Friday, July 8, 2011

The Case Against the Front Lawn

Why the hell do we grow so much grass anyway?
The American suburban landscape is dominated by homes set far back off the sidewalk, separated by a front yard almost exclusively of grass, an ecologically barren monoculture devoid of flowerbeds or shrubs. (In lush places like Washington, there will be a few azaleas and a handful of trees, of course, but in newer developments even trees are a scarcity). And in most areas, people don't seem to actually hang out or play on their front lawns; often, the only human activity you see is the homeowner or landscaper engaged in noisy and tedious lawn maintenance and mowing.

So why do Americans have such big front lawns?

In most municipalities, builders are actually required to adhere to rigid "setback” requirements and subdivision codes, meaning that residents are stuck with a big front lawn whether they want it or not. According to The Old Urbanist, $40 billion is spent on lawn care each year across 21 million acres of grass — that's the size of Maine, by the way. That's a lot of money for land you never actually use.
In our case, we moved our house even further back and down the hill than the builder had intended and the codes required in order to save a large forked White Oak.  Over the years, we have substantially reduced the amount of lawn in the front.  A front porch platform, an Azalea bed, and the pond area got rid of the lawn immediately adjacent to the front of the house.  Later I built a free stone retaining wall, which produced a flat path in front of the porch and the flower beds, and a set of beds that we have planted with ground covers, mostly Creeping Phlox.

The phlox look really nice for the week in Spring when they bloom.  This photo was taken in 2004; by now the flox have filled in and almost totally covered the area; Georgia finds room for a few annuals at the bottom.

Perhaps this will spur me to start the next step in the front lawn eradication project, another path at the top of this bed, with another bed above that.  As it is, I still have 45 minutes worth of lawn to mow (including the side and back).

Hat tip to Maggie's Farm.

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