by Joshua Burman Thayer
For the many of us who are not avid yogis, baseball players or picnickers, lawns offer diminishing returns. Getting up on saturdays to push the mower back and forth in a sweat is a common frustration. Even worse, waking to hear your neighbor do so. Or perhaps you hire a company to mow while you are away at the office. None of these mowing options are an optimal use of one’s free time or arable land. This “maintenance” also thwarts the natural succession of seedlings taking sprout in your garden. Our lawns require vast amounts of this continent’s labor hours and resources to maintain; cultural baggage we pay for dearly.
Lawns have a legacy that has endured throughout the last several hundred years. With them come the status symbol of having the castle to lord over a controlled and immaculate estate. A safe clearing in the mind out of the mire and away from the threats of the jungle. “That’s not why I have a lawn,” you might find your self saying? Perhaps not consciously, but implicit in a home full of lawn is the wealth to hire laborers or grazing animals to keep the ever-infringing forest at bay. Making one’s home a sanctuary is a lovely goal and for this lawns have their place. There is that great feeling of sitting atop a wet lush lawn on a one hundred degree summer day. That said, now is a great time to begin to inventory what exactly it is that a lawn has done for you lately. Might you be able to earmark a corner of the lawn and begin experimenting with what edible crops grow well in your place?
The United States spends over $26 billion per year on lawns. This does not include the vast sums spent on mowing our nations 4,273,876 miles highways; every mile of which general had two grassy roadsides. For today’s post, lets stick to residential lawns. An average Joe might spend one hundred dollars per month to have a landscape company maintain his lawn. That is twelve hundred dollars per year spent not to enhance his garden, merely to maintain his lawn. There lies an opportunity to reallocate how we spend money regarding the area that surrounds our homes.
Lawns expensive and time consuming. They also are insatiably thirsty. According to the Los Angeles municipal water district, the average lawn requires the equivalent of 84 inches of rain per year. For much of the nation, that exceeds what nature brings. In drier areas such as California, where I reside, that disparity is striking. Dry brown hills surround green oasis’ of lawns in the urban areas. Go ahead and google earth search a California golf course to get a vivid image of this. The average Californian uses up to 130 gallons of water per day, of which half goes to the garden outside. We may not be able to shut down the golf courses, but we can control what we do in the areas that surround our homes. The first step in transforming your space is to discontinue watering your thirsty lawn; hence, “Brown is the new green.”
Curtail your lawn’s irrigation and stop mowing and as you prepare for the next phase of your soon-to-be garden, watch as it slowly transforms. Perhaps it will wither and begin to die back, or perhaps in wetter areas new species will begin to sprout within this new window of opportunity. “Too daunting”, you might exclaim? Then you can start by earmarking a corner of the lawn and begin experimenting with what edible crops grow well in your place.
You can begin to prepare for the next incarnation of your lawn as an edible space by taking stock of crops you see doing well in your area.
Joshua Burman Thayer is a Permaculture Designer and Horticultural Consultant based in the Bay Area. He has designed over fifty ecologically appropriate gardens in homes around the Bay with his company Native Sun Gardens and now runs 5 gardens on rooftops in downtown San Francisco, California.