|What to do with a Lawn|
"You can't learn much from a lawn,
but a garden has a whole world of wonders."
Lawns started out as grazing areas around the manors of the landed gentry. Having a nice lawn around the house was a sign of power as you owned sufficient land to raise sheep and cow.
As the industrial revolution took hold and animals were less a sign of wealth, the lawn itself became the status symbol. You could indulge yourself in sparing land and time to recreational grounds.
As people moved to the cities so did the grass, on ever smaller plots. First lawns were cut by hand and later with the mechanical lawnmower, (an automated, resource depleting, pointless cow.)
The 20th Century saw an explosion of lawn making as commercial interests produced endless grass seed, fertiliser, pesticides, mowers, spreaders and irrigation equipment whilst developers discovered they could pass off cheap ‘gardens’ by spreading 3 inches of soil over hard subsoil and laying turf on top.
Nowerdays, many lawns are rarely used and some are so covered with chemicals children have been permanently injured after walking barefoot on them.
the modern lawn - a waste of resources
Lawns can be made more edible, medicinal, beautiful and nice smelling by adding low growing aromatic herbs and flowers. The plants below have been specially selected because they will tolerate at least infrequent mowings. For best results don’t cut as often or as short as a normal lawn and try to lay off for at least 3 weeks in the summer to let the taller plants flower and set seed. You could try sowing them into small gaps in the grass or better still plant them out. For low maintenance choose plants that will like your local conditions.
Apart from the obvious dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), daisy (Bellis perennis) and plantains (Plantago major, plantago media) which are all excellent in lawns, freely self seed, add variety and can also be eaten once you get past seeing them just as ‘weeds,’ try…
White Clover, Trifolium repens: 10cm H, spreads, adds nitrogen to the soil, attracts bees and butterflies. You can eat the flowers and leaves, (bit fiddly though)
Camomile, Chamaemelum nobile: 15cm H 30cm W, Plants for a future recommend for smell but not for medicine, (no flowers), a cultivar called ‘Treneague’ which is low growing, spreads and will succeed if the grass is cut low and often, however you'll have to find a cutting, there are no seeds.
Wild thyme, Thymus serpyllum: 10cm H 30cm W Forms spreading clumps, pink flowers attract bees in summer, drought tolerant, needs sun. High in antioxidants and an essential kitchen herb.
Lemon thyme, Thymus x citiodorus: 10cm H 30cm W. Likes light well drained soil and full sun, can be planted by division.
Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara: 25cm H, spreads invasively. Tolerates shade, does well in all soils, flowers edible mar-apr, leaves appear afterwards, used for treatment of respiratory problems.
Hawkbit, Leontodon hispidus: 40cm H 30cm W. Similar to dandelion,
prefers chalky soil, flowers all summer, attracts bees & butterflies,
edible leaves most of the year.
| Salad burnet,
Sanguisorba minor: 55cm H 30cm W. Prefers chalky soil and slightly
longer grass, flowers May-Aug and provides edible young leaves all year
Self Heal, Prunella vulgaris: 15cm H spreading to form clumps 30cm W. Prefers moist soil, tolerates low cutting and shade, flowers mid to late summer, attracts bees & butterflies, eaten in salads and an healing herb for cuts and wounds.
Achillea millefolium: upto 60cm H spreads, hardy, drought resistant,
good in poor soils, and a very useful medicinal herb.
the time between mowings you can also grow taller plants such as bulbs.
Planted surreptitiously they are a nice surprise. All below are edible
and most spread naturally. It is advisable to plant bulbs of similar flowering
times together to make any lawn maintenance more straightforward.
| Dog's Tooth Violet,
Erythronium den-canis: 15cm H 10cm W. appears in spring for a few
months each year. bulbs edible raw or cooked, also try E. revoltum
'pagoda' for a bigger, version.
Tassel Hyacinth, Muscari botryoides: 40cm H clumps 20cm W. Easy to grow, does well in short grass, almost invasive, 3.5cm bulbs edible, but a little bitter.
Or for beauty, there are many other bulbs, such as daffodils, bluebells, crocus etc that can be planted into the lawn.
Perhaps you could turn some of your lawn into a ‘wildflower meadow’.
This will attract butterflies and insects as well as bringing nature a
bit closer to home. Choose a sunny position on poor soil to get the most
flowers. Mow only after the seeds have set (around August) and remove
the clippings to keep fertility low.
Many pesticides have never been adequately tested for toxicity to humans
or wildlife. According to the National Coalition Against the Misuse of
Pesticides, 13 of the most commonly used lawn care pesticides can cause
cancer, 14 can cause birth defects, 21 can damage the nervous system,
15 can injure the liver or kidney, and 30 are sensitizers or irritants.
 The pesticide MCPA, used as an ingredient is some
lawn pesticides, has been found to damage the blood brain barrier which
protects against neurological illness. Organophosphate
pesticides have been shown to cause memory loss and short attention spans.
Other studies have linked long term pesticide use with prostate,
brain and lung cancer. It is estimated that each year
in the US, 67 million birds are poisoned by legally used pesticides.
Pesticides are often misused especially by homeowners, increasing the
 The Pesticide Scandal, Sayan, Kathyrne, Family Circle 2 April 1991.
 Redesigning the American Lawn, F. Herbert Bormann, Diana Balmori, Gordon T. Geballe, Yale University Press, 1993
 Spring, 1997 edition of The Arlington Environment, Volume Four, Number Four
 Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 65:23, 1982
 Annual Reviews in Public Health, 7:461, 1986
 Occupational Environmental Medicine, 56(1):14-21, 1999
 Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 71(1), July 1983
 Permaculture a designers manual, Bill Mollison, Tagari publications, 1988.
 Plants for a future- edible and useful plants for a healthier world, Ken Fern, Permanent publications, 1997.