Gardening

How Your Garden Helps the Planet: Lawns

It surrounds our homes and buildings, lines our roads and sidewalks, and covers our parks. But have you ever wondered why or how we ended up with a flat green mat covering the dirt in our outdoor spaces?

I hadn’t really thought much about it until watching the movie Biggest Little Farm. In the film, the plot that is eventually transformed into lush, productive land teeming with life begins as a former monoculture farm operation that has sapped the life and energy from the soil. It was inspiring to see what could be done, made me wonder what could be achieved on my little bit of land, and also made me question why we cover all of our potentially productive soil in a layer of unproductive grass!

Why do we even have lawns made of grass?

According to medium.com, “lawns were mostly limited to the wealthy upper classes of medieval Europe. Nobility were the only ones who could afford to set aside and maintain land that didn’t produce food or contribute to their livelihood in any way.” Additionally, “the grass had to be cut by hand, using a scythe or shears” which had to be done through hired labour and so was very expensive – that is, until the lawnmower was invented. It was then than lawns became accessible to more people and so the practice having lawns spread.

Why is grass not ideal?

In order to maintain our lawns, we perform a number of tasks that are harmful to the environment, including:

  • Applying synthetic fertilizers
  • Spraying pesticides which can harm pollinators
  • Running lawnmowers and other landscaping equipment that contribute to carbon emissions
  • Spilling gasoline when refilling equipment
  • Regular watering

Better alternatives

According to the David Suzuki Foundation, converting just one-quarter of each lawn in Canada would equal around 14,400 hectares – about 25,000 football fields – of habitat for pollinators! Reducing the amount of space that lawns occupy would also:

  • Reduce water usage particularly through the summer when resources can be scarce
  • Allow more space to grow your own food
  • Capture rainwater which in turn may reducing flooding events
  • Less time spent on maintaining your lawn as many alternatives require little maintenance

What you can do!

I have tried a number of methods to reduce the impact of our lawn, expand our food production capacity, and encourage pollinators to visit and there are many cost effective, scalable options to achieve these objectives!

Make your garden beds bigger, or add new garden beds while reducing lawn to be mowed: last year we took an unused corner of our yard and, using Hugelkultur principles, some stones from our property, and tree branches we created a vegetable garden in our front yard. We successfully grew sunflowers, beans, and brussels sprouts in the new garden bed last year!

Create community gardens

If you live in shared spaces such as a condo or townhouse, consider if it may be possible to convert unused areas to community gardens to be allocated among residents.

Change grass for alternatives that don’t require mowing

Did you know that there are options instead of regular grass? Westcoast Seeds (and I’m sure many others!) offer several suggestions for those wishing to convert their grass while retaining green space. Or there’s always the option to not mow and let it grow!

Lobby your city

The City of Vancouver allows residents to create gardens in spaces outside their lots, on boulevards, along sidewalks, around boulevard trees. Maybe this is something that could work in your city too!

Have you ever considered making the green spaces around you more productive?

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26 Comments

  • Lisa's Notebook

    We have a LOT of grass on our lawn and in our orchard but we try to leave patches to grow wild where we can. Since we got our wildlife pond, we have less lawn and we’re looking at re-turfing some areas with wildflower turf. Interesting what you say about lawns traditionally being for the wealthy, who could afford help to maintain them! πŸ™‚

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Wildflower turf sounds like a great idea! That’s awesome you let some areas grow wild too πŸ™‚

      • GWT

        Haha! When it comes to gardens, I want as little as possible to do. Doesn’t mean I don’t admire others. Left up to me I’d swap green for grey.

        However, I was in a training (something to do with hazards, risks, environments) years ago where it was highlighted that the paving over of our green contributes flash floods. There’s no ground to soak it up, so it runs off. That added to the runoff from all the other concreted over gardens…

        So I thought I’d do my bit!

        • A Sustainably Simple Life

          That’s awesome that you’re doing your part even though it isn’t your ideal. That makes a lot of sense with paving contributing to flash floods.

      • Cristina Rosano

        This was such an interesting read and I will add the documentary to my watch list for sure! I never thought about lawn this way and now thinking about it, it does make sense! We don’t have a garden but at home we have some bee friendly plants just outside, it’s not much but I guess it’s better than nothing x

        • A Sustainably Simple Life

          That’s so awesome that you have bee friendly plants! It really does help and make a difference! πŸ™‚

  • Kalin

    This is so interesting! I never really thought about grass or it’s purpose, and it really requires so much energy to maintain. Thanks for sharing!

  • Mandy Chan

    Very good suggestions! Save water by reducing the lawn! I particularly like the community garden idea! I live in an apartment and would really appreciate an easily accessible garden!

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      It would be so amazing if apartments all had community gardens, wouldn’t it?! So many environmental and community benefits. Maybe one day πŸ™‚

  • Richie

    Hi Krista and Alison. This is a really interesting post – naively, I had always thought that by having lawns I was ‘doing the right thing’ for the planet! I’ll have to schedule an appointment with the head gardener and her assistant to discuss this further – fortunately that is my wife and our dog πŸ™‚

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Thanks, Richie! Lawns are better than paving, for example, but there are other great alternatives. πŸ™‚

  • Anika

    Great tips here! Capturing rainwater is a brilliant idea, I’ve never thought of that. We have one patch of grass that’s really overwhelmed when it rains, so I’ll have to try this for the future. Saves on the water bill too!

  • Jaya Avendel

    We have almost four acres of lawn, which we only mow and trim. Fertilizing and watering are unpractical for us, and I cannot imagine taking up such a practice later in life if I ever have a smaller lawn.
    We do have a large front garden and several smaller kitchen gardens out back, as well as fruit trees and a pond. It is lovely seeing the birds and bees gather on the wildflowers.
    Love that you share some ways people with smaller lawns can help attract pollinators and reduce their carbon imprint! <3

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Your property sounds amazing! It’s definitely true that taking care of an acreage is a different thing than a suburban yard. You must get a great variety of animals, birds, and other creatures to watch with such a variety of gardens and the pond πŸ™‚

  • Charity

    These are all such great tips! Thanks so much for sharing! I am in the process of planning out all our garden and outdoor decor. So this was perfect timing for me to read!

  • Jenny in Neverland

    Ah I love this and also learned a lot about the impact of our garden’s! We have a decent sized garden but not too big. But quite a lot of lawn. I’d love to start growing my own food at some point – maybe next year and try and attract more wildlife into the garden too!

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      It can be so rewarding to grow your own food. Definitely worth considering converting some of your lawn to a vegetable garden πŸ™‚

  • lynnmumbingmejia

    I have a decent sized garden and I keep saying I’m going to do something but I keep putting it off haha! Trying not to go to shops if I can right now. You’ve definitely inspired me to set a game plan soon! Thanks for sharing xx

    Lynn | https://www.lynnmumbingmejia.com

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      Definitely understand not wanting to go to shops too much right now, but can’t wait to see what you do with your garden once things are back to normal! πŸ™‚

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