Replacing Backyard Grass With Vegetables and Perennials

Stephen Morris suggests you remove your lawn, replacing grass with vegetables and perennials to create renewable resources for your garden.


| December 2001/January 2002


The backyard revolution is coming. Consider replacing grass with vegetables and perennials.

How did we become a nation of manicured, toxic lawns? How did a lowly perennial that imitates a carpet become our dominant ground cover? My personal theory (I make it personal to avoid the rigors of research or fact finding) traces the perfect lawn back to World War II. Our boys returned from the Big One with expectations of peace, prosperity and perfection. This vision included a trophy wife and perfect children nestled in a neat suburban home, surrounded by a flawless lawn with a picket fence. Peace reigned, and since the big enemies — Hitler and Yamamoto — had been vanquished, only crabgrass remained.

Grass is an inoffensive perennial that is minimally decorative, inedible, provides no shade and attracts only the "wildlife" that sustains itself on kegs of beer. It is also overwhelmingly the ground cover of choice in North America. Its virtue is its uniformity: This is the Marine haircut of the plant world.

But why do we grow lawns in regions intended for cactus and Gila monsters? Why are there golf courses in Phoenix? Whose idea of sanity is it to pump fresh water from ancient aquifers so we can make the desert look like a rain forest? And why do we nurture our lawns with water and fertilizers so we can attack it with an arsenal of lawn tractors, weed whackers, bazookas and mortars. On Sunday afternoons, our neighborhoods sound like war zones.

We're living the American Dream, internal combustion style, but the dream has to change. We're using up the oil, using up fresh water; we're putting the waste into the air we breathe. If you want to do something about the situation, take a look at your own back yard. If it's covered with grass, you have an opportunity to take dramatic and effective environmental action by joining the revolution to lose your lawn.

I signed on after reading a delightful manifesto by Toby Hemenway called Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. Permaculture works with the ecosystem to maintain permanent horticulture by relying on renewable resources. Hemenway shows that by treating nature as an ally instead of an enemy, you can create a beautiful, productive, ecological garden in your own backyard. Hemenway takes the teachings of permaculture pioneers David Holmgren and Bill Mollison and makes them accessible to the average person. The result is deceptively simple, beguiling and completely revolutionary. It makes such sense replacing grass with vegetables and perennials you'll never look at lawn care or gardening the same way again.





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