Mindful Landscaping

By Jennifer Ruston, ASPB Conviron Scholar

Why do we have lawns?

The American dream in the 1950’s—a suburban home, 2 children, a white picket fence and a lawn. A lawn with crisp lines indicating the latest mowing pattern. A lawn the perfect shade of green. A lawn that has been catered to and cared for. But what is the purpose? What does a lawn really mean? Those green blades show something more—a status of wealth. Post WWII, a lawn was a clear indication of land, more importantly, the land that one was now able to own after returning from the war. Ownership and consumerism swept across America and became the catalysts of the housing boom in the 50’s. Homes were rapidly built to meet the new needs of Americans. Identical and perfectly aligned into rows, these homes created the suburbs. A giant lawn was a trend first seen during this era, but, the status symbol of a lawn stuck around. Today, a suburban home and middle class go hand and hand—meaning a lawn comes along with it. But, as we move away from needing to show that we can own land—why is a lawn actually needed?

A “lawn” can also be referred to as grass or turf. A lawn is normally a monoculture, meaning it only contains one species. The species varies according to region, but turf is generally Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, Bermuda grass…and the list goes on. Depending on cool or warm season, drought or rain, a grass can be chosen appropriately. But this monoculture of grass that looks lush and alive, actually provides no habitat for life to live. A monoculture is at great risk for pathogens, pests, and other abiotic factors—often resulting in brown spots! Homeowners see brown spots and get concerned for their lawn and prestige, often resulting in fertilizers, pesticides and water—using time and resources. So, where is the efficiency when it comes to maintaining a lawn? What if we “lost the lawn”?

Mindful landscaping can help fix those issues. Not only can a lawn turn into a beautiful landscape, but it can also provide countless benefits. Turning a lawn into a garden full of native plants fit for the natural climate will save homeowners money and resources. Dry climates in states such as Colorado, California and Nevada struggle to maintain lawns and waste water as a result. But, Xeriscaping is a way to fix this issue. By definition Xeriscaping is “the practice of designing a landscape to reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. The city of fort Collins in Colorado promotes information and several principles to promote xeriscaping to increase the efficiency of the city. Many homeowners take on this landscape design, proving that educating the community is key.

On the other hand, landscapes in climates that have the opposite issue of flooding, could implement rain gardens. Rain gardens provide livable ecosystems that absorb excess water. The concrete jungle we call America no longer has the roots (literally) to absorb the water along the east coast. Native plants create a landscape that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional. Rain gardens promote pollinators and diversity. Creating a diverseecosystem in the landscape will have benefits beyond the backyard. To spread this awareness, the United States Environmental Protection Agency promotes rain gardens and “green infrastructure”.

The EPA, the City of Fort Collins and other organizations acknowledge that mindful landscaping can be easy and cost effective. The goal of these websites is to educate the community to show that both xeriscaping and rain gardens are beneficial for the community and environment.

Without lawns, we can help change the world.