Thursday, January 13, 2011

Should anyone else be able to tell you how you "should" garden?

I was reading a lawn and garden post called Green Yard Care Tips written by Alisa Gilbert this morning and this was the first sentence:

One responsibility of being a homeowner is keeping a clean, well-manicured yard.

I had to read that line a few times to see if I agreed with it in any way, and I have to say, I just don’t. (Although I do agree with some of the writer’s other tips, which I have listed below).

My personal opinion is that landscapes should NOT be forced into being well-manicured. In fact, I don’t believe that anyone else should try to tell a person what their yard should or shouldn’t look like at all, unless it is just a dangerous eyesore.

I think that leaves should be allowed to lay where they fall to provide nutrients to the soil and cover for crawling critters. I think that plants should be allowed to go to seed to provide food for passing birds. I think piles of rotting compost should be perfectly acceptable in any yard. And like the wild, uninhibited residents of DC who participated in the 4th Annual No Pants Metro Ride this year, I think that native plants should be allowed to do their own thing in the garden.

If there is any “should-ing” to be done when it comes to gardens, I think that people should pay a little bit more attention to keeping poisons out of their yard and not wasting water and protecting our waterways. But when it comes to how you manicure your share of the earth, and what you wear when you do it, there really shouldn’t be any shoulding about it.

Excerpts from Green Yard Care Tips with my links added.

1) The author suggests that you ditch the lawn crew. Instead, I suggest that you find an eco-friendly one.

2) Use natural fertilizers and weed killers. Use natural pesticides and other insect prevention methods.

3) Make your own compost.

4) Do you use a gasoline lawnmower? If so, consider ways to offset that carbon footprint.

5) Understand the climate and what is best, naturally, for your yard.


  1. When I moved into my current house (only a few blocks away from old house), one condition I made was that I was in charge of the yard. That meant ripping up the front yard and planting a garden. While it is organized in a certain way and I try to keep it free from weeds, I'd hardly call it tidy. I do get many compliments from people walking past my house who say "if only could get rid of my lawn and all that work" and I laugh and tell them thank you, but this is much more work than maintaining a lawn. The only reason I haven't turned the whole backyard into garden beds is because I have kids who still like to lounge around on the grass.

  2. That photo is of a monstrosity-or two- for the yard and the house! What waste! One of our criteria for buying a home was that there be no neighborhood association and no restrictive covenants on the landscaping. The house had a terrible front lawn- all grass, very ugly and boring. It is now alive with flowers, shrubs, trees, a few bucket ponds, ferns, and welcomes hummingbirds and butterflies. Not to mention some weeds…. No one should tell you how to garden or landscape- if you want to march in lock step and have boring lawn after lawn after lawn, with a few foundation shrubs, buy into a neighborhood that forces such compliance. and rigidity. and lack of imagination.

  3. I put my house in the center of a 5 acre cow pasture 6 years ago. Since then I've installed just over 100 trees and a couple thousand shrubs and perennials as well as a 1 acre wildflower garden. The balance is "lawn" although this lawn is a "green is good" lawn. Plenty of native plants still in it. I cut it 3 1/2 inches just before it's too high to cut. We have plenty of wildlife from rodents and birds to the pair of foxes and the pair of red tailed hawks who are practically family. Lawns don't have to be perfect or poisonous. It's green, it's beautiful, it's food for wildlife, and it's OK in my book.

  4. I agree that no one should be told how to garden or landscape. But I feel that all homeowners should at least be aware of the dangers of using chemical weedkillers and fertilizers in excess. We all pay for that.

  5. It's very true that the huge amount of lawn in the picture represents a waste of a natural resource–land that is not gainfully utilized to feed and house wildlife. Wildlife not only makes for a much more dynamic and interesting landscape; it also provides the natural system of checks and balances to keep the area functioning properly (i.e., you don't need to use pesticides).

    Marlene Condon
    Author of The Nature-Friendly Garden

  6. Interestingly enough, people are valuing (i.e. "paying up") for chemical- or toxin-free property, no matter what its improvements, and are listing "toxin- or chemical-free landscaping" on R.E. sales descriptions. I think that using alot of suppliments to achieve an unnatural Eden, especially ornamentals, may well be perceived as using more than a fair share of water, the infrastructure, airwaves. If you can do chemical-free gardening AND have a gorgeous landscape, well, that is the goal it seems to me. .

  7. It sounds like what's really needed is a change in perception of what a beautiful yard looks like. Manicured implies trimmed or cut meticulously and gardeners need a positive term for the opposite of manicured. Free, flowing, natural, colorful, comfortable, homey – something along those lines.

    It's very encouraging to hear that chemical or toxin-free landscaping have gained value in the real estate market. Let's hope terms like Bayscape and Conservation Landscape do too!

  8. I think "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" would be better received by consumers of information couched in terms of best ways to achieve specific goals or end results and let the consumer apply shoulds and shouldn'ts to him/herself.

  9. As a design professional, I believe that some amount of reasonable regulation is good. The problem with many regulations and covenants is that they are simply out-of-date — written at a resource-rich time when conservation was not even a consideration. Studies have shown that strong aesthetic preferences have been developed over decades and will not be easily changed. Some reasonable conservation-focused covenants could actually help.

    Especially out west, where I live, bluegrass lawns are a tremendous waste of precious water, along with the other maintenance costs you cite. There are low water native grasses that can be mowed low for a unifirm appearance, as well as taller prairie grasses for a more natural look. What is appropriate depends on a number of factors, with the homeowner's preference and willingness to embrace the maintenance regime being paramount. Every brave homeowner who bucks the status quo for a beautiful native (non-"manicured") yard can help open the eyes of their neighbors — immediate physical examples are much more convincing that mere words or pictures.

  10. As a sharpening specialist, I wish to put my 2 cents in.
    I believe the best way to take care of a lawn/yard is to fulfill the needs of the homeowner and the area. Some of his arguments are a bit off, though. The newer, efficient mowers on the market are much more "green" than one made only a few years ago. The newer 4-stroke trimmers. etc, have diminished the greenhouse gasses coming out of their mufflers exponentially. For my part of the industry, I would tell the homeowners to maintain their equipment, as dull blades, (Rotary as well as standard) can lead to torn grass, which can lead to browning, as well as invite some species of rot and fungus to take hold in the grass. Keep your pruning and garden tools sharp as well. Banish the "anvil" style pruners and loppers to working on the brush pile! Using anything other than sharp bypass cutters, you might as well hit the branch with a club! :) Just one sharpeners opinion.
    Never A Dull Moment!

  11. Our lawn has not had any weed killer and only sparing fertilizer on it in almost 30 years. It has beautiful dandelions, ajuga and violets in the spring. It stays green in August when those in the nearby mcmansions that just got their water bill stop watering and their lawns turn brown.
    This is what we like. If your idea of a landscape is lush green lawns and you can afford to keep it that way, that's fine too.

  12. I interact with the development community in Florida quite a bit in my current job (not directly with HOAs). Although I obviously come at this from the native landscapes camp, I am also a strong proponent for democracy and personal rights. The approach my work group has taken with developers has been to test the waters for agreements to incorporate outreach and education programs into development orders. The intent is to use a softer approach at getting folks to try a more native approach to landscaping.

  13. There is a distinct difference in what each owner desires…a landscape, or a garden. Each term evokes an entirely different set of mental images, and each individual has a unique set of mental images. The picture and article referenced is an anachronism from another time in which (from Kent Freed's letter above) "a resource-rich time when conservation was not even a consideration", but in addition, good community standing was enhanced by a "well-manicured yard." We are all still shaking off the remnant attitudes of the 60's, but community development ordinances and neighborhood covenants are, sadly, still copied from one version to the next without ever seriously considering what they demand. With the typical american occupied by career demands, and wanting to achieve maximum leisure time out of time off from work, few want to spend an entire Saturday mowing grass, like our fathers did. Laws and covenants will slowly evolve, as will the american aesthetic. But in the meantime, it's probably easier to apologize for your "garden", than ask permission to plant it.

  14. I'm a little late with my comment here; but better late then never. As home owners we can save so much energy here by properly planning your landscape. Deciding where to put wind brakes, deciduous trees and conifers can save you on cooling and heating cost. My backyard with trees in right places is consistently 5 degrees cooler then the parking lot of a nearby school in summer, and 5 degrees warmer in winter.


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