In 1986, in the context of the battling superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States, a column appeared in the New York Times opinion section entitled “My Green Empire.” In it, author David Holahan considered his “Great Leap Grassward,” a plan to ambitiously expand his lawn. His ambivalence colors the text as he moves toward a more nihilistic, Sisyphean outlook. He asks of his lawn work: Why? To what end?
For a wide diversity of reasons, many homeowners are asking themselves the same questions. Grass has been sold to the American public as the pinnacle of domesticity, the peak achievement of middle-class economic status. And yet, as our rivers run dry and our native plants approach the precipice of extinction, we begin to question the hegemony of the lawn. Is this the best we have to ornament our residences? Does it convey the values we hold dear?
For the homeowners satisfied in their uniform green parcels, this blog won’t offer much. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a lawn and putting in the requisite work. To the homeowners dreaming of something more, read on. This piece will tackle creative alternatives, from intricate native plant landscapes to more minimalist ground cover options.
Native Plant Landscapes
Frank Lloyd Wright turned the architectural world on its head in his assertion that our structures should reflect–and indeed borrow from and utilize–the beauty of the surrounding natural world. No matter where we build our homes, each one sits within a unique and majestic ecosystem. At Hawkins Landscape Supply we’ve been working in the community since the 1970s, growing and deploying our expertise about the local flora. The coastal plain offers a wealth of native plants specifically suited for this climate and habitat. From gorgeous flowering trees to a host of edible berries, your property becomes a canvas on which to compose a rich and balanced work of art.
Native plants serve not only homeowners but their neighbors in the trees, air, and ground. Native plants support local wildlife by providing food, habitat, and other benefits. In turn, these critters serve homeowners by supporting the health of their landscape through pollination and other mutualistic interactions. Nature finds its own balance, all homeowners need to do is set the process in motion and reap the rewards.
Xeriscaping is a landscape that requires little to no irrigation. Often, it overlaps with native plant landscaping in using plants that specifically match the precipitation levels of the surrounding climate. In arid climates, this means planting drought-tolerant plants like succulents and drought-tolerant trees such as myrtles. Such plants, however, would likely fare rather poorly in the more saturated climate of the east coast.
Instead, plants suited to temperate climates–ferns, for example–serve as the mainstays of xeriscaping in more humid climates. Beyond choosing the right plants, xeriscaping seeks to create the optimal environment, including topsoil, shade, and rainwater runoff. Through these techniques, xeriscaping can dramatically reduce or completely eliminate the need for watering landscaping, benefitting both the earth and the homeowner.
Cultures across the world have shared an appreciation for geology and the beauty of stones and minerals. In England in the 18th century, a craze spread across the country for rock gardens featuring alpine plants. Most contemporary rock gardens, however, draw inspiration from the long tradition of Chinese and Japanese rock gardens.
The basic idea is simple, and the possibilities are endless. The grass is replaced by a bed of rocks and gravel, often with a liner beneath to prevent the growth of weeds and other unwanted plants. Specific larger rocks can be featured in various ways to display their beauty with the option to arrange them for a given feel intentionally. Rock gardens provide a wealth of possibilities to creatively curate a thoughtful and durable space.
Mosses are plants without stems, roots, or leaves as we would normally think of them. Instead, they only have more basic filaments that anchor them to the ground, similar to mushrooms. Like many mushrooms, they break down soil matter and make it available to other organisms. Also similar to mushrooms, moss releases spores as its means of reproduction.
What do these biological nuances mean for your landscape? First, moss’s unique leaf structure allows it to absorb water very efficiently. This means that in dry times, moss can prove extremely tolerant to drought. In wet times, moss can absorb large amounts of water, preventing flooding and erosion. Secondly, moss’s unique ecological role as both a decomposer and producer yields nutritional boons to the surrounding flora and fauna, improving the overall health of a landscape. Once established, moss provides both natural benefits and serene beauty to any space.
Native Americans, the original and enduring inhabitants of this land, developed a vast knowledge of the local plant life and how to cultivate and access the gastronomic bounty therein. Herbs, berries, grains, and roots all provide nourishment and the possibility to enliven meals. Plants like sumac and wintergreen, both native to the mid-Atlantic, provide the dual benefits of beauty and food. When considering which plants to include in landscaping, homeowners would benefit from asking the question of what uses, culinary and otherwise, might their plants offer?
It is strange when truly considered, that we rarely utilize the fertile spaces around our homes to grow food. Not everyone has the space, and not every space is suitable, but many people do, and many spaces are. The biggest likely barrier comes in the initial investment of energy and resources to get the garden off the ground. Luckily, at Hawkins Landscape Supply, we can help our customers create a thoughtful and effective garden with minimal effort. More, the requirements are relatively simple: soil, containers, and healthy doses of water and sun. The plants do the rest.
From there, the possibilities are endless. Each season provides the opportunity to grow different fruits and vegetables. Your local garden store will have seeds and starts, or the more adventurous gardener can order heirloom seeds online for rare and specialized species. While gardens do require care, mostly watering, they largely take care of themselves as they progress to maturity. Once ready to harvest, the bounty of a home garden can be enjoyed at peak freshness, while surplus can be preserved through various methods like jams, pickling, and dehydration.
Meadows are one of the most common biomes in the United States. Like lawns, they contain grasses, but unlike lawns, these grasses grow to their full potential. Meadows provide space for birds, mammals, insects, and other life to inhabit and flourish. Obviously, in the natural world, meadows require no maintenance–the balance of producers, consumers, predators and decomposers keeps the cycles of energy and nutrients in motion. Likewise, once established, a home meadow can provide a bucolic beauty, especially as plants flower, without much maintenance at all.
Wood Chip Paths & Ground Covers
Finally, a more minimalist approach is simply to replace grass with something else to cover the ground. This can include stone and wood chip paths, gravel, and other natural ground covers like honeysuckle or brass buttons. Similar to moss, these natural covers can create a similar uniform green appearance to lawn but without the hassle. They can also provide a more interesting texture and appearance than grass while allowing the focus to remain on other plants, rocks, and sculptures.
At Hawkins Landscape Supply, we’re here to help you create a space that reflects your values and aesthetics. Give us a call today to discuss how we can make that happen.