We have more room to garden than is customary in the city. Our whole double lot is elaborately cultivated except for one strip in the back. That’s just a weed patch, a relic of lawns past—some grass, and some random crap, and other random crap, with a little extra crap sprinkled in. We run the manual push mower over it a few times a summer, let it go brown, and try to keep our backs to it.
So. All that useful stuff we’ll never use but looks too substantial to throw away? Lumber, metal, concrete blocks, insanely heavy items? It all ends up on the weed patch. But when that lovely large moist old gentleman showed up to haul it all away, what he left behind was…promise! Why, if we killed the weeds and started over, we could plant a nice ecolawn. One such seed mixture includes grass, clover, yarrow, itty bitty daisies, and whatnot, and it doesn’t require much maintenance, or even water. Why, we’d have ourselves a little meadow. Little bunnies with calico frocks and big eyelashes would surely show up and frolic in it!
The ecolawn people said it was easy to get rid of existing vegetation. Solarization. You scalp it as low as you can, soak the soil, and lay down clear plastic over it. In six weeks everything is dead and you can start over fresh. So I did it. I whacked it back to within an inch of its life, put the lid on, set it on Steam, and I cooked that mofo.
Six weeks later I peeled back the plastic. Well, it was a dang miracle. What a difference! Where once there was a dry brown frazzlement, now there was thick, luxuriant, emerald green growth from here to Sunday! Four inches high! It’s never looked so good!
It did not look at all dead, however.
“Yeah,” horticulturist niece Elizabeth said, “I’ve never seen solarization work here. I’d go with lasagne gardening if I were you.” Where were you six weeks ago, E?
Lasagne gardening is where you kill your lawn by putting cardboard over it and layering compostable materials in alternating green and brown strata on top of it, leave it for the winter, and plant directly into it in the spring. Worms in little vests and ties will set up industry below the cardboard and all of it will have rotted away. It’s foolproof, and that is a good thing, around here.
I checked in with our NextDoor neighborhood chat site, the most reliable source of civic angst the internet ever created. If you spend any time on there, you will discover that every citizen within three miles of you is actively being preyed upon by rock-throwing, catalytic-converter-stealing, urban-camping, gun-crazy, screaming porch pirates. Nervous neighbors are actively turning Republican without the courtesy of first moving to Idaho. However, you can go on the site and ask if anyone has large pieces of cardboard, and totally score. Within three minutes I had several good leads.
Then came the fun part. I don’t have a truck anymore. I have a Toyota Yaris. We did it, though. Nobody tailgates an eight-foot hatchback with twelve feet of cardboard bouncing out the back end. The cool part is if you fold up the cardboard enough to wedge it in right up to the headliner, you don’t even have to tie it down. It’s automotive gavage: it’s like fattening a goose.
So Amazon, Ikea, and Amana have contributed the first layer of my lasagne and hopes are high for the winter project. By February it should be as soft as ricotta cheese. I should be able to poke through it and plant a little tree. By April I should be able to seed my ecolawn.
If that doesn’t work, I’ll cook up something else. I’m not sure exactly what it would be. I’m guessing something flambé.
That’s how I got rid of my lawn: smothered it to death with cardboard, topped by mulched Christmas trees. (One of our local parks invites people to bring their trees there. They grind them up, and invite whoever wants it to take the resulting mulch.) In the Spring, all I had to do was dig a hole and plant stuff. The only drawback to not having a lawn to mow is that invasives spring up everywhere, especially if you have a lot of birds pooping out seeds and squirrels burying nuts. Some of the stuff that the squirrels planted are actually nice, though: a black walnut, a crab apple, and a dogwood, for instance, and several I cannot identify.
I always get a kick out of that (common) comment–“Wow! No lawn! That saves a lot of work.” There’s nothing easier to take care of than a dang lawn.
Oh, yeah! My neighbor has a HUGE expanse of lawn, and is out there mowing it, or containing the leaves to take to a local mulcher, or trimming the edges several times a week, most of which happens on her riding mower. However, when I DO go out to work in the yard (which is not often as I should: in the summer, the mosquitoes are all over me, so I can’t go outside then. Paul can, as mosquitoes don’t like him at all. But he doesn’t know what to keep and what to cut. So our yard is VERY untidy most of the time. But the birds and other creatures don’t seem to mind.)
We have lasagna-ed our raised beds and sort of the do that in the backyard with cardboard and 8 maple trees worth of leaves…. I am shrinking our back yard… a sort of green river running through an area with loads of trees and shrubs on either side.
I need to visit! For the house colors alone!
May I just say, in this judgement-free space, that there are times when I long for a nice grassy expanse of lawn? Yes, a politically- and ecologically-incorrect lawn. The yearning usually comes on a warm summer evening, in that quiet moment between dinner and sunset, when the heat of the day may or may not cool down for nighttime sleeping with the windows open. I want that smell of freshly-cut grass and the still-life tableau of a perfectly manicured, green lawn.
But heck, I know that it is probably never going to happen again in my lifetime….
I like that too. The reason I don’t have lawn (because let’s face it, I’m still raining water on the stuff) is I have too many other things I want to try with the space. You start carving it out bit by bit and after a while you’re all, “Why am I mowing this here comma?”
As a tangent, you mentioned the ‘civic angst’…I recently got a ‘welcome back to Portland’ visit, my vintage (real old) truck with still-Montana plates, was sitting with the gas cap outside, the large tank emptied, inside things strewn around with odd things taken…cost of living here, I guess.
I sort of like being back, it was 35f this morning, -18 back in Montana. That’s more comfortable…and fewer trump signs. That’s nice. Going to the store was a snooze in Butte, here it’s a drive on too narrow streets for a truck, and bikers giving me a friendly single finger sign. It’s a rather different place than when I lived here, left in ’76.
Hopefully I’l adjust, or the place will adjust me.
Yeah. Lots of stuff happening. I got here in ’76–does that mean it’s my turn to leave?
Murr, consider native plants at that location. The birds love it, bees and butterflies too. So much better than grass.
I’m all over the natives. This “lawn” will be a little grass, a lot of clover, yarrow, and daisies. I want to be able to walk on it.
I can relate to so much of what you wrote…Have you tried Ruth Stout? (not a beer but a Goddess of gardening…developed the Gardening Without Work method (and book of course). All the best taming your back 40!
Haven’t heard of her! This is just a little strip. One of the things I do to take care of my garden is Nothing At All, after about the beginning of September. It’s all seeds and brush and crap out there and hopping with birds. I clean it up in the spring.
Thank you so much for the book reccie! I ordered it from the library, and if it’s helpful, I’ll buy a copy. It sounds like just what I need!
I am all for letting the lawn do whatever it wants. It wanted to do much less after we stopped watering it for the summer while contractors of various sorts did various things. I was all for letting it go bye-bye, with the ecological encouragement of my eldest, but his influence was insufficient, he being in New Zealand — I think an inverse-square law may apply. So I’m trying to bring it back again, since lots of green entering the eyeballs seems to put the brakes on my wife’s depressive spells. Maybe it helps mine too, who knows? I spread Tall Fescue seeds mixed with fertilizer of some kind on all the bare spots, covered them with a thin layer of potting soil (our native stuff is adobe so it’s not good for much — thirty years ago I was digging holes for roses with a jackhammer), and am trying to keep it all damp with sprinklers between the sadly sparse northern California rains. I’ve been doing that for nearly three weeks now. I fully expect an envoy from the city to knock on our door and tell us we’re using too much water. I hope to give up soon.
Doesn’t much matter what we prepare for now. We’re going to get something else.
Maybe trees? I have heard that being around trees calms one. And indeed, when i am out in the woods, I DO feel really calm and happy. Then I get into my car to drive back home, and I’m white-knucking the steering wheel and gritting my teeth. (Paul needs a mouth guard when sleeping; I probably need one when I’m driving.) I have lots of trees in my yard, but I don’t know if they relax me very much. I’m always looking at all the invasives that need dealing with and all the weeding I need to do. So… pretty much the opposite of relaxing. And, hey… the world is pretty much fucked anyway. If you WANT a lawn, go for the lawn. It’s not as if it’s going to save the planet if you go another way. That ship has sailed, darlin’! Do what makes you both happy!
The grass seeds I spread are finally coming up, but not everywhere I put them yet, so I guess I’ll keep up with the wasteful watering for a while. Before the next rain (predicted for next weekend), in some other spots in the yard (left bare by the drainage contractors) I plan to scatter a seed mix from Pro Time Lawn Seed (in Portland). They call it “PT 755 Fleur de Lawn,” and it’s a mixture of grasses, yarrow, clover, alyssum and a few other things. We’ll see. Marsha would object, but I don’t plan to tell her until after the stuff comes up. Weeds would come up in all those places anyway, so why not decide which weeds I want?
I grew up a 5-minute drive away from woods. That was nice. Now I live an hour’s drive from woods, and haven’t been there in years. The trees in the yard don’t help much.
I miss my lawn being lush and green right up to my porch edge, most of it is still green, less lush, but there is a foot or so depth of soil shrinkage at the porch end from when the sprinklers were turned off during a drought and we were all supposed to be saving water. When the water restrictions were lifted, “someone” forgot to reset those auto sprinklers for about four years and I didn’t notice the soil shrinkage until it was too late. It’s compacted and set like concrete now on a bit of a slope, so adding soil would just see it get washed downhill with rain or watering.
Anyway, have you thought about tossing a few packets of wildflower seeds into your lasagna patch? Get the type that would naturally grow in your state.
That’s basically what I’m going to seed. Okay guys, this is the thing I will probably sow next spring (the website lists many other possibilities): https://ptlawnseed.com/collections/low-maintenance/products/fleur-de-lawn
We used the fleur-de-lawn many years ago, and were very unhappy with the results. Can’t remember many specifics now, as we followed the instructions, and what came up didn’t tally with the pictures or description. May you have better luck!
Oh dear! Hm…I have seen one in the neighborhood that is impressive, but the woman might take better care than I probably will.
I wrote my post above, about buying the very same stuff, before reading yours. Or Murr’s. I do indeed hope for better luck, but gardening is full of surprises.
I was looking at photos of my 2-acre yard I had in Maine and had forgotten how lush and beautiful the flowers were. The lawn was a former cow pasture, so very fertile and lush, with cheery dandelions. I never had to water anything except the plants in pots on the deck, and the veggie patch. I mulched the veggie garden with the clippings I gathered weekly. My current yard in Oklahoma is heavy clay and neglected Bermuda/crab grass. I’m converting the sterile clay into a native wildflower garden and plan to plant native buffalograss once I kill off the lawn. It requires only 1.5 inches of water a month, versus 12 or so for a standard lawn. Most of us here don’t bother to water our lawns anyway, though some of my neighbors do the TruGreen thing. I like the seed mix you’re using – look into Turkey Tangle Frog Fruit (or Fog fruit) – several varieties. I had a natural patch in California and it was low-growing with sweet little purply flowers. I want to use it here in areas I want to keep walkable (but it won’t tolerate too much of that.) I still think you could use a month’s worth of posts to guide us through your garden. I’d love to see it!
Oh, man! I also have a heavy clay soil. And from one of the comments above, I realized that the fact that we never water anything (outside of our vegetable garden) accounts for our hard-packed soil. That, and all the tree roots, because we have a LOT of trees. I also remember having to dig up a LOT of crabgrass, despite the fact that I totally smothered the lawn. Crabgrass does not die easily. Anyway, people constantly offer me plantings, but I always have to decline, as much as I would LOVE to plant them. (See hard-packed, clay soil.) I can’t even get a shovel into that!
Here we specialize in rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. I believe I have mentioned that before. Ten blocks to the south, no rocks. Anyway our little area has lots of garden beds lined with cobble that had been dug out. TURKEY TANGLE FROGFRUIT! I feel better just knowing it exists! I could put in amongst my toad lilies! Apparently it’s a southern thing though. I don’t know anyone here who plants it.
Dear Fairy Godmother: please have little bunnies with calico frocks and long eyelashes step out of a storybook and into Murr’s Fleur-de-Lawn.
If you plant it, they will come.
I’m adding another comment, because I’m so tickled that I found out how to add my photo to my comments. Woohoo!!!
(It requires a WordPress account followed by a Gravatar.)
OK, now back to Murr’s garden…
Very nice to see you!
I have a yard area composed of Willamette Valley river clay plus rock. So I built soil up starting with cardboard to put weeds to sleep. Layers of garden compost mix, sawdust, straw from a local mushroom farm, more cardboard and more layers of the other things, a true lasagna buildup, gave me 10 inches of incredibly rich soil after first winter. This also starts changing the clay underneath. It’s nice to see someone else using this method. Turkey Tangle Frogfruit! Thanks, Cindy. Sources say hardy in zone 8, northwestern Oregon zone
I just don’t see how there could be a Turkey Tangle Frogfruit without me knowing about it already.
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