Urban Gardens

Lawn is a disastrous choice for the planet.  It is not the natural order of things.  It uses precious resources like gasoline and water and the maintenance of a lawn often requires a lot of chemicals, pesticides and combustion engine lawn mowing and weed-eating and the planet really needs a break from this combination.

Here is how you change from a lawn to an urban garden.

Want to save the planet? Where should we start? Let’s start at our doorstep!

You can make some decisions as soon as you open your door that can lessen your impact on the planet. Stop mowing the lawn. Let’s think about the options.

The Great American Lawn A lot of folks want or have a yard that looks like the one above. It’s a monoculture environment that is usually maintained with a significant amount of chemicals and a lot of internal combustion. It doesn’t have to be that way, but that is the most common American approach.

It’s important to realize that your typical 4 horsepower lawnmower is a huge polluter compared to even the automobiles most of us drive every day.




The EPA estimates that gardners and lawn workers spill 17 million gallons of gasoline each year. That’s more petro gallons than the Exxon Valdez spilled in Prince William Sound. Of course it gets splashed all around instead of concentrated in one place so maybe it’s ok. And maybe not. I have a concern that long term and ubiquitous exposure to volatile chemicals may not be good for lots of God’s creatures.

If you want a lawn that looks the one above and you want to walk lightly on the earth, then here are a couple links for information and material support on maintaining a truly “green” lawn.

But there are some much healthier options than the lawn pictured above. Healthier in every way. Lawn and yard as ecosystem to a multitude of plants, insects, animals that coexist in the way that plants, animals, and insects have developed to coexist over millenia of evolution. Or “as God intelligently created these beings to coexist” for those of us with more dogma and structure than intuition and intelligence.

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Forget the Lawn, let’s create an Urban Oasis.

Since most of us start with a lawn of some sort, either manicured (or semi-manicured) and often simply too much work to keep up with, or an overgrown memory of lawns past that is an eyesore and starting to raise questions regarding public nuisance laws, let’s start with a discussion of what to do with a lawn.

Lawn-type grass is a survivor. You can douse it with chemicals, you can chop it, mow it, pummel it and it’s going to come back. Pretty amazing stuff. So, if you have a lawn and you want an urban oasis, one of the options is to cut and dig out the lawn, down to the sod and below. If you are young, have a lot of time on your hands, a good back, a place to dispose of sod, a truck to haul away the sod, then this approach is for you. This is some pretty heavy work. It takes a good back. Lots of exercise which is good. Another downside is that you are likely to be removing some of your best topsoil along with the sod.

Revenge of the Lawn, Part II

So, more on sod removal. It’s just not easy to do. You can dig it it out with shovel and wheelbarrow.

Here’s another approach:  machinery and hired help.

This is a pretty petro-centered approach. A fair amount of expense and definitely not a small foot-print approach.

We did not want to go this way because we have very little top soil on top of a pretty poor clay soil base and the idea of removing most of the good top soil did not make sense so we looked for another way.

We went to an evening workshop at Fertile Ground a couple of months ago and an Evergreen grad Marisha Auerbach showed a pretty convincing power point slide show about her approach. Here is Marisha and her dog. More of Marisha’s ideas are available on her website, which is Herb’n Wisdom. She’s great and we are indebted to her for her ideas that we are implementing.

We started with the really tall grass in the back. The mowed lawn belongs to the neighbors who mow it several times each year and otherwise try to leave it alone. So our grass in this area is about knee-high.

One thing that is interesting to observe when you stop mowing the lawn is that the grass soon passes beyond a stage where dandelions thrive. When you mow fairly often dandelions have a pretty good chance of out-growing the lawn, flowering and going to seed, but if you let the lawn go, it soons overtakes dandelions and chokes them out. So, you don’t really need to worry about dandelions as a long term problem when you retire your lawnmower. The dandelion’s moment in the sun is relatively short-lived.

So starting with a run away lawn, here is the next step. Gather some cardboard. Lay it down right on top of the lawn. use several layers of cardboard and walk it down flat.

Marisha believes the fiber in the carboard will enhance the development of crucial soil fungus that breaks down biological material and creates topsoil. It’s also a means of recycling old cardboard and it presumably sequesters the carbon tied up in the cardboard which is converted to carbon dioxide if you burn the cardboard to get rid of it.

Once you have the cardboard layered down, you are ready for step two: lay a couple of inches of organic material on top of the cardboard. We opted for a couple inches of composted chip and bark material. It’s probably going to help mediate the clay soil base material. 

Here is Haden filling buckets with the composted material.  Pretty easy stuff to work with, nice and light. Then dump the buckets, spread and then we are covering with more a layer of straw.  I am not sure about the straw, but Marylea has a feeling that it is going to work well, so we are trying that.

Here are a few more pictures of the lawn retirement procedure.  

Marisha says this step is now complete and you sit back and wait six months for the lawn and cardboard and organic material to do their thing.  I think there is some work that can be done in the area during the six month wait, but more on that later.


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