about this blog

I started this blog in 2008. It started mainly as a way of tracking the evolution of my dry garden, and that led to an interest in photography and in the creatures that live in the garden. It's still about the garden and wildlife, but now my passion is thinking about how we humans can learn to co-exist with wild animals and plants, especially in urban areas.

Friday, 2 September 2011

grass or lawn? that is the question

‘One thing that never goes astray in a lawn maker is a measure of insanity, but the main thing is choosing the right grass species and strain or variety.’ (The Lawn: A Social History, by Peter McInnis)
I used to have a lawn. I never really thought about it  – it was just what you did.  It was for providing a contrast to the garden beds, space to lie on and for children to play on.  I loved the new experience of gardening but somehow never enjoyed maintaining the lawn. I had an aversion to the sound of the lawn mower. Weeding was a pleasure in the garden beds, but an impossible and never-ending task in the lawn.  And there were serious lawn hazards. You had to watch out for dog poo. When you went barefoot you had to be careful not to stand on a bee.
back garden 1980s
back garden about 1987
When I went trekking in the Indian Himalayas I encountered my first alpine meadow, natural grassland maintained by snow, ice, wind, sun, grazing goats and other animals.  It was soft, perfect and lovely, consisting of perennial grasses, sedges, wildflowers and low-lying shrubs. A far cry from the expensive, time consuming mono-cultural thing that is lawn.
Western Himalayan meadow (Wikipedia)
Lawn is a modern phenomenon. Until recently people didn’t have the time, energy, tools and space to make a lawn.  Modern technology, lawn mowers, fertilizers, etc. both provided the opportunity and fed the desire of people to tame and control their piece of land.  Grass has been seen as representing wildness, freedom and anarchism, and lawn representing stultifying tidiness and conformity.
Lawn hasn’t been all bad.  It enabled the rise of the game of croquet and, more recently, golf, tennis, football and other sports. But as the climate changes we realize increasingly that lawn is not environmentally friendly.  Lawn is sterile. It provides no food or shelter for wildlife. It requires lots of water.  I suspect that the growing demand for fake grass is already spawning lucrative business opportunities.
In the 1970s I had a lot of lawn. Over the years, gradually, relentlessly, I dug up the lawn and extended the planting area. Today there is no grass, not even on the nature strip in the street. 


  1. Lawns waste an awful lot of space. However, I like the sound of lawnmowers (though not of strimmers). Lawns may not provide a wonderfully diverse environment but they need not be sterile. Sitting on grass, one notices lots of little creatures hurrying around between the blades. Not that I have a lawn!

  2. Lawns can definitely take a lot of resources. You've done so very well to take all of yours out!

  3. Lawns. Mowed 5 times a week, fed everyday, watered, spiked, weeded and rolled. What else do you to do?

  4. If lawns have to be watered, fertilised,raked etc then they are to my mind , a waste of resources. Here in the UK we are blessed? with plenty of rain, even so lawns go brown in a drought-but they come back green from Sept. onwards. We always allow part of our lawn to grown longer as a spring meadow and the variety of small flowers is amazing because we never use chemicals on it.Other people would say that we have a very weedy lawn,but I say that as long as it is green, then that's fine by me.I would say go with what your climate dictates,not what you see in a different part of the world.
    BTW sorry you have had problems logging onto mt blog-I have told mt son who will hopefully fix it this weekend.

  5. It's funny how some people here think if you say lawn, they're very posh. If you have 'grass' your easy going..haha x

  6. Here in my part of Texas (the suburbs) if we have lawns they are grass - never thought about what to call it. (We say "mow the grass" / "mow the lawn" / "mow the yard" and it means the same thing.) Grass makes all the difference on a hot day. I can stand outside under the trees and the heat isn't radiating up from the bare ground. Also, a picnic on the grass is so much more comfortable. We use natural fertilizers and soil amendments - so if you look closely there are weeds in my yard. We also live with watering restrictions, sometimes it will get a little brown and we never mow more than once a week - thankfully it doesn't grow as fast when it's real hot. Maybe it's the choosing the right plant thing because in winter our St. Augustine grass goes dormant and we have beautiful (?) brownish lawns and no mowing from November to March. Your garden is beautiful. If I ever get a chance to live in the country I would probably borrow your garden design. I enjoy reading your blog.

  7. No more comments about lawns I'm afraid, just signing in a different way to see if that makes a difference for you.

  8. I like your considered writing, Catmint. Lawns can be absolutely beautiful to behold and walk on, but their existence suggests an elimination of nature, a conversion of nature into a lifeless, utilitarian purpose. I love your nature strip, by the way.

  9. I just had a thought that in Kuala Lumpur suburb with terrace housing these days if they don't have time to take care of their lawn. They just cement everything. Which is more a big shame and waste. No more greens. I began to think that unkept lawn with weeds are much better than cement.

  10. I love to see lawn in a garden. Maybe simply because I can't have it. The ex-owner of my house had tiled the whole compound! Lawn makes the garden looks fresh all the time :-D

  11. If I had a little more time for the upkeep, I'd convert more lawn into garden, but there seems to be just enough for me to handle (hubby does lawn, I do garden). My husband is a proponent of lawns - not in a fertilizing/short mowing kind of way (I guess our lawn practically borders on meadow - ha ha!), but he grew up in Florida where the rich people had turf and the "regular" people had dirt and sand instead of grass. He LOVES our grass in Maryland. He doens't indulge in many luxuries - I figure I'd let him have his patch of grass. :)

  12. Dear Lucy, yes lawns may not be sterile, if they're like meadows I guess. But on the subject of liking the sound of lawnmowers - we must agree to disagree!

    Thanks Tina.

    Hi Hermes, thanks for sardonic comment.

    Dear Pauline, climate I suppose is the key. I read recently that England has perfect weather for gardening. We in dry Australia don't.

    Hi Jane, thanks for the comment, interesting different meanings in different cultures.

    thanks for the comment C. Joy, I hope you are OK and not suffering from the terrible bushfires in Texas.

    Hi Faisal, so pleased you love the nature strip. I thought neighbours might copy it but on the whole they stick to their familiar grass.

    dear Diana, I agree lawns are better than cement. People here tend to have cement or paving a lot too. It also keeps the heat in.

    Hi Steph, maybe in time the tiles will develop little cracks where the grass can reappear?

    Hi Wendy, keeping your husband happy is a very good reason for keeping a lawn! (lol)

    cheers, catmint

  13. Hi Catmint I am with you whole heartedly my goal (secretly!) is to get rid of the Lawn ....slowly but surely..... I love what you have done in your garden with the pavers and the granetic sand it looks wonderful. Lawns are so limiting and an awful waste of good soil!!!

  14. To Catmint and her Potter - Chocolat and Aragon say - 'Tiggers HATE Plumbago. It has velcro AND glue!'

  15. Oh and if Esther means a traditional push/reel mower then my mother and I agree with her. A lovely peaceful summer afternoon noise, accompanied by the smell of fresh cut grass.

    NOT the whine and fumes from our assorted neighbours!

  16. Last question - your spring garden opening is when??

  17. CM, What Malay-Kadazan girl says is so very true. So many people here in the UK have removed their front lawns to make way for car parking areas. As you can imagine the environmentalists are objecting strongly to this. However what you have done, giving extra room for planting does seem worthwhile. You have even got me thinking about changing my back garden, helluva work though.

  18. I agree with your opinion on lawns. Most of our yard is landscaped. However, we do have some lawn. I do like having a bit of lawn for kids to play volleyball or badminton. If I had my druthers, however, there would be no lawn.

  19. I so agree and am gradually replacing my lawn with more sustainable plants. I converted a mooshy part of the yard to a "rain garden" and although it hasn't quite absorbed the hurricane surplus, it's been pretty effective at preventing moosh.

  20. thanks Serena - that's what I did - furtively, slowly but surely, gradually, got rid of the lawn.

    Hi Diana, I've just been reading about the idea of aural pollution. I guess it depends on how you feel about the sound and your associations with it. Potter asked me to tell Chocolat and Aragon that she absolutely agrees about plumbago. Potter runs along a plumbago hedge to bark at passersby (how dare they!) and the Australian version is just like the SA one. Garden opening is Oct 22-23 and I'm proud to say (only quaking ever so slightly) that I haven't done anything different, i.e. not filled the gaps with big things but left them in their potentially lovely state that visitors may or may not appreciate.

    Hi Alastair, it is a helluva lot of work, and at this stage (of me and the garden) I don't think I would make dramatic changes.

    TSB, there are disadvantages of getting rid of all the lawn, especially when there are children and / or
    dogs involved.

    Hi JGH, making a rain garden is seriously impressive!

    thanks for the comments dear cyber-friends,
    cheers, catmint


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