is dry and not very fertile. The thyme is happy there and has spread over a large area. I love thinking that I have this lovely English thyme lawn that needs infrequent mowing.

Thyme is one of the living carpets that Hadden includes when listing other familiar ground covers like sedums, sweet woodruff, ajuga, lamium and others. Even those of us who need or desire lawn probably have areas that are not going to get a lot of foot traffic and could very easily and attractively be planted with these types of ground covers.

Four or five years ago, I started planting barren strawberry (Waldsteinia), a native ground cover with strawberry-like leaves and little yellow flowers, at the edge of our too-big lawn, where it has spread beautifully. I under planted it with a variety of daffodils and this area is beautiful in the spring.

This fall, I took clumps of golden marjoram that grows in a dense mat in my herb garden and planted it in my failed Circle Garden. Rabbits! Rabbits have made it impossible to grow flowers in that circle as I have done for several years. Golden marjoram will send up flower stalks but I think it will tolerate some mowing. We’ll see.

Many people are unhappy with the shade in their gardens, partly because it is so difficult to grow grass in the shade. I envy them. I only have sun and long for shade, partly because it would mean I could eliminate lawn and plant ferns, hostas and delicate flowers like tiarella, As in each of the other chapters, Hadden offers chats with gardeners who have created unique, no-mow gardens with beautiful photographs. In the shade garden, she points out the pleasures of working with light and shade, with colors of foliage, and with foliage size and textures.

One of the latest trends in suburban gardening is the edible garden. Hadden shows us ways that the edible garden can be as beautiful as an ornamental garden, and just as welcoming for sitting and visiting.

If we really must have a lawn, Hadden devotes a chapter to Smarter Lawns. These can be achieved with low-care grasses. In our region, this would be fine fescues that can be kept to a height of 4 inches with only three or four mowings a years.

I call my unfertilized, un-herbicided, unwatered lawn filled with violets, dandelions, hawkweed, daisies and lots of clover a flowery mead, but Hadden calls this kind of lawn a freedom lawn. She provides a whole list of plants that can be over-seeded a grass lawn.

A final section provides a small list of ground-layer plants, from Ajuga reptans only 2 to 4 inches high to 7-foot-high joe pye weed.

“Beautiful No-MowYards” will be a wonderful gift to yourself, or to the gardener in your life who is rethinking where she spends her energy and labor. For myself, I find more reward in caring for my vegetable garden, roses and other ornamentals, than the lawn.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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