Lawns are what the gardener makes of them

Thinking that we should just flood everything and skate for the next six months Lawns are what the gardener makes of them. Originally lawns were hay fields that provided greenery around formal gardens that were cut with a scythe a couple times of year.

Thinking that we should just flood everything and skate for the next six months

Lawns are what the gardener makes of them. Originally lawns were hay fields that provided greenery around formal gardens that were cut with a scythe a couple times of year. Like most hay fields they contained a variety of plants including flowers. Lawns as we know them today, a lush green monoculture, evolved with the introduction of mowers, sod, chemicals and suburbia.

There isn’t any doubt that a dark, well manicured, weed free lawn enhances other plantings in the yard. It gives the area a rich, cool feel. A sheet of Kentucky Blue Grass is not the only groundcover available.

There are other looks that are equally attractive, like the lawn they have to be well maintained.

Xeriscaping which totes itself as an environmentally friendly alternative to the traditional lawn uses little water. Drought tolerant shrubs, perennials and decorative grasses are arranged in beds adding color, shape and texture while softening the look of plain mulch that covers the area that would be traditional grass. Plants must be watered regularly until the plants are established then the garden becomes low maintenance.

Low growing perennial plants, can be used in place of grass. It is a technique often used in areas where grass will not grow or it is not easy to mow. Mass plantings are the most effective. It is recommended that plants that creep be placed at 8 to 12 inch (20 – 30 cm) intervals while clump forming plants be spaced to allow leaves to touch at maturity. The planted area must be weeded and watered regularly until the plants become established.

When one comes across a meadow of wildflowers it is breathtaking. Duplicating it takes time and effort. Ignore the wildflower mixes. The annuals and a few perennials within the mixes will germinate easily the first year. Most perennial seeds need specific conditions to germinate. This could be a require one or more of the following: a period that is cool and wet, fire, darkness, light or a number of intervals of freezing and thawing. It is impossible to provide the correct conditions for all the seeds within a mix. The result is too many of one type of plant or worse seeds for plants that are considered weeds.

It is best to develop a wild flower meadow by planning and purchasing individual plants and planting them according to their needs. Like all other plantings they will need to be weeded and watered until the plants are established.

For those that want to know where their food comes from, a vegetable garden is a good alternative. It won’t be the first time a vegetable garden replaced a lawn. It was a common occurrence in Great Britain during the world wars when food was scarce. Vegetable gardens between the road and house were also prevalent on prairie homesteads. Shapes of the beds, placement of plants and materials used can make the difference between a utilitarian vegetable garden and an attractive one that begs to be explored.

Low, slow growing grass is an alternative to what is considered a typical lawn. The grass in these mixtures is a combination of different Fescues as opposed to Kentucky Blue grass. Fescues are a fines bladed grass that can be allowed to grow taller without adverse effects. Longer tops relate to longer roots making it more drought tolerant. Allow the fescues to grow to about 10 inches, (25 cm) before cutting back to about 8 inches (20 cm). Never cut it as short as a typical lawn grass. This variety of grass seed is not available as sod. Plant as one would a regular lawn, weed and water until it is well-established. This grass is not suitable for playing fields as it will not survive heavy traffic.

Whichever one chooses, lawn, groundcover or mulch, wildflowers, the key to the area looking good is maintenance.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House.

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