A Level Playing Field


I have skimmed over many gardening articles in the past few years advocating the abolition of lawn in the landscape.  In general, I do not favor the act of banning.  Those who would ban this or that somehow have the idea that the lives of others are just waiting for them to intervene and save them.  Thanks very much, but I have done a fairly good job up until now making my own decisions about how to live my life.  That aside, I think lawn has an important place in the landscape.

Perhaps I should distinguish between lawn, and grass.  I do not have lawn-as were rolled, tended and cut every other day in those classical English gardens that make my mouth water.  I have grass-that low and densely growing perennial that covers considerable and any amount of square footage without any maintenance- save a weekly cutting. Grass grows willingly.  It grows on slopes as well as flat ground.  Grass covers bare soil, and vigorously resists invasion from weeds. Beautifully graded soil, covered in grass-a sculpture. 

Grass is all about endurance.  Grass endures the impromptu soccer game, the garden party, the dog play, the car tires, the wheelbarrow grooves,-grass sits on the ground, enduring a lot of  physical activity in a garden-with few complaints.  It has to be the most versatile and accomodating plant on my planet.  That green skin of grass covers a fair amount of my property, to good end.  It enables me to get from one place to another. When of a mind to goof off, I might lie down on it. It enables me to be in the garden.

My corgis have legs barely 8 inches tall.  They are not so crazy about gravel or concrete-they like grass under their feet.  Their favorite time of the day-home, with the grass underfoot.  A level playing field for their horseplay is essential to their play.  The job of a retail dog has its demands.  They are happy to get home, cut loose, and relax.  The lawn is a place the four of us can relax and enjoy the garden.   

Were you be here, you would understand. When I come home, I want an outdoor place to be and sit-this means a patch of grass. I will admit I have one client with no grass-save for a patch big enough for him to take a nap. You may think this funny-I think he has a very keen sense of what luxury means.  

Is there another plant other than grass that would tolerate and facilitate my nightly corgi show?  I think not.  The most ordinary and familiar of plants can be of such importance in the big scheme of your landscape. 

I have devoted no small amount of time to a discussion of grade. Earth, moved up, and down.  Level ground makes people feel secure.  No one would enjoy a garden cocktail party on a slope. Once that grade is established, there are a lot of ways to handle the space.  It is as important to have functional and useable spaces as it is to have trees or roses. 

We like our grass.


  1. The dialogue has never been about banning the lawn. The discussion has been about 1] the wisdom of using costly energy, scarce natural resources {like water in the mid west}, and ecology-disturbing nutrients in order to maintain a beautiful lawn and 2] about what other natural-occurring materials one might use other than grass turf e.g. pebbles and stones, ornamental grasses, drought tolerant plants, and wildflowers and finally, 3] the need for a lawn in the first place. Your blog makes a valid contribution to the dialogue because your are advocating the need for a lawn.

    Replacing lawns, but not banning them, has been suggested by those gardeners living in areas that are experiencing severe drought on a regular basis and those scientists that understand the ecological damage caused by herbicides, pesticide and too much abundant fertilizer.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Allan, as I said, I have grass-not a lawn. There are no doubt people who are careless with perticides, herbicides and fertilizer, but that does not make grass a bad idea. It only means there are some people without good sense. I suppose if I had grown up in an arid part of the country, I would like that dry plant stone look-but I do not.
      I do take issue with one statement of yours- that water is scarce in the Midwest. The Great Lakes hold a pretty amazing amount of water. What will need replacement and maintenance is the infrastructure to carry that water. Or more infrastructure as we have more people. Thanks much for your contribution to the discussion. Deborah

  2. Grass in the appropriate climate makes lots of sense, for all the reasons you state.

    Much of the call to eliminate starts in places like Phoenix, and Palm Springs. Places where a grass lawn is a luxury – the water use is horrific to keep a lawn green here.

    The other side of the ban the grass argument comes from those who want to reduce the chemical run off. All the companies that peddle to grass growers advocate chemicals, chemicals, chemicals. Kill the weeds, fertilize it to make it grow, cut it so short the weeds sprout, kill the weeds, fertilize…

    I had a green lawn in Michigan that I mowed. Period. Mowed. If it was full of clover and dandelions, well. It was green. I loved it.

  3. I think of grass is an essential design element. It’s a place to rest your eye as well as your body…. Thank you Deborah for such a thought provoking post.

  4. I’m so glad to see that you advocate enjoying your grass. So many gardeners fuss over their grass and will not let anyone walk on it! This makes no sense. How are kids supposed to get grass stains on their knees and elbows? 🙂 That patch of green is a place for the eye to rest, as well as as the soul.

  5. I agree with Diana in that grass is an important component that accents/compliments/creates a break between planting beds. AND you can’t find anything better than lush grass ticklin your toes!

    Great post Deborah

  6. Deborah,
    Your grass looks so lush and universally green, and yet, you have dogs. Plural. We have one dog and our grass is nothing but patches of dead yellow where she pees, and super green tufts where she poops. It looks horrible. If my husband had his way we would not be allowed out in our back yard. We would only be allowed to stare and admire from the patio door what he would wish to be a perfectly manicured “lawn”.
    But we are a family of four, plus dog. How do you manage to avoid the tell-tale signs of owning dogs with your grass?

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