Monday, July 23, 2007

I Don't Hate Scotts Lawn Products -- Or Do I?

I’ve been reading lots of blogs and I’ve determined that I have to do something bold to grab your attention, so here goes:


Dear “The Scotts and Miracle-Gro Company”:

I don’t hate you. I’ve never even met you--not that I’m aware of. I just hate what you stand for. You’re not alone in keeping us shackled to the questionable ideal of the suburban lawn—just kinda the big target with the “kick-me” sign, so I’m picking on you because it’s easy.

Per your web site, it is heartening to see you giving a small nod to using organic materials. Of the 13 products shown on your lawn fertilizer page, the Scotts Organic Choice looks pretty lonely. At least you’re trying to build a little green “street cred”, but we know where your real profits come from and which products get all your promo bucks.

I guess my gripe is that you live and thrive by helping to sustain the myth that a “real” garden has to have “thick, lush, green turf” even if nature and the environment continually remind us that without your toxic products, copious amounts of precious water, herbicides and insecticides we might succumb to YELLOW LEAVES!, NASTY BUGS! (don’t want any of THOSE near our kids) and the silent scorn of our neighbors.

[Pretty damn bold, eh? I’m waiting for their corporate jack-booted thugs to come pound on my door.]

TRANSITION (can’t suddenly switch gears…I have to back my way into the real content)

My last two blogs have set the stage for murdering your lawn and lots of readers seem to want to take it to the next level. I’d love to help, but first a disclaimer. My 35-year experience in the green industry and landscape architecture is from a career based in the benign coastal climate of central and southern California. So when I’m asked by readers from around the country to help them with lawn alternatives the first problem that arises is finding appropriate plants for your specific locale. The environmental and cultural conditions are just too varied for me to claim to be all things to all readers.

SUBSTANCE (here’s the payoff)

So how about I just do some coaching to help you move in the right direction? It’s gonna take me a few more postings to get you there (I just moved to a new home, so writing time is a bit scarce) but keep checking in and I’ll try to get you where you’re going. I also welcome any comments based on your own experiences. Just tell us where you’re writing from.

First things first—are you REALLY going to remove every blade of grass from your current lawn? Do you really need to? Form follows function, so if you’re doing this because you’re just tired of the work and environmental impacts of being a recovering lawn owner, do you have to actually remove the lawn? What if you just tinker with it and let it revert a Darwinian approach? I think that’s still taught in some schools—Survival of the Fittest.

What if you just stopped mowing and watering? What would move in to fill the void? Nature abhors a vacuum, so something is going to find these new conditions very attractive. Yes, the weeds you’re currently keeping at bay might take advantage, but not necessarily. If the watering stops and you rely only on natural rainfall, some of those weeds that thrived on the life-support you provided for your lawn just might give up.

What if you introduce a few new non-turfgrass plants? Here in Santa Barbara, I’d be looking at things like creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum), Lippia (Phyla nodiflora), some sedges like Carex praegracillis, English daisy (Bellis perennis) or common yarrow (Achillea millefolium). My local favorite to mix in is Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum), shown in the photo at the beginning of this post. Now where you live, these might not grow, or they might become noxious weeds (Lippia is a scourge in New Zealand).

Your assignment this week: Do your homework by finding some plants that you can allow to infiltrate your current lawn, and start thinking of it as a naturalized meadow. Visit a garden, check your plant catalogs, talk to some experienced gardeners. Let me know what you find.

I’ll be back soon. Promise.


Diana said...

hmmmm... maybe I could convince my parents to give up thier postage stamp if I could get the sisyrinchium to take over. I will give it a test run...and then keep plugging away.

the kid would love to pick the flowers that would be a bonus.

Trey Pitsenberger said...

Lots of lawns take up a good part of the front or back yards. Trying to cover that entire area with a lawn substitute will be difficult. Perhaps by creating some meandering paths through the now deceased lawn will help cut the project down to size.

That seems to be one of the harder things for people to do with lawn areas. Its a large area and trying to re-imagine what to do with it is new, and difficult.

lisa said...

Good idea! I'm already on my way with my unmown, wildflower-filled lawn. Yolanda over at Bliss has a post up about meadows for lawns, and I think if folks could have lawns that look like THAT, they'd be on board. From her description of her own childhood memories, I think the "meadow lawn" would be VERY popular with children!

Marie said...

You've given me something to think about; I'm not sure my husband will see it your way. We're a product of the sixties, and it's hard to change old habits. But I have already turned so much area into garden that the grassy area is getting smaller every year.
I'm lucky, I live over an undergorund river and have my own well water. So far there are no restrictions on me. Time will tell, if they keep screwing up the Great Lakes.
Thanks for visiting my blog.

Garden Wise Guy said...

Back atch y'all:

Trey: good point about a mass removal of a lawn being an overwhelming blank palette for some people. It's my intention to work my way through the design process over the next few postings and give people options for making better use of lawn's carcass. Don't want anyone suffering from "planter's block!"

Lisa: Thanks for the link to the Yolanda's Bliss blog. Sumptuous, seductive images (no, I'm not getting all hot and bothered--just hot). I'll be linking to her blog to expand my thoughts.

Diana: Go for it! Xander will thank you and meadows are truly great science labs. More and more schools are taking out some of their turf and replacing them with "wild labs" where kids can watch the life-cycle of a milkweed catepillar, see how flowers turn to fruit, then seed, etc. Appeal to their grandparental nurturing side to move your folks away from 100% lawn. We shall prevail!!!

Queen Whackamole said...

Need another reason to hate Scotts?
Check out:


Curtis said...

Weeds are green too, and they aren't that obvious until you closely look for them.

Garden Wise Guy said...

Curtis: One person's weed is another person's wildflower. I've always defined a weed as a plant out of place. If I'm trying to grow pineapples and the field becomes overrun with orchids, guess what just became a weed? Thanks for stopping by

Yolanda Elizabet said...

There's only one problem that I have with my lawn: there's too much grass amongst my daisies! ;-)

In the Netherlands we do not have this thing about nuking lawns within an inch of their lives, that seems to be mostly a USA thing. I was actually very shocked when I first read about how extremely unhealthy the average USA lawn is because of all the spraying with poisonous stuff that goes on. One question kept springing to mind: why? I'm not grokking this!

Thanks for your kind words on my blog!

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Oh I forgot: let's link!

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Over in Europe, they have a variety of chamomile called 'Treneague' that does not flower and stays low. If I could get my hands on enough of it to make that into my lawn, I would do it in a heartbeat! (Unfortunately, there are no seeds--b/c it doesn't flower--and I doubt plants would survive the time and red tape of shipping.)

So instead I'm looking at the grama grass called 'Hachita' offered by High Country Gardens. (Buffalo grass is another alternative, but the grama is recommended for sandy soil like mine.) I may not even mow it once a month, but apparently I can if I would like more of a traditional lawn look.

Maybe I'll plant that grass and mixed in some Roman chamomile for scent, now that I think about it...

Katie said...

I love it! Looking to rid my ugly suburban lawns in the next couple years. And no, we don't use anything and have the least green lawns on the block. But you know what, I'm ok with that. Great to come across your blog...!

Mud Hut said...

Trying to set up an herbal lawn for a landscaping client who runs day care, so avoiding anything that flowers and attracts bees. Looking for a CA/US source for `Treneague' (non-flowering) chamomile. Any leads, email me at

-Mud Hut, Berkeley CA