Tagged with "Lawn care"
When Bridget Goodbody and her husband Neil Radey bought their house in East Hampton more than 20 years ago, they inherited a large expanse of lawn and a garden that looked “like it had been won in a poker game" (and it had been—literally). Like many people, they cared for it with conventional practices: mowers, blowers, and chemicals. But over the years they learned from Edwina and Perfect Earth just how toxic—and unnecessary—these practices are. First, they stopped using chemicals on their lawn. Then, about six years ago, they took their landscape to the next level: reducing their lawn by 12,000 square feet and filling it with a robust mix of native plants—from silvery-leafed mountain mint (Pycnanthemum) to fragrant sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina) and huckleberry. “Planting all these natives has enhanced the beauty here,” Goodbody said. “There are bees, butterflies, and a lot more birds. Red-tailed hawks fly over whenever I go out and in the spring I look for flashes of bright red or yellow when the tanagers return.” Their dog Star heads out every morning for her daily walkabout, following the path around the house. “I like watching the seasons unfold. The garden makes me feel rooted and attached to this place in a much deeper way than ever before,” says Goodbody. “Having it is a way to care for one tiny corner in the world and make it a healthier place.”
Radicle Thinking by Edwina von Gal
I’ve been thinking about what our landscapes say about us. Just the same as clothing, homes, or cars, landscapes tell the world a lot about their owners. They also tell the stories of the billions of lives—visible and invisible—that are living (or not) in our yards and how we are treating these plants, animals, and fungi that were there before we took over, and still need a home.
Garden owners and gardeners manipulate properties, creating gardens that showcase to the world just how smart, successful, tasteful, plant savvy, carefree, or eco-conscious they are, or want to look like they are. The more carefully clipped, sterilized, and controlled a property, the more resources (time and money) were obviously needed to get it there. Control sends a clear message of wealth and power. More control means fewer surprises; minimal changes from season to season and year to year—frozen in time, predictable, and rather lacking in life.
But nature wants it otherwise. It wants to grow and fill a place with life. It will never stop trying, and it is powerful. Keeping a place from aging naturally requires ever more control—more machines, more sprays, more mulch, more money. More impressive? The landscape industry hopes you think so. It has become a huge machine fueled by all the services a tightly controlled landscape needs to keep it looking just so. And yes, you know where I am going with this thought: the cost to the environment is harsh. Nary a branch out of line, never a nibbled leaf; no place for non-human lives to live—and not great for humans either, considering the constant onslaught of noise and poison.
There are alternatives and they are starting to send some new messages. How to read them? Even the “drive-by” eye can easily tell what priorities the property owner has in mind. Take a ride around and judge for yourself. Here are some of my thoughts:
Wall to Wall Carpet of Lawn = Power Play: lord and master of all. Nothing much but grass.
Trees and Shrubs Shaped with Military Precision = Control issues: everything bound up in shapewear.
Privet, Boxwood, Mophead Hydranges, Crepe Myrtles = Fashion Victim: two decades late to the party.
Yellow Warning Tags = Blind Optimism: “Huh, pesticides are bad for me?”
Huge Hedges = Insecurity: “I don’t want to engage with the community, but I want them to think I’m someone special.”
Monocultures—Huge Swaths of One Kind of Plant = Short on ideas: High Impact with minimal creativity.
Diverse, Unclipped Plantings = Setting the stage: challenging the norm-complexity is not the same as messy
Native Ground Covers = Spreading the love: finding new solutions like using large swaths of lawn alternatives.
UnMowing = Conscious Uncoupling: letting go of the norm, welcoming wildlife.
Major Meadow = Eco Chic: on trend, changing the garden aesthetic.
Gardens need a new look, a new kind of care that is caring and welcoming to all life…. Can you see it coming? Could it be time for a bit of self assessment? Landscape as therapy—the best kind.
The Book of Wilding: A Practical Guide to Rewilding Big and Small
, by Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell
“In this age of eco-anxiety, when we can so easily feel utterly powerless and overwhelmed by the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, experiencing rewilding seems to restore a sense of agency and ambition.” —Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell
This is part of a series with Gardenista, which ran on July 28, 2023.
Photo by Edwina von Gal: A bountiful summer meadow flaunts black-eyed Susans and beebalm. To support pollinators, plan to have at least three different types (nine is ideal) of native plants in bloom during each of the growing seasons to provide a steady feast.
This morning in my family’s garden, we found two monarch caterpillars sporting their yellow, black, and white stripes munching on some milkweed. Overhead a song sparrow trilled. It’s been about five years since we started filling the small beds with native plants, and we’ve noticed a big change. What was once a generic garden full of sterile cultivars is now a hive of activity. I couldn’t be happier, but, also, I know there’s more to do for this ecosystem, and more discoveries to uncover. Through my work with Perfect Earth Project, I’m learning more about how to garden sustainably, specifically the principles of nature-based gardening.
Simply put, nature-based gardening means working hand-in-hand with nature, not trying to tame it into submission by clipping, mowing, and spraying it to fit an outdated notion of beauty. As Perfect Earth founder Edwina von Gal says, “Stop putting your garden into shapewear.” Instead, work with nature: Nurture your soil. Grow the plants native to your region and allow them to flourish without chemicals. Provide habitat for wildlife (humans aren’t the only inhabitants here). Plant a keystone tree (or ten!). You’ll be amazed, I promise, at the beautiful, bustling, and interesting environment that almost magically appears. As Joy Harjo writes in “For Keeps,” “Sun makes the day new. / Tiny green plants emerge from earth. / Birds are singing the sky into place. / There is nowhere else I want to be but here.”
Here are Perfect Earth’s principles of nature-based gardening.
1. Grow Native Plants in Your Garden.
They need so little, and they give so much. Aim for at least two-thirds in your yard.
2. Remove Invasives.
Get rid of the non-native plants that are taking over our landscapes and outcompeting native plants.
3. Say NO to Toxic Chemicals.
Nature-based landscapes don’t need synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to thrive.
4. Nurture your Soil.
Your garden is only as healthy as the soil in which it grows.
5. Maintain Biomass, and Mind the Mulch.
Leave the leaves and all organic matter, make compost, and grow a living mulch.
6. Reduce your carbon footprint. Less noise, less pollution.
Tend to your garden manually or go electric. Your neighbors (and your ears) will thank you.
7. Prune Prudently.
Stop chopping with abandon! Every cut is a wound.
8. Plant Trees Properly.
Do right by roots and don’t bury the crown when planting trees.
9. Water Your Lawn Deeply.
At least 30 minutes and only as needed.
10. Reduce Your Lawn.
Return part of your yard to the birds, bees, and butterflies. Maintain the lawn you do keep by following toxic-free practices.
11. Plant a Habitat Garden.
And watch the pollinators and wildlife flock to it.
12. Have Faith, Have Fun.
Change from a fussy and restrictive landscaping style to something more comfortable, loose, and personal. Let your landscape surprise you.
To learn more about each of these practices, download Perfect Earth’s guide to Nature-Based Gardening here.
Photo: Toshi Yano
Moisture-loving blue vervain (Verbena hastata) grows in a field in New York. It’s attractive to birds, butterflies, like the common buckeye, and bees, especially bumble bees.
Photo: Melissa Ozawa
Beebalm or monarda, a perennial native to the eastern U.S., produces firework-like flowers in mid-summer. Here, a hummingbird moth can’t resist stopping for a drink.
Photo: Melissa Ozawa
If you plant it, they will come. While fritillary butterfly larvae don’t eat milkweed (they subsist on violets, instead), the adult butterflies will drink the nectar from milkweed.
We’re pleased to welcome The Green-Wood Cemetery as the latest partner in our Pathways to PRFCT program, a network of diverse public gardens and parks managed for health and well-being, beauty, biodiversity, and sustainability.
Located on 478 acres in Brooklyn, NY, this National Historic Landmark is a sanctuary in the city—for both humans and wildlife. Under a canopy of more than 8,000 trees, the cemetery is a resting place for luminaries such as artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, journalist and politician Horace Greeley, and the first Black woman doctor in New York, Susan Smith McKinney Steward. It’s also a cherished oasis of peace and beauty for New Yorkers and visitors alike, and thanks to a dedicated team of horticulturists, who are working to create a climate-resilient landscape, it’s a haven for birds and other wildlife, too. Birdwatchers flock there during spring and fall migrations.
As the horticulture team adapts to our changing environment, they’ve adopted four initiatives focused on trees, invasive insects, meadows, and grasses:
Green-Wood’s collection of trees showcases an array of native oaks, hickories, American beech, tulip, sweetgum, and sassafras trees (including one of the oldest and largest in New York state). To help protect these “veterans,” some of the oldest in Brooklyn, Green-Wood practices retrenchment pruning, which mimics a tree’s tendency to reduce its canopy as it matures. They are also diversifying their native tree population, and planting hundreds of bare-root trees, which tend to be stronger and healthier, more energy efficient, and easier to plant.
To further protect their trees, Green-Wood has joined forces with the US Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture, and New York State Department of Environmental Protection to identify and track invasive insects. The collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service led to a discovery of a new beetle species in 2019. The same genus as the emerald ash borer, this beetle feeds on stressed beech trees and trees of the Rosaceae family. Through their invasive insect scouting program they are taking steps to help safeguard our urban forests.
They are also actively converting acres of traditional lawn into native meadows, which provide food, shelter, and breeding ground for wildlife. Last year, they teamed up again with Larry Weaner and Associates (the firm has designed other meadows at the cemetery) to create more than an acre of “experimental memorial meadows.” Divided into six sections, each one is seeded with a different mixture of native grasses and wildflowers. The horticultural team will closely monitor the new expanse, collecting data on the life cycles of each plant species, the number and variety of weeds that appear, and note the overall aesthetic to “identify plant species and their combinations that thrive with minimal maintenance and do not obstruct the monuments.”
Climate change heavily impacts urban environments, causing higher temperatures, frequent extreme rainfalls, and longer periods of drought. As a result, the growing season for turfgrass is longer, which means more mowing, while invasive warm-season grasses are rapidly spreading. Working with experts in sustainable grassland management and turf at Cornell University, Green-Wood is incorporating new seed mixes with slower-growing and drought-tolerant varieties, adjusting the frequency and height of mowing, and reducing soil disturbance.
We look forward to following Green-Woods progress and learning from these and other initiatives.
Green-wood’s urban grassland initiative focuses on 403 acres of turfgrass. Photo by Art Presson. Top Photo by Stacy Lock.
If you use a landscaper for the maintenance of your property, the beginning of the year is contract renewal time. Of course you are probably starting this year anxious about your health and the environment and you aren’t sure whether signing up for a weekly dose of noise and poison in your yard is the best thing to do. It just doesn’t quite feel right, which adds to your eco-anxiety. But instead of worrying more, you could use this moment to do good. Guaranteed good for the environment, and super healthy for you and your family.
You just need to ask your landscaper to do things a bit differently by switching to nature-based practices. He/she may not know how, and chances are, you don’t know either. So who does know? Sadly, there are very few nature-based landscapers, and there probably isn’t anyone better for you to hire than the one you have got. So unless they flatly refuse to try, don’t fire them. Let’s engage and train the ones we’ve got, and send the message out that this is the future of land care. It is healthier for them too.
Everything you need to get started is in our PRFCT LeafLet Basics of Nature-Based in English and Spanish. For a typical annual maintenance schedule, which you can use as the basis of your new contract, go straight to page 21 – review it with your landscaper. It should not cost more, there are no products to purchase.
What is nature-based? Here’s the nutshell: Healing, not Harming. Let nature do the nurturing.
- No toxic fertilizers or insecticides. Fertilizers overstimulate plants and make them susceptible to disease. The right plant for your soil, doesn’t need them. Insecticides are not target specific, they kill beneficial insects and soil organisms. You don’t depend on your landscape to eat, so why not share it with a host of wonderful life forms that could find refuge there?
- Retain, recycle and reimagine all biomass. Keep what your property produces (grass clippings, leaves, twigs, weeds, etc.) and feed it back to the soil. It is the food your place made for itself. Better than anything you can buy, and without the carbon footprint. (See PRFCT Lawn Basics for more).
- Plant at least 2/3 native plants. Plants did fine without us humans for eons, so if you plant the ones that evolved in your conditions, they will still be fine with very little from you. Plus, they provide just the right food and shelter for local birds and pollinators. (See 2/3 for the Birds for more).
- Avoid and remove invasive plants. Get to know which plants are invasive. (See the Invasive Plant Atlas for more). Don’t buy them. Remove and replace any you have already got. (See Beyond Pesticides for more).
- Water properly. Very seldom. Very deep. Over-watering is one of the most common landscape malpractices. It leads to a wide range of plant and soil problems and promotes tick and mosquito populations.
- Minimize pruning. Every cut is a wound. Plant with plenty of space for trees and shrubs to grow to their natural shapes. Leave deadwood and standing dead trees, unless positioned dangerously, they provide unique food and nesting opportunities.
- Relax and enjoy. Your landscape is not your living room; forcing it to be tidy, clipped, and fixed in time is “dead room.” Let it be alive; always changing and creating new surprising delights for you.
Keep in mind, your landscaper doesn’t necessarily know any more about this than you do. So make sure he/she understands that this is an adventure in earth friendly relationships and as long as they are willing to truly commit to the practices, you will be happy. It is a whole new way to relate to your land.
Hooray, eco-anxiety reduction in action! You are doing something unquestionably good for the earth. (Not to mention yourself, your family, and your pets). Once you get started, you will find there was nothing to fear. It is all fascinating, joyous, and beautiful.
If you encounter some problem that makes you want to give up, contact me: email@example.com
Suggestion: Watch as your nature-based landscape supports more and more birds and pollinators. Start recognizing and recording them on iNaturalist and eBird, and become part of a global network of citizen scientists.
Next month: Help me prepare for Biomass Part 2. Send me your composting concerns. If you aren’t composting, why not? If you are, what worries you? Write me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bonus: All you ever wanted to know about climate change.
Photo by Allan Pollok-Morris