Monday, March 19, 2012

The Scarlet G: The Heretics Guide to Gardening

I've come to realize lately that to some gardeners, I'm a soulless heretic. Despite my worm composting, organic methods, and native plants, I should be emblazoned with a scarlet G because my small yard is full of grass. Grass stretches from my patio to the garden that surrounds my lawn like a circle, providing a playground for my five  dogs and a spot to put the hammock. It will never win Yard of the Month and unless you're drunk, you'd never think it was a golf course. While I chop away at it every year as my garden slowly expands, I'll never eliminate it completely. A new bed was added last fall and as much as I relished digging up the grass to stuff the soil with perennials, I kept the needs of my dogs in mind as I planned.  It's much easier to play fetch in grass than in a perennial bed.

Trying to combine a garden with five dogs that require a play area can be challenging, but one of my favorite gardening books makes it easy. The Southern Living Landscape book is a meat and potatoes guide to landscaping your property. Written by Steve Bender, it's design ideas are accessible and most include a lawn. Page after page of gorgeous gardens framed by lawns spill from its spine. Having lived in the south for almost 10 years, memories of magnificent gardens with grass paths and beautiful front lawns seep like tea into my designs and I find myself unapologetic about the two small patches of green I keep on my property.


A small lawn of cut grass helps us control ticks and the diseases they carry. A weekend spent in bed one spring while a bulls eye rash spread on my thigh was matched by a week spent in tears while one of my dogs fought a deadly tick-borne disease. As I garden and dream, I turn to this book without feeling guilty for my grass. Hand me the scarlet G, if you will, but don't expect remorse.

27 comments:

  1. Although I would ideally like to live somewhere without a lawn, it is not practical in a subdivision...at least for me. I have landscaped quite a bit of the property, but there is still lawn. Even when I think of living in some far away farm, there would need to be some lawn...I think. This looks like a great book!

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  2. I have several Southern Living books but not this one. I will have to check it out. I can't imagine having a garden without any grass at all. My children and dogs need a place to play and I think it is restful on the eyes and adds a nice foreground to the gardens. I love to walk on soft grass in bare feet or lay in the grass and stare at the sky (when the chiggers aren't out). I will have to order a matching shirt!

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  3. I love the look of a cut lawn. And I can understand gardeners trying to eliminate them, if they are using chemicals and extra waterings to achieve a perfect yard. I read somewhere that a lawn that is mowed, no chemicals used, and no watering (what I have for my lawn), is truly a "mown field". Sounds so much more romantic, too! Since I read that, I no long have those guilt feelings of having grass. Grass is definitely useful, and can be very beautiful, and beautiful in design. I think I'd love this book. Thanks for reviewing!

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  4. We have three dogs and need the room for them to run without trampling my gardens.
    We have had few ticks in SC, by this time in VA I would have had about 5 tick bites.

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  5. I'm also a big fan of native plant gardening and the wildlife it brings. But I also have a lawn. Or anyway, green stuff that gets mowed (clover, deadnettle, chickweed and other weeds). I don't have dogs or kids, but still need a place to put up the badminton net in the summer! I've read this book too. I haven't looked at it in a while, but if I'm remembering the right book, I liked the advice to think about zones where you would like to do certain activities (like games or eating outside) and plan the yard around these zones.

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  6. Why should a patch of grass be a badge of shame - it serves a very importance purpose. As a dog I know - dogs need grass.

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  7. There is a lot of talk down here about lawn removal. Going through the Master Gardener training has taught me that there is definitely room in the landscape for a lawn. The key is to plant the most appropriate grass for the region and to water only as needed. Most people over water their lawns. Unfortunately most down here plant St. Augustine which isn't the best choice for our area as it can be quite thirsty. Like you, my dog loves to have a place to play and lounge so we have a couple grassy areas and they will be staying for a while. The grassy areas also cool our gardens, literally and visually. I can see not needing a back 40 but I don't feel the need to eradicate lawns altogether. I'm sorry you and your dog had to suffer illness from a tick's bite. I'm happy to hear you both are okay.

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  8. I am so sorry about you and the dog and am hoping that you are both doing better now. Take care.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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  9. I have had this book for years! I absolutely LOVE it! Some of my best ideas and inspiration have been gleaned from these pages. It is a book I turn to over and over again, so it is truly like an old friend. Thank you for show cases it!

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  10. Why do we even call it lawn? It is simply groundcover, and you know I like me all kinds of groundcovers. So I have plenty here too. Turfgrass is a mat forming, spreading green plant, and it has a place in all gardens.

    Some gardens have wide patches of it, some have winding paths among the borders, some have circles surrounded by perennials, but it is definitely a groundcover that is a framing plant in any good garden ("garden" here meaning more than a bunch of perennials). And you list the other attributes, chiefly a tick free zone, a play area and it looks good!

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  11. Without the night would we appreciate the day? or the sun without the rain? I have always felt that a patch of green grass enhances the flower borders (and vice versa). It gives us a tranquil place for our eyes to rest.

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  12. LOL, I don't think anyone is going to shoot any burning arrows at you for loving your lawn. The lawn definitely has its place in our landscaping, which is why most people have one! kids, dogs, croquet and bocce ball all need lawn. At a gardening class I was once told that lawn was necessary to balance out all those eye catching perennials which makes sense to my eye. There's room enough in the world for all sorts of gardens whether that includes a lawn or not.

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  13. If it's heretical to have a lawn, then I'm a heretic of heretics. I not only have a lawn, when I payed some kids to mow last weekend (I usually mow myself, but our mowers on the fritz) I actually had them mow AROUND some of the weeds in it. Of course, they aren't actually weeds...they're wildflowers I discovered. My wildflower experiment, letting my back yard go to seed to see what was there, isn't something I'd suggest for someone with a gorgeous lawn and established flowers like yours. But then, my yard is basically a blank space I haven't done much with yet (in spite of all my grand plans once we got a house). So, it was the perfect time to find out what was already there that I could just let grow....like the primroses growing in the corner, and the goldenrod by my raised bed, and the horsemint I had the mowers mow around. :-) And this year, with the knowledge of what some of those flowers look like before they bloom, I'm mowing carefully. But then, the weeds did kill some of my lawn and the heat last summer killed more, so I'm recovering from my experiment too (only did it in the back yard).

    Blogged about it here...
    http://texifornia.blogspot.com/2011/06/my-wildflower-experiment.html

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  14. that's one of my favorite books, too. i've spent ridiculous amounts of time just staring at that cover! :D and, no scarlet g's for you! making thoughtful, informed decisions is what matters. a little grass can be a good thing.

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  15. I wear the Scarlet G for Grass and for Guilt, not just about our large lawn which I wish I could pursuade my hubby to reduce in size, but about planting non native plants and growing some plants that could be considered invasive. But I would be happy with just a small lawn and more planting beds for some veggies. I enjoyed your book review and have read Steve Bender's Passalong Plants so I think I would enjoy this book, too!

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  16. Even without kids or even a dog currently I still want a tick-free zone. Besides I've seen sunny gardens with no lawn that just looked too busy. I try to mow our lawn with a reel mower and I want to add more diversity of plants in early spring. It's more a carpet of green than a carpet of grass but it'll do. ;)

    The covet on that book makes me want to buy it immediately!

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  17. I am like you as well :-). I have to have some grass lawn for my two sweetest dogs. I have adopted them from death-shelter and I don't want them to go through any more hardship in life.

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  18. One out of two of my dogs reports that the Southern Living Landscape Book is DELICIOUS.

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  19. I am even worse than you ;-)! I hold on to my lawn without having the justification of owning a dog that needs to play on it. My lawn is there for sheer visual pleasure, only. But my lawn is more of a weed patch than a meticulously maintained lawn since I garden organically and use refuse to use herbicides. It still has the pleasant and calming color of green, though. Dutifully I will remove the rest of the lawn in the front yard this year (hopefully), and I will decrease the size of the lawn in the back yard by enlarging the flower beds, but a small patch of lawn in backyard will stay. Other than you I have to admit I often feel guilty about it, but at this point I am not willing to give up my aesthetics for the sake of a lawn less garden.
    Christina

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  20. I have no grass, but I love the look of a patch surrounded by gardens, and on occasion I wish I could just rip up my patio stones out back and put in grass. Its pretty! I wish everyone would just stop it with the holier than though gardening crap, personally. I think its nice to try and do something good for the Earth yourself, be a good example to others, and spread the word so other might know, but beyond that we all just need to butt the He** out of everyone's personal choices.

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  21. Sounds like a great book--even for those of us in the north. This post is so well-written--combining humor, serious discussion about the topic, and helpful information. The comments are also very interesting. I like having some lawn, but we don't use chemicals. We use corn gluten twice a year, which eliminates weeds and feeds the lawn at the same time. I'm amazed that you are able to maintain such a beautiful garden with five dogs! My friends tell me that dogs like to eat their plants--how do you avoid that? I don't blame you for wanting lawn areas for them to play. :)

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  22. Oh, and I posted the "Lessons Learned" wrap-up last night. Thanks for joining in!

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  23. Turf grass has always been a large part of my adult life. I am a former golf course superintendent, landscape designer,contractor, and fertilizer/pesticide account rep. I know all there is to turf grass from texas to wyoming. I have argued on both sides, turf vs. no turf. And in reality I have wavered from one side to another. To me now, it's all about choices and what your needs are. Seed and sod companies are developing varieties of turf grass which are greener, more disease/insect resistance, and using less inputs such as water and fertilizer. Proper maintenance practices can also reduce inputs. In conclusion, I am definitely a "Grass man".

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  24. I think that you are right. There is an anti-lawn movement, but I think you should stick with what works for you.
    I confess that I am not a fan of grass and have been doing in my lawn for years now. I am lucky though. I can open the back gate and there is a vacant lot where we can play ball with the boys. To the east of the house, there is a second lot with lots of grass (and weeds) for the boys to run around in. So as you see, I have never had to worry that the dogs will have no where to play. If we lived in a suburbs and if we had young kids, I am sure I would want some lawn to be incorporated into the "garden".
    I think what bugs me about the "lawn" and "flowerbeds" in some backyards is the fact that they often feel like two separate and unrelated things. Why is that do you think? Then the question becomes: Is there a way to make a lawn and the flowerbeds feel more like they are part of a single entity; a "garden".

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  25. I as well have a lot of grass - I do not use chemicals so it is never a show place- but most people can look past the grass. Wow 5 dogs- I only have 1 and she causes enough of a challenge - I have this book and look at it every season!

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  26. Sounds like a great book. Yes, I'm imagining your dogs playing fetch in a bed of perennials. Ouch! Keep the lawn for the pups and...children.
    My dense shade trees have eliminated the lawn in the backyard so my options are gravel or plants.
    My front yard is shady, but can still support a small lawn in the front.
    It's funny about that yard of the month thing. If I ever won, I would interview the person and ask them why and then I'd look at the calendar to see if it was April 1st.
    LOL
    david/

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  27. A little spin on a song from the 50s if you don't mind, "It's my garden and I'll do what I want to..." Okay, well not quite but the idea is there. It's your garden and if people don't like it, too bad. Although I've never heard of a lawn keeping ticks at bay, I believe good garden design means having a place for the eye to "rest." Be it a lawn or a terrace or whatever. I happen to have two small lawns in my backyard. I call them my north lawn and south lawn. It sounds awfully regal, doesn't it? Lawns are calming and cooling in the summer and although they're high maintenance. They're so pretty.

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