Reducing or Removing Lawns

Formerly a lawn, this front garden was redesigned by homeowners in Fremont Place several years ago. It was featured on the GWNC Garden tour in 2016.

As spring approaches, Americans all over the country are moving outside and many will be fertilizing and watering their lawns. More and more experts are urging us to reduce or remove our lawns all together to help reduce the effects of climate change and promote a healthy environment for plants, insects and birds.

We found these two articles of interest and thought we should share them with Buzz readers who like many Los Angelenos have already heeded the message and replaced thirsty turf other alternatives like native plants and trees.

In the first article, Kate Wagner, the creator of the viral blog McMansion Hell, which roasts the world’s ugliest houses, editorialized about the absurdity of lawns for Curbed.

“If you’re at all concerned about climate change and what you can do to help make the world a more habitable place for the millions of plants, animals, and people that live here, start by getting rid of your turf grass,” asserts Wagner.

And here’s some evidence she presents to back up her claim:

“Lawns, by acreage, are the nation’s largest irrigated crop, surpassing corn. Lawns consume resources, including fresh water (especially in those lawns cultivated in desert climes), fertilizer, pesticides and other chemicals, fossil fuels for mowing, and a mind-numbing amount of time, on an immense scale. Much hand-wringing goes on about the use of pesticides in industrial farming and the effect it has had on the worldwide population of pollinators, but less about its destructive use in lawn care. Lawns have introduced some of the country’s most invasive species, including English ivy, Japanese and Chinese wisteria, and decorative trees such as princess tree, Bradford pear, and mimosa. Second only to deforestation, invasive species are the largest threat to the world’s biodiversity.”

In addition, she writes:

“Lawns … displace native ecosystems at a rate between 5,000 and 385,000 acres per day in favor of sterile, chemically-filled, artificial environments bloated with a tremendous European influence that provide no benefits over the long term,” the Roaming Ecologist writes: “no food, no clean water, no wildlife habitat, and no foundation for preserving our once rich natural heritage.”

And, why she asks:

“And all this for what?

The lawn is, and has always been, a status symbol. Lawns have their roots in the English estates of the 16th century, where wealthy landowners planted turf grass for their cattle to graze on, and on which lawn sports could be played. These lawns, and later iterations such as the mathematically tidy gardens of Versailles and other elite estates, required meticulous hand-scything by hired servants to keep the turf grass at a handsome and desirable length. The few who could afford such a massive deployment of labor took pride in their lawns, which were, until the 19th century, only affordable to them.”

Wagner notes that the invention of lawn mowers and the creation of suburban sprawl in Post World War II America spawned a large and powerful lawn care industry that promotes lawns as the only safe places for children to play but she argues there are many wonderful alternatives that teach children about wildlife and stewardship of our planet.

And speaking of stewardship, in the second article we found comes from the New York Times where authors By Ronda Kaysen and Henry Fountain make the point that lawns are a huge environmental problem.

According to Kaysen and Fountain, all together American lawns cover an area the size of Florida. To keep them green, lawns consume precious water, over “7 billion gallons of water a day, a third of all residential water consumption, to irrigate. Roughly half of that water is wasted because of runoff, evaporation or overwatering.”

In addition, to keep weeds under control, “consumers dump 59 million pounds of pesticides onto their residential landscapes in 2012, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Some of those leach into the waterways, potentially exposing children and pets to harmful chemicals.”

“Lawns are a significant environmental problem,” said David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. “We put in these lawns, and we basically turned these important habitats into dead zones.”

The good news is: You don’t necessarily have to let your yard go wild, or dig the whole thing up to plant rocks, in order to lower your environmental impact.

You can reduce your lawn by chipping away one weekend and one season a time, dedicating a few of the hours you might normally spend caring for your lawn to planting native grasses, shrubs, trees, flowers and food.

If you still have some lawn and are looking for inspiration, today you can tour some fine examples in the West Adams Native Gardens Tour. You can also download a pdf of “Your Next Front Yard” published by the Hancock Park Garden Club that offers design ideas for historic homes. Copies of the booklet are available at Chevalier’s Books.




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About Patricia Lombard

Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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