Naturescape gem a ‘yard gone wild’

Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling hasn’t pushed a lawn mower in more than 20 years — his front and back yards are both grass-free zones.

Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling hasn’t pushed a lawn mower in more than 20 years — his front and back yards are both grass-free zones.

Passersby often stop to admire Flewwelling’s front yard on 35th Street. It’s a lush green thicket of junipers and evergreens, set off by striking exclamation points of purple fireweed.

“We get a lot of compliments,” admitted the mayor, a long-time proponent of naturescaping, which appears to be catching on with local homeowners.

Whether folks are getting older and don’t want the labour-intensive hassle of maintaining a lawn, or are starting to balk at the accompanying pesticides and fertilizers and pollution from gas mowers, more Red Deer residents are letting their yards go wild.

And that’s a great thing, according to Flewwelling, who noted the City of Red Deer holds naturescaping contests every year to try to encourage more environmentally friendly outdoor options.

In dry years, grassy lawns need to soak up a lot of water from household sprinklers, defeating the concept of water conservation.

And Flewwelling noted running a gas lawn mower is more polluting than idling a car for the same period because the smaller engines are less efficient.

Naturescaping makes sense in many ways, added the mayor, who spends less than two hours a year on yard maintenance, mostly deadheading perennials and occasionally replacing the odd dead juniper.

He decided after his sons were grown that he didn’t want to be bothered maintaining a lawn that no one used anymore.

That first year, Flewwelling and his wife Hazel replaced the grass on half their front yard with 90 tiny juniper bushes they’d bought at an end-of-season clear-out sale.

They laid down some bark chips and naturally occurring spruce cones and interspersed the junipers with irises, fireweed, and other vertical perennials.

The Flewwellings loved the effect so much, they did the rest of the front yard the next year. “We gave our lawn mower away to a young couple who didn’t have one,” said the Mayor, who never had an issue with his neighbours. In fact, the guy next door asked him to continue planting junipers up to the front walkway of his property.

“There’s no fertilizing, no weeding, watering or lawn mowing required . . . and we enjoy the birds,’ said Flewwelling. His Mountview yard attracts orioles, black-capped boreal chickadees, and red and white breasted nuthatches.

Some city residents, such as Virginia Hays, prefer growing an interesting array of plants instead of a grass mono-culture.

Hays is an avid gardener, who gradually took out her lawn over the past 24 years. She spends from half an hour to one hour a day weeding and dead-heading the impressive collection of perennials, herbs and vegetables in her front yard on 45th Street in Parkvale.

Her reward is seeing something new sprouting almost every day.

“It’s never boring. It’s evolving all the time,” said Hayes, who plants whimsically, with wild garlic, roses, grapes, peonies, potatoes, rhubarb, lilies, cantaloupe, columbine and squash all growing, at some time or other, in her front yard.

“There’s no rhyme or reason. I can always find room for another plant.”

Gardening is therapeutic for Hays. Maintaining grass comes down to controlling it, she said, but having an ad-hoc “lasagna garden,” is about watching how things shape up.

While a former neighbour initially raised an eyebrow over her eclectic front yard plantings, Hays said many more area residents have loved her garden, which has been an instant conversation starter.

“People will ask me, ‘What is the name of this plant?’ or “Can you tell me what this is?’” She’s always happy to oblige.

Sometimes naturescaping becomes nearly a necessity. Sharon Edlund, who lives across from Red Deer’s water tower, was tired of looking at a scraggly lawn that struggled to grow in acidic soil under mature fir trees, so she ripped out the grass. She experimented with a lot of perennials over the years and found daisies, irises and bellflower didn’t mind the conditions. She also had some luck with forsythia and spirea bushes, cranesbill geraniums, columbines and crocuses.

“It’s trial and error . . . and every year I stick in some annuals for colour,” said Edlund. whose neighbours are supportive of her naturescaping. “People will stop at various times of year and have a look.”

Edlund, who spends about half an hour three times a week on her yard, likes that “something’s blooming most of the time.”

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