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Rethinking the Lawn

When I first landscaped our yard, I wanted an open vista in front. But I was thinking mainly ground covers, and low-growing flowers — not the de rigueur lawn. However Ward was fond of grass. I decided I could appreciate the contrast provided by a frame of grass around ornamentals.

Ward agreed to take responsibility for maintaining the lawn, if I would take charge of building it. However in 1997 most advice for lawns included a lot of chemicals — and I was chemically sensitive.

I looked for grass varieties particularly suited to our conditions. Ward and I raked in compost, ground rock powders and natural nitrogen sources. A huge job — but we felt rewarded when we saw the haze of little green sprouts all over the yard.

In 1999 Donald and Patricia Bishop took an even bigger step into organics. Donald had been working a conventional farm, but one of their six children developed severe medical problems from chemicals. They decided they wanted a better future for all their kids. Today they’re receiving awards for their organic landscaping company, Gardens Are..., in Marlboro.

For several years Ward took pleasure in maintaining our lawn. Then he started his own business. He loves what he’s doing, but he works very long hours. And I’m having trouble with my back. The lawn gets neglected.

In some patches, those carefully chosen grasses do badly — where the topsoil is thin because we graded down. I might add fescues; they tolerate drought and poor soil. A new blend only gets about four inches high, and only needs to be mowed once a month, to prevent seed formation.

Can I reduce maintenance further? Maybe Ward would agree to more ground covers now. I’ve been noticing how well ajuga does where it’s already invaded the lawn — even where it’s walked on. It would only need mowing yearly, to remove spent flower stalks.

Back in 1995, among the few people questioning the prevailing prescription for lawn, was a group at Yale who published a book called Redesigning the American Lawn : A Search for Environmental Harmony. Lisa Vernegaard, who edited it, is now Director for Planning and Ecology at the Massachusetts conservation group Trustees of Reservations.

She and Donald Bishop will give a free talk, “Lawn Care Tips and Tricks,”at 7 pm on Tuesday, March 8, at the Groton Public Library, sponsored by the library and the Nashua River Watershed Association. To register call (978) 448-8000.

© Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 4 March 2005 (except I gave Donald Bishop's first name as John a couple of times in the newspaper version, for which I apologize!)

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