Round Robin: Lawns Old and New

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Denver, Colorado–Thank goodness for Rita Buchanan. The June/July issue of The Herb Companion arrived just when my confidence was ebbing. Having been in my new house and garden for less than a month, I was faced with hundreds of decisions, and one of them was about lawns.

I don’t much care for grass. I mowed it throughout my childhood, hating every minute of it. Large lawns are often justified as play areas for children, who would have a lot more time to actually play if they didn’t have to take care of the wretched things. I’m surprised that people whose children are grown or who don’t even have kids still have lawns that could easily accommodate the Superbowl. As for me, I don’t remember playing very much on our lawn; the favorite neighborhood game was kick the can, which we played in the street.

One of the advantages of being a grown-up is being able to make decisions about important matters such as lawns. I’ve managed to limit my adult lawns to very small areas. With so many plants to grow, it always seemed silly to devote my time to a vast expanse of one plant that needs constant attention just to stay the same.

The lawns in my old garden, small as they were, harbored a few stowaways. Siberian squills had started to sow themselves alongside the crocus I’d planted on purpose. And bird’s-eye veronica (Veronica filiformis) had jumped ship, preferring the company of turf to that of perennials. At first, I’d fretted about it and tried to extract it, but these sessions were torturous, and it always won. Then one spring, the lawn was suddenly alive with patches of pale blue mist around the deep blue squills and yellow crocus. Why had I tried to prevent this?

I read Rita’s article about herbal lawns just as I was contemplating a half acre of grass, and I’d already concluded that most of the lawn would disappear in favor of plants in which I actually had an interest. But what about the rest? It was already chock-full of violets, dandelions, and ajuga as well as other little creepers.

The dandelions had to go, and I spent a solid three days in May with a digger. Digging dandelions was the only lawn chore I didn’t mind as a boy. (Mowing was part of my standard allowance, but I got paid extra for each dead dandelion, so I’d dig them from the neighbors’ yards, too.) It’s rather satisfying to get it just right and pull up that long taproot.

But Rita offered me new ideas for adding to the existing lawn–thyme and pussy-toes especially appeal to me–as well the reassurance that I don’t need to torture myself, the violets, or the ajuga. I think they will look lovely with the bulbs I plan to introduce this fall, as well as plenty of bird’s-eye veronica. My lawn will not be the ordinary green suburban carpet; I picture it as a flowering tapestry. And thanks to Rita, I’ll think of it as an interesting, changing part of the garden rather than a separate element that reminds me only of childhood chores.

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