Something amazing has happened. I no longer loathe my lawn.
For nearly ten years, I have hated my lawn, and muttered curses at the landscaper who insisted that, “with small kids, grass really is the easiest thing to maintain,” before hydroseeding everything in sight.
Lies, damn lies.
I am no shirker. In fact, I like physical work. I haul heavy things, move rocks, rake compost, pull weeds, build trellises and garden beds, muck out chicken coops and horse stalls for the manure – all without complaint. I can deal with all manner of wiggly, creepy, bug-like creatures without shrieking, and I never, ever worry about my non-existent manicure. I am not, in a word, a girly-girl.
But I just don’t do mowing. Put a gas-powered mower in front of me and I totally pull the gender card. “Um, honey? Maybe you should mow…sorry, that’s a guy chore.”
This is of course ridiculous. There is nothing sex-specific about the ability to cut grass. You know who mowed the family lawn when I was growing up? My mom.
But it’s the whole pull-start engine thing. I don’t like any machine that requires a bent-over row to start. I might possibly picture rocks flying out of the lawn mower at high speed at my child’s head. I might possibly be a little scared of the whole contraption. Maybe. But if you say so, I’ll deny it.
Whatever. This is the only thing I “pull girl” on, and I’ve made my peace with it. Many years ago, I made my unwillingness to use our perfectly good gas rotary mower known to my husband. In those days he was routinely working from 6 am until 11 pm, and he made equally known his unwillingness to spend any of the precious non-work hours he had doing anything except spending time with his wife and then young daughter.
And so we perma-lent the gas mower to friends and hired a yard service, and for well over half of the ten years that I’ve hated my lawn, a hired someone else has been mowing it. Every year, the lawn shrank and the garden grew, and the yard service people had a little less to do. Periodically I would call up and renegotiate my monthly rate because, well, the job was literally shrinking every fall and spring.
I’ve been laying in my plan for ditching the lawn service completely for awhile now. I thought the solution to the lawn service dilemma was a push mower, which did not intimidate me at all, but I wanted to try out push reel mowers before making the big plunge. I put out a plea on Freecycle for a push mower. A nice older lady happily gave me a gorgeous and, as far as I could tell, barely used mower that cuts like a dream. I ran it through the paces once or twice and was sold on the concept.
Push mowers are fun! And easy! And not scary or noisy or gross smelling! This was clearly the lawn answer I’d been waiting my whole life for.
But then I totaled my car, had eye surgery and couldn’t see for several months. The second half of 2012 became like lost time. Plan delayed. Lawn guys kept. Life on triage.
Until a few months ago. In one big final cover up, Homebrew Husband and I smothered a big stretch of useless, hard-to-mow, sidewalk-adjacent lawn with cardboad and woodchips.
And in doing so, we reduced all the lawn on our property to this. One smooth, unbroken bean-shape of grass. That’s it. All the lawn in this picture is all the lawn we have. It’s about one-fifth of what we started with nearly ten years ago, maybe less.
To put it in perspective, the main lawn used to stretch in a wide ribbon to the cedar hedge way, way in the back of this photo. The shed, greenhouse, chicken coop, hugelkultur beds, etc. – that was all grass originally. And then there were vast islands of grass elsewhere on our property that did nothing except piss me off.
Now, there are no weird hard angles to manage, no slopes, no stupid little fjords of grass that need special back-and-fill mower negotiation. It’s simple to mow. It’s big enough for kids and chickens and projects but small enough for me to push-mow while my son plays near me. No rock-brainings possible.
Our lawn is, finally, after a decade of chipping away at it, right-sized. So I made the call and let the lawn service go, which saves us some serious cash every month.
And in paring the grass back to just what makes since for our family, I’ve found myself really - shockingly - appreciating this patch of turf. Which doesn’t mean we’ve gone all putting-green fussy about our lawn. There are weeds mixed in with the grass and we won’t win any Home & Garden awards in summer when we let the lawn brown out instead of watering it.
But I love this little round of lawn now. It feels just right.
Turfgrass is usually portrayed in our community as the enemy of productive space, and I get why. I remember every single reason I hated my huge swath of stupid, useless, pain-in-the-ass grass. But now that my own personal lawn is right-sized for our life, I find there are very justifiable functional reasons to have a patch of grass.
Awesome, Functional Things About A Right-Sized Lawn
- Chickens grazing – better quality eggs and lower feed costs. (Plus chickens “pay it back” to the grass with manure that eliminates the need for supplemental fertilizer.)
- Kids running and climbing – happy kids within earshot means more time for gardening.
- Backyard Picnics – keeps dinner messes outside, cuts down on clean up time inside.
- Reading on the grass in the sunshine – keeps the need for therapy at bay!
- Space to assemble – roll out concrete mesh, put together new raised beds, hang plastic cloching material or row cover fabric up to dry before storage, etc.
How Much Is Enough?
So how can you know how much lawn is right for your family? Well, if you are like me, just keep making it smaller until the hatred goes away and then you’ll know you are at the right size.
But if you are in a planning mode, a few things to consider:
- All manner of creatures like a glade. Your lawn can be like your home’s glade. Try to figure out how large a glade your creatures will really benefit from. Are any of the following creatures members of your household: kids, dogs, chickens, other animals? If so, maintaining a slightly larger lawn might be worth it to you.
- Site considerations: slope, shade and boggy-soil are the enemies of a healthy, easy-to-maintain lawn. Why fight to grow a lawn on a shaded North-facing slope that never truly dries out? Find a more appropriate groundcover. Maybe try Sweet Woodruff instead.
- Construction considerations: if you do a lot of productive garden projects, like we do, having a flat level patch of ground for building, assembling, etc. can be invaluable. We find it’s easier to build our raised-bed boxes on the lawn and then just carry them into the garden area than to attempt to build in the more confined space of the garden.
- If you live in urbia or suburbia, there is really no excuse to have a lawn so large it requires a mini-tractor to mow. I might go so far as to say there’s no excuse to have a lawn so large it requires anything other than a manual push-mower. If you live in the country, your grass can be as large as your flock of sheep need.
So, for the first time in about a decade my goal is not to kill more lawn this fall. Amazing!
How much lawn do you have? Does it help or hinder your garden goals?