There’s not one way to have a great yard

Published 4:38 pm Saturday, July 3, 2021

By Felder Rushing

For some gardeners, the expected manicured lawn, tightly pruned shrubs, and dedicated rose bed aren’t great fits. And it’s okay.   

Maybe because I play “Devil’s advocate” a lot by juggling both sides of most gardening issues, but every now and then I hear through the grapevine rumors that simply aren’t true, like how I hate lawns, roses, and chemicals. None of that is true.

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Having studied turf management and consulting at MSU, I appreciate well-tended lawns and respect those who groom theirs. However, I’m not hobby-oriented or challenged to prove anything socially, already keep fit with daily exercise, plus travel all summer. And I’m lazy and allergic to cut grass (really).

Acting on those factors, I choose to have no personal lawn, and don’t miss its attendant time, energy, expensive equipment, or the worries about weed and pest control.

So, being unwilling to do all that stuff, and unwilling to outsource the pleasures by paying someone to do it for me, I simply do without. Instead, the open areas in my landscape are carved out to be practical, more inviting people spaces by having roomy decks, easy-care, all-season flagstone-paved areas, and mulches (brown, like green, is a color too).

If I had a really big yard, even a formal one, there would be a practical mow-what-grows meadow with low-growing wildflowers with bees and butterflies and everything. Stickers and bees in the clover were the reason flipflops and low-top Converse “Chuckies” were invented, right?

But I would also have generous copses of trees connected at the trunks into neatly-edged beds, mulched and underplanted with woodland plants.

I would probably have a smaller, manicured “throw rug” of grass or artificial turn (really) close to the house for entertaining or to prove how good a gardener I can be.

But in my little garden the paved areas and decks, plus generous groundcovers, mulched areas, and a moss garden, work just fine as functional open design elements.

As for roses, I personally grow over thirty different kinds, many of which I personally rooted. But rather than in long rows like okra, and sprayed all the time, they are tucked here and there as ordinary garden plants. Some are even planted in a cemetery to prove that not all roses are fussy. Does this make me a rose hater?

Hate chemicals? Hardly. In spite of a strong live and let live attitude, I appreciate how an occasional squirt of Roundup safely and efficiently cleans up poison ivy, nutgrass, honeysuckle, privet, and other hard-to-kill plants.

And I use convenient Osmocote and Miracle-Gro, both synthetic fertilizers, for my many potted plants. Oh, and the occasional wasp spray.

Anyway, not being much of a nurturing-type gardener, I’ve settled on a basic technique that works well in both large areas and small, of organizing flowerbeds, tree and shrub areas, and open areas for my best uses, and choose the most appropriate and sensible materials for my approach.

Lawn? For me, other options work better. For regular, non-hobby yard and garden plants, I go with proven low-maintenance species to begin with, dig wide holes without lots of soil amendment, mulch heavily, water to get them established, then walk away. Expecting some to do poorly or die no matter what, I pad my results by overstuffing everything, then pull up and replace what doesn’t meet expectations or takes too much effort to look good. 

So no, I don’t hate lawns, roses, or chemicals. I just accept, use, and occasionally recommend other options for folks who look outside their neighborhood’s boxes. 

In gardening’s big tent, be sensible – you do you.