Off the Grass

In their quest to minimize mowing, a couple creates a suburban oasis, complete with a potato field and resident frogs.

| July/August 2002

  • In keeping with Carolyn and Larry’s grand “design,” the trickling water sounds coming from the pond pull people toward the hammock.
  • Come July, Carolyn and Larry’s vegetable garden yields a bounty of potatoes, beans, and blossoms.
    Photography by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • With Buddha-like patience, Dark Eyes waits for a passing mosquito.
  • Carolyn and Larry’s garden has contributed to their wedded bliss by minimizing arguments about whose turn it is to mow the grass.
  • As this old teapot demonstrates, recycle and reuse is another theme in this garden.
  • Hardy water lilies thrive in the sunny pond.
  • The resident cats spend a good amount of time unsuccessfully hunting frogs. They’re kept inside at night so the frogs can have the run of the yard.

When Carolyn Linville and Larry Holgerson bought their ranch-style home in suburban Wheat Ridge, Colorado, twelve years ago, they viewed the double lot as both an asset and a liability. “We really liked the fact that we had this big old honking yard,” says Carolyn. “However, we weren’t wild about the idea of mowing the grass in this big old honking yard.”

Their solution? “Get rid of as much grass as possible,” Carolyn explains. “Our only grand plan, our defining mantra, was that we minimize the grass.” Everything else, she admits, was a crapshoot.

The result is a thriving backyard ecosystem that includes a vegetable garden, a potato field, and a pond—home to goldfish, several koi, and half a dozen frogs. Around the pond, Carolyn has planted self-proliferating plants such as purple phlox, coneflowers, ravena grass, bee balm, and lamb’s ears; over the years these have crept out into the yard and eaten up grassy areas. And that’s just fine with Carolyn, who points out, “You don’t have to mow a purple coneflower.”

Friendly frogs

The eight-by-four-feet pond, which serves as a focal point for the backyard, was another tactic in the no-mowing strategy. Carolyn and Larry hand-dug the watering hole, which is three feet deep to provide a frost-free zone for the fish. Just for the heck of it, Larry threw in a couple of tadpoles ten years ago, and they’ve proven to be much more valuable than whimsical. “Over time, we realized that the frogs were leaving the pool and going off to forage on insects,” says Carolyn, who now has virtually no bug problems in her yard. Strawberries, which have spread from her vegetable garden to the edge of the pond, are free of the slugs and roly-poly bugs that once ravaged them. “The frogs take care of the insects,” she says. “It’s a win-win for all of us.”

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