Lawn and Landscaping: make it more Sustainable and Diverse

I’m not a fan of lawns and resent using my nasty, smelly petrol mower. Others, it seems, have similar views. CASSE has tackled the issue recently and, in an article here, widens the discussion to cover urban landscaping, presenting some horrendous-looking statistics from the USA. There may be some useful links within the article, too.

I’d be interested in your view, Gayle.

Separately, I now feel more vindicated in disliking lawn: research at the University of Sheffield found that urban gardens are a huge reserve for biodiversity and the things we can do most easily to improve our gardens are:

  • Reduce use of pesticides and other chemicals;
  • Make the garden higher! Less lawn and more tall bushes and trees create new niches for a wider range of species. The biodiversity is related to the volume rather than the area of our gardens.

To see this in practice, Chelsea Physic Garden in central London provides a wonderful example of a multi-storey garden. Specimen trees have specimen bushes below them. The bushes have low-growing plants and bulbs beneath them. And they’re all beautifully labelled and explained. Oh, to have the time and the knowledge! Worth a visit.

David

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5 Responses to Lawn and Landscaping: make it more Sustainable and Diverse

  1. davidhepper says:

    I agree that mowers are emitters since they run on fossil fuels but lawn is not much of a carbon sink if the grass and other plants are decomposing, whether in place or on a compost heap. Only if you were constantly removing grass and piling it up somewhere as a sort of perma-bale would it become a sink.
    Wooden houses are perhaps the best carbon sink, short of esoteric carbon-capture technologies, though timber trees might not be appropriate for all domestic gardens. Structural timbers and cladding lock up carbon in the wood and avoid the need for more-polluting alternative building materials such as breeze blocks and bricks.

  2. davidhepper says:

    Hmm. How is a lawn a carbon sink?
    David

    • finnjackson says:

      Grass grows, takes carbon out of the atmosphere, = carbon sink.
      Livestock come along and eat the grass, = carbon sink (See “The Carbon Fields” by Graham Harvey.)
      Motor/electric mower comes along and cuts grass and generates CO2 to do so, = not carbon sink.
      (Or did I not understand the question?)
      Best,
      F>

  3. Gayle says:

    The layered garden approach as seen in Chelsea Physic Garden and proposed by the permaculture folk is simply ‘good design’. Anything flat is dull, one dimensional, bad for bio-diversity and somewhat boring. Nature naturally fills available vertical space, developing a varied structure that is good to look at (from a human perspective), is bio-diverse and therefore strong from an ecological point of view. As Darwin so aptly put it, diversity builds stability (of populations: of people, plants, animals and indeed the complex relationships between each and every one of us)

    However, lawns are a great carbon sink so work well from a combating climate change point of view. As photosynthesing plants they even produce valuable oxygen for us. However, the act of mowing the lawn, adding fertiliser, pesticide, blowing leaves off or sucking them up will negate the benefits. Have a look at http://www.greenfudge.org/2010/01/23/lawn-care-bad-for-the-environment/

    In combination with other design elements, that is mixed garden beds of flowering shrubs and trees, timber seats etc lawns are a useful addition to a garden. We value their smooth space for informal picnics and ball games.

    As always though, the form of the lawn must allow for its function. The back lawn is kept to a uniform height (we cut it high to reduce moisture loss in summer, lower to assist evaporation in winter) for family ball games. It is planted with a sturdy mix species of grass that is drought resistant and hardwearing. Our front lawn is not used for ballgames and therefore can be more ‘interesting’. We have left an area of unmown grass, planted with wildflower seeds, in a distinctive pattern within the lawn. It means we have a smaller area to mow (good), it provides a useful food-source for birds and insects (good), provides shelter for small mammals and insects (good), it looks great alongside and from above – looking out the upstairs windows is particularly colourful and lends a 3D dynamism to an otherwise flat space (very good) , it gives the neighbours something to aspire to (got to be a good thing!!)

    As with most things in life there are good point and bad points for lawns. Moderation in all things will take you a long way towards living a sustainable lifestyle, more in harmony with Nature. So break out the hand mower, throw away your gym membership and enjoy your little slice of heaven at home on the green…

  4. finnjackson says:

    I quite liked lawn when I had some chickens to eat it — they kept the grass short and converted it into yummy eggs. But I know what you mean.

    (Historically, I think lawns were only for rich people to show off that they could afford to leave the land idle, and pay someone to cut it.)

    And I entirely agree your point about it’s the VOLUME of the garden. My permaculture course taught me to see the world in terms of seven(!) layers: 1) Tall trees, canopy
    2) Short shade tolerant trees
    3) Shrub level
    4) Herbaceous plants / herbs
    5) Plants that spread horizontally along the ground
    6) Rhizosphere / roots
    7) Climbers and creepers

    The ideal ‘forest garden’ maximises yields by having plants from all seven layers present — not just the ground-creeping grasses.

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