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I used to have a visceral response to lush spring grass; it gave me anxiety because I knew it was time to get on the Scag and start mowing (and usually the Scag would not start coming out of winter storage.) This year, I see the grass in a different way because it is potential pasture for the growing herd of sheep. We use moveable, electrified fence and rotational grazing methods to keep the pasture and the herd healthy so the more grass I have the better. It is a liberating feeling not worrying about getting the grass mowed.
Sheep are not for everyone, of course but you can rethink your lawn options in a variety of ways so you, too, can be liberated from the lawn. The best looking yard on the block doesn’t necessarily mean your yard needs to be all green lawn. Consider, instead, some creative alternatives and realize that doing a little each year to achieve the goal may be the most practical approach. It is easier on the pocket book and on the back!
Turning the suburban green into a mixed garden is the most obvious. Each year you can take measures to reduce lawn while expanding a shrub and perennial border. Edging out what already exists by a couple of feet each year is probably the easiest way to do it. You can take a spade and skim the turf out (throw it on the compost pile and chop it up a bit with the same spade) and add additional plants with an emphasis on variety including groundcovers, herbaceous perennials, shrubs and small trees. Also note the ideal location for a new path and sitting area.
I think planning on some aggregate patio area (at ground level) is an important part to the overall plan because once it is done you want a welcoming area for you to sit and enjoy the rest of the garden. Using a material that compliments your home architecture is ideal. Flagstone, creek rock, river gravel, pea gravel and brick are a few options. Woodchips and other organic mulching material works, too, it all depends on what kind of look you want.
If you like a less formal garden the working with native plants may be the best bet. A front yard full of tall warm season grasses like switch grass and big blue stem is way more interesting than two inches of fescue, plus the native grasses only need to be cut once a year. Mix in native wildflowers like various species of Echinacea, liatris, aster, eupatorium, solidago, etc. and you have a mini-prairie that needs little attention once established. The native prairie plants are drought tolerant, pest resistant and need cutting back only once a year.
Vegetables have long been relegated to the back yard but if your only sunny spot is in the front why not a vegetable plot for some curbside appeal? The vegetable garden doesn’t have to look like a big plowed up area with long boring crop rows. Be creative, the vegetable garden can be beautiful and bountiful all at the same time. Design your beds in geometric shapes that fit together with walking paths between. Use boxwood or edible shrubs like blueberries to define the outside border of the garden; add interesting trellising, bamboo poles, fountains or containers for focal points. Use annuals like zinnias and cosmos, perennials like peonies and daylilies and herbs like rosemary and thyme to provide for seasonal interest both edible and ornamental. I the winter you front vegetable patch can be planted with green manure (a cover crop like rye or vetch) which will improve the soil, reduce weeds and be of winter interest. A few fruit trees at the perimeter, some blackberry brambles and an asparagus patch can be as attractive as ornamental grasses or a red twig dogwood any winter day.
(Jeneen Wiche is an avid gardener from Shelbyville. She can be reached at Jwiche@shelbybb.net. or at www.SwallowRailFarm.com)