Consider Replacing Part or All of Your Front Lawn with a Pollinator-Friendly Garden
Lush, wide, green and rolling: In America, we love our lawns. We like to sprawl out on the grass for a picnic, gather on the neighbor’s lawn for a game of touch football, and set up our folding chairs and tiki-torches in the backyard green for summer barbeques. I like doing these things too, and I have a small lawn of my own in Vermont. But it’s important to remember that lawns, from an environmental perspective, provide little support for the ecosystem. In fact the tremendous amount of water, fossil fuel, fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides used to maintain most suburban lawns makes our green-fixation downright irresponsible. And although green areas do reduce heat in cities, tightly cropped lawns do little to create habitat and provide food for birds, bees and the many other creatures sharing our world.
So how do we balance our desire for outdoor recreational spaces with environmentally friendly landscaping? When I design gardens for suburban homeowners, I like to suggest a compromise: keep some lawn in the backyard for play space if it is truly used, and devote the frontyard to nature. Usually, the front yard in an urban environment is no more than a small strip of earth between the front door and the sidewalk or road. This part of the property is often dry and dusty, and it is rarely used for recreation. Sometimes the area between the house and street is steep and difficult, or even dangerous, to mow. In many neighborhoods, roadside turf grass turns brown and unattractive by midsummer, (if it ever looks good at all). There are far more appropriate plants for such spaces; plants that will provide food and habitat for wildlife. In many areas, simply replacing grass with clover or another flowering ground cover is an excellent choice. For the more adventurous, a front garden filled with a mixed selection of native plants can be both beautiful and rewarding. Although there will be initial expenses and work involved, replacing front yard turf grass with more viable plantings can eventually save money and make a home more appealing and marketable as well as ecologically friendly.
For experienced gardeners, alternatives to turf grass will immediately spring to mind, but for novices the sea of choices and garden plan decisions can often seem overwhelming. If you are at a loss for ideas, Liz Primeau’s Front Yard Gardens is a great place to look for inspiration. This lovely paperback book is filled with hundreds of photographs of front yard garden designs, taken in a wide variety of climates. But more important, Primeau is quite practical, her book includes detailed plant lists and step-by-step plans to suit all climates, tastes and budgets. Usually I advise simple design plans and lower maintenance, native plants for new gardeners. Of course, what is considered a native plant will vary tremendously from one place to another, and this is where a bit of research comes in handy. It’s important that your garden suit your location. Perhaps one of your neighbors has a successful front yard garden. What plants grow well for them? Most gardeners love to talk about plants and they tend to be very generous with advice. Also keep in mind that many communities have gardening clubs and plant swap groups, and they usually welcome newcomers with a wealth of tips and information, and sometimes even perennial divisions! A small, neighborhood garden center is also a fantastic place to go for advice. Ask an experienced, local nurseryman for some native plant recommendations. Be sure to mention that you would like to grow plants with open flowers and long bloom times to attract bees, butterflies and birds to your yard. If you are new to gardening, start with a small plan, expanding your garden as you develop confidence.
Article and photographs, (with noted exceptions), © 2010, All Rights Reserved : Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden