The existence of the all-American lawn that we’ve all become so accustomed to — neatly mown, edged at the driveway, 100% weed-free grass — has been creating more and more of a stir as sustainability has become more and more popular. These types of yards, the suburban landscape, are tremendously wasteful of our precious resources, cause pollution problems and serve little practical purpose.
Unfortunately, the most apparent solution, getting back to growing food in gardens at home, hasn’t always been the best received plan. Neighborhoods and city councils often have ordinances that prohibit gardens in the yard, more or less relegating people to having a lawn whether they like it or not. Fortunately, there is another option: an herbal lawn.
For those who want or must have an expanse of shorn greenery as their garden, the new solution is to have one that is mixed and edible, and the good news is that, not only is that entirely possible, but also it’s likely already happening.
Source: Rattan Direct/Flickr
Lawns as Monocultures
The rigmarole that the annual weed-and-feed fertilizer is bestowing upon our homes is the same tragedy happening in large-scale corn and soy fields. Essentially, we are destroying everything but the grass to create yard after yard of monoculture lawns. Then, because this is so out of touch with nature, which pushes towards biodiversity, we are stuck in the expensive and laborious task of maintaining them.
Lawn maintenance, if we follow protocol, is horrible, destructive and extravagant. It involves weekly cutting with a lawnmower, which requires gasoline, oil, and mechanical maintenance, not to mention puffs out unregulated pollution as it runs. We go in for fertilizers to spur on the grass and herbicides to kill the weeds. Then, we have carcinogenic and otherwise toxic weed killers to spray along walkways and driveways and fence lines and homes.
We do all this to have grass, something that voluntarily grows in most places or shouldn’t be where it doesn’t.
Source: Michael Coghlan/Flickr
Lawns as Polycultures
What happens when we let our lawns grow a little wilder, allowing dandelions and plantains and all other sorts of “weeds” to exist, is that we facilitate a polyculture. This polyculture has a mix of different roots systems, flowering cycles, leaves (or blades) and resilience to drought. The polyculture lawn isn’t just one type of plant, which for some reason has been deemed desirable, but a mix of textures, shapes and even colors.
The fact is that, even a largely wild polyculture lawn like this, will have plenty of edible elements to it. Lots of commonly found weeds are edible, nutritious and actually quite tasty. In other words, in a sense, a lawn left to its own devices is a bit of an herbal lawn. Not only does this kind of lawn potentially supply food, but it eliminates the need of fertilizers and herbicides. Plus, pollinators like bees and butterflies are pretty big fans of most weeds.
Polyculture, wild lawns are one path to take. In fact, they are a much better choice than the carefully maintained lawn.
Lawns as Cultivated Herbs
For those looking to press a little further into the potential of this space but not necessarily grow a garden instead of a lawn, cultivating an herbal lawn is a more subtle option. An herbal lawn intentionally combines herbs and grass to create a landscape of cultivated foraging with the appearance of a typically yard. However, once looked at closely, there are interesting plants growing everywhere.
The crux of setting up an herbal lawn is clearing out small patches of grass and replacing those spots with desirable (and potentially edible) herbs, particularly low-growing stuff. Aside from dandelions and plantain, yarrow, mallow and clover are common, edible weeds that can be encouraged. Additionally, more kitchen-familiar items like thyme, Roman chamomile, mints and wild strawberries can be cultivated. As the years go by, the herbs can be encouraged to spread.
They can either be harvested to eat or just enjoyed for color, aroma and all the other fine qualities a mix of plants have.
Making Lemonade of a Lawn
An herbal lawn is a fantastic compromise for those who want to be cultivating food and helping out the bees but are hesitant to (or can’t) build raised beds in their yard. An herbal lawn can potentially provide food, as well as quality animal fodder and improved biodiversity. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a much more economical and ecological way to have a lawn.
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