Tuesday, 9 July 2013


There is little in our daily environments that I loathe as much as a lawn. 
I can't get my head arround the concept of this abomination. Let's think about it objectively a little. There are people who own a 1 acre property or even more and they cover it all in lawn. Well, it gives the kids something to play on. That is if the kids would play on it. In reality the lawn is most often forsaken for the driveway when it comes to playing and video games are more interesting than the lawn...at least in this respect I agree. There is little as boring as a lawn. It is green....and flat....and that is about it. Green and flat platitudes of boredom. Neat and even conformity where everything different will stick out like a sore thumb - or a cursed weed. 
What for? There are many different reason that people will list when you ask them why they like a lawn so much. Here are the top 5

1) Everybody has one

Not a real argument here. It is just the norm, inexplicably so, but it is the norm nevertheless. It is 'keeping up with the Jones's' in its purest essence.

2) It looks good

Well if flat green and square pleases you there is nothing anyone can say about that. Most of the time I find that the same people marvel at a nicely designed flower garden or take the weekends to go into the woods because it is so beautiful there.

3) It is for the kids

As mentioned before, mostly the kids don't play on a lawn that much anyway. Latest by the age of 14 they will rather spend time at the mall with their friends. There might be the odd exception, but for the most part kids do not like lawns. If you would give a kid the choice to play in a woodland or on a lawn most kids will choose the woodland, while the rest would choose the playstation. I remember two girls that were interviewed by a TV station about growing up on a permaculture property. There is a specific sentence that stuck in my mind that one of the girls said: "All the other kids never had long grass to be tigers in, they never had trees to climb around like a monkey...." This is in my mind the best way of putting it. Give your kids a lawn and all they might be able to do is kick a ball around.

4) It keeps pests away from my house

Really? Well having a 3-4 ft strip of clearance between your house and any vegetation is good for several reasons, but having a lawn will not help in this matter. In fact, lawns can increase pests such as house flies as they provide a good habitat for such insects. 

5) What else would I put there?

This is a symptom of how deeply engrained the concept of a lawn has become in our culture. While 400 years ago the word 'lawn' was pretty well non-existent in the English language and even the mere idea of a grass area for recreation was only heard off from rich estates, within this short period of time a lawn has transformed from a status symbol to a symbol of moral integrity. 

Yes, I did finish that last paragraph with calling a lawn a symbol of moral integrity. It is. What are your thoughts when you drive through a neighbourhood and see a lawn that hasn't gotten much attention in the last 2 weeks? The grass is visibly longer and less "tidy" than all the other lawns. Often in North America the appearance of the lawn is synonymous for the appearance of the indivduals owning the lawn. neglected lawns show their owners to be untidy; maybe even morally corrupt. This perception has made its way into movies such as 'Pleasantville' or 'Edward Scissorhands' and into literature such as 'The Great Gatsby' where upon seeing his neighbours untidy lawn, Gatsby gets his gardener to cut it to restore uniformity. A lawn that isn't maintained is appauling to the esthetics of most 'modern' people. 

Ah, so you have a lawn.....how....nice....erhm
Looks like a blanket has been put on the ground
In actual fact this thinking is absolutely unnatural. Nature does not confine itself into neat geometrical forms. At least only very rarely. Nature is not 'tidy', it isn't square.
And we know that, we appreciate that. Beautiful pictures of untouched nature will spark the wish for vacation time in most of us. Woodlands, mountains, lakes, rivers and streams, all that is more appealing than a lawn. Every lawn owner will testify to that. Yet, nobody would even entertain the thought of restoring nature to their backyard.
And here is the funny part. Most people think that it would be too much work to do so. Here is the good news. It isn't that much work at all. And it is only logical that it isn't. 

A lawn is the opposite of natural. It is artificial, man made, anti-nature so to speak. Everything that is against nature will take effort and also money to maintain. We have to swim against the stream, make the land what it doesn't want to be. If we instead make it what it wants to be, then we don't need to do much. Take some flower seeds and some clover seeds and pepper your lawn-area with it. Then wait and see. You can cut in some small walkways and an area that you might want to use as a seating area, but let the rest grow. No more effort, no more chemicals, no more time spent on the mower instead of with your kids. How many hours a week do you mow your lawn? Maybe two or four? Imagine what you can do in 4 hours with your kids. Maybe go for a swim, and ice cream. Instead it is spent mowing, while your kids are bored. How many chemicals do you use in order to keep it in shape? How much money in gas and herbicides do you spent? 

I left this part alone this year, all the flowers have blown in, there are also edibles and medicinals hidden in there, such as salsify, sage, plantain and violets.

Another bonus of a wild meadow is that the other wildlife in the area is going to congregate in spaces that are more 'wild'. There is an abundance of birds, fireflies, butterflies and even deer that come to visit.

All in all having a lawn is more trouble than  it is worth. If people could evaluate the use of their lawn and what else might be done with the area that is more productive, it would be better for the environment, better for the peoples pockets and better for their health. 

A word on chemicals

If you really want that lawn, think twice about using chemicals.
There are more chemicals used on an acre of lawn in North America than there are on an acre of agricultural land...this is SHOCKING! RoundUp for example is the commercial name for glyphosate. There are more and more studies surfacing that show that glyphosate is carcinogenic and toxic in many other ways. Think about it. It is a chemical that is designed to kill. And then people let their kids roll around in it. For some information on RoundUp you can scan the internet e.g.:




  1. I couldn't agree more about RoundUp. I don't use chemicals at home and don't allow them to be used at work (I run a school food growing project).
    On the subject of lawn I also mostly agree, although in my area (Northern NSW, Australia) people use lawn as a fire sector strategy (not much fuel in a well kept lawn), I have sheep paddocks around the house yard for that reason as I prefer not to waste fuel on a mower. I think there are more productive ways to slow a bushfire myself, but it does slow it.

  2. Yeah, I can see the benefit for a firebreak, but there are better options. We don't have many problems with fires here. But there are trees (or palms) that are hard to ignite and make a fantastic fire stop. The European olive tree is one of them. They should also grow in Australia as they are not very water hungry.
    Great to hear that you run a school food project. We are involved as consultants with our second school project now. This one at a Native American reserve. It is so rewarding to see the kids learning about how food grows and how to prepare it.

  3. It sure is rewarding, I love to hear the kids talk about composting and cooking. I'm in my second year as garden coordinator there, before that I was the project coordinator; responsible for building the kitchen and the garden.

    You can google the project if you like ; the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Scheme.
    I run one school garden, but there are hundreds more.

    Olives are one option for fire breaks, there are a lot of trees that don't burn easily, I think my sheep would eat them though. I am working on a long-term (possibly imaginary at this point) plan to build living fences around the firebreaks and at present Hugelkultur 'hedges' are looking appealing; a tall, very steep sided bed made up of all the medium to large wood fuel lying in the paddocks and covered with soil. Planted with fire retardant species (tree lucerne would provide chop and drop fodder). I don't know if this will ever come to fruition, but it keeps me dreaming.

  4. I am sure you will get it done some time. It is amazing how things sometimes fall into place. The Hugelkultur 'hedges' idea sounds amazing. And I think it might just work perfect as a firebreak.

  5. We only have 5 sheep; four Wiltipoll and one Dorper, all wool shedding breeds (so we don't have to mules them or cut their tails, or shear if we don't want to). They are great mowers and very funny to watch.
    It costs $1000 to fence (steel posts and mesh) an average size paddock (1 acre) for them, we have managed to do 3 so far and we use electric fencing to move them round the rest of the fire break area. My idea may end up costing us less to build than using mesh and post fencing, and it would be more productive (and provide some habitat for all the unhomed little critters from me messing around in the paddocks). I think its worth a go. Now I just need to convince my (very traditional) partner of that.