Lighten Up: Revolutionize your lawn

Herewith, we resume our regular programming, with a “lighten up” post on everyday ways to make your carbon footprint more positive. (If you want news on the brain cancer journey, it’s at the bottom of this post.) 

What’s on my mind? Lawns. Specifically, their environmental footprint, which is bulldozer-heavy indeed. Americans are in love with our turf grass monocultures, so much so that we cultivate an estimated 40 million acres of them across the lower 48 states, making lawn grasses our largest crop. Yup, lawn grasses. Which no one eats–not butterfly, not bird, not humans. We love our trimmed, tidy, sterile lawns so much that we lavish over 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides on them each year, using more chemicals per acre than even the most chemical-intensive industrial farms. And we burn 580 million gallons of gas annually to cut, aerate, blow, edge and mulch them. (For reference, that’s around three times the total amount of oil released in the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon well blowout.) Lawns are water-hogs too: Here in the arid West, where not enough rain falls naturally to keep Kentucky bluegrass and other traditional turf grasses alive, lawn watering accounts for about 60 percent of urban water use.

Lawns are also one of the most environmentally unfriendly forms of landscaping. Yet we’re stuck on them, and have been since the mid-1700s, near the time of the American Revolution, when colonists from the British Isles brought the fashion for large expanses of cropped grass with them from the great estates of their day. Seems to me like it’s time for a lawn-habit counter-revolution: Overthrow the oppressive turf grasses! Rip out the sterile monocultures! Reclaim our yards for food production, for wildflowers and native grasses, for food and flower gardens, for diversity of color, life, flavor!


That’s our front “lawn,” above, a dryland meadow of native wildflowers and grasses. I “mow” it by hand once a year, cutting back the seed heads in spring. I water it lightly once or twice a month if absolutely necessary, and have never used any fertilizer or pesticides on it. It’s beautiful year-round, full of wildflowers from spring through fall, zipping with hummingbirds and butterflies in summer, and architectural in winter with its palette of weathered colors and spare plant forms.

We have no back lawn: step out the kitchen door into the back yard, and you are in our raised-bed organic kitchen garden, which this time of year is bursting with tomatoes, cucumbers, late-summer lettuce, beets, Romanesco squash, chard, bulb fennel, and strawberries. (Thank you, Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Garden Seeds, for your delicious, beautiful and productive seed varieties!)

Imagine if we turned half the lawn in this country into equal-parts native meadow and kitchen garden: we’d have 10 million more acres of habitat for wildlife right nearby where we can delight in hummingbirds, beetles, and butterflies. And 10 million more acres for growing healthy food at home. What an idea…


Life after Richard’s brain surgery is looking up. The docs, therapists, nurses and everyone else at the VA Medical Center told us that the first week after surgery is the hardest. They were right, in ways that I won’t bore you with here. This week has been perhaps the roughest we’ve ever weathered together, but here we are–“Still Here,” to borrow the title from Ram Dass’ book about life after a traumatic stroke. Very much still here, and beginning to see light, and lightness again.

Richard’s still got double vision, but it’s ever-so-gradually improving. He still needs a lot of sleep, but yesterday he walked about 3/4 of a mile as we did our errands around town (I love living where we don’t need to start our car for days!). This afternoon, he helped me pull weeds along our restored stretch of urban creek. He walks, he talks, he uses big words (correctly), and articulates complex concepts. And he’s beginning to think about sculpture again. All of which astonish me, and his doctors–and all of which improve his mood greatly, which is also bound to help the gradual healing too.


The outpouring of love and support from near and far has been incredible. The emails, cards, calls, well-wishes; the help with recycling, trash hauling, cleaning, weed-pulling and errands. The offer save us a trip to Denver to take down our Terraphilia exhibit at Denver International Airport when the 33 Ideas Show closes next week. The crocheted baskets with small offerings some as-yet-unidentified well-wisher has left hanging on our doorknob, the grocery tab paid anonymously at Ploughboy, our local food market. The box bursting with organic produce delivered from Simple Foods. The loaves of bread, the chocolate bars, the dozen fresh eggs from our friends’ chickens…

Thank you. We are touched, humble, and blessed by your support. May the love and kindness you have showed us return many-fold to enrich your lives as well.