Lawn Reform

Here's some encouraging news: Several well-known garden designers and bloggers from across America have banded together to form the Lawn Reform Coalition.

Their website already has a lot of great information about:

• Regionally Appropriate Lawn Species
• Eco-Friendly Care for all Lawns
• Design Ideas to Reduce or Replace Lawns

And they are collection more. Susan of Blue Planet Gardening, a member of the coalition, has invited bloggers to share their story of what happened to their lawn. Stories are being collected here on Susan's blog; I've really enjoyed reading them.

And now, please enjoy my story:

I Used to Have a Lawn (and a Pool). Now I Have a Native Plant Wildlife Paradise

When Mr. Mouse and I moved into our current abode, we had a front garden with moderately thirsty plants, which I replaced. You can read about the project (in gory detail) in the Great Front Garden Remodel posts.
In the back, we had a kidney shaped black-bottom pool. Like this:

The pool was in a corner shaded by a few (seven or eight) redwood trees. The previous owners admitted they had used the pool 3 times in 15 years. Leading to the pool was a lawn, surrounded by concrete paths, like this:

Mr Mouse and I had had a small garden with a focus on California Natives at our previous abode, but this project felt too big for us. So we got help from a garden designer, and she suggested Mediterranean mounds and a decomposed granite plaza. From above, it looks like this:

And looking toward the neighbor's garage (slightly different angle), it looks like this:

Now, truth be told, I'm not even sure it looks so much better now. The lawn was green (until we stopped to water it). The pool looked nice in a 70s sort of way, and as a kid, I'd always known only rich people have pools, so it made me feel rich. But after the remodel, we noticed several differences in our lives.

The water bill decreased. Lawns need water, and lots of it. California natives can get by with very little water.

Lizards appeared. The first summer after the remodel, I thought I saw a lizard but wasn't sure. The next year I was sure. Third year, Mr. Mouse and I saw several lizards in different parts of the garden. And this year, I'm seeing baby-lizards everywhere, and they're starting to move into the newly remodeled front garden.

Birds became abundant. I used to think of birds as the winged critters in the sky that other people were able to identify. But in my native plant garden, birds become more abundant every year, and I can often watch them from my dining table.

Birds need three things:
  • Food for themselves, either nuts and seeds or bugs, depending on the bird.
  • Food for their young, usually bugs.
  • Water.
I've chosen many natives (and a few non-natives), that provide abundant seeds. In fact, the birds pretty well stripped my native Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana), though there's other food sources nearby (the contoneaster that was there before didn't seem very popular).

It's been proven that natives attract native insects, and that birds prefer native insects. I discuss a great book about this topic, Bringing Nature Home, in this post. Yes, some of my plants might look a little nibbled at, but I've never seen a plant die because of an insect problem. This native lily is ready to go dormant, so I don't mind sharing.

For water, I've added a few bird baths, discussed in this post. (There's more about Mr. and Ms. Towhee at the bath in this post).

There's something new in the garden every day. What I like best about our native plant garden is stepping outside in the morning, or late in the day after work, and seeing what's going on. I might discover a spider web, or a plant might surprise me with new blossoms. Hummingbirds dash by. The smells are always enticing. And watching bees and butterflies come to the plants is a joy again and again.

And finally, with our decomposed granite plaza, we can enjoy a hammock in a spot that would be half underwater, half on the green if we hadn't changed things a bit.


Barbara said…
Dear TM - wonderful story and great pictures. Your yard looks lovely to me - much more interesting than the pool/grass arrangement. I know exactly what you mean about the activity one finds in a garden with lots of interesting plants. Every time I go out to the compost bin, I open it gently so as not to scare Shirley, the resident lizard. Barbara
Country Mouse said…
What a wonderful retrospective, T. It really helps to now and then take a longer view. My retrospective would be so different - which is why we make good co-bloggers, each with a totally different gardening situation. I'll have to take time to do a retrospective sometime too. Unfortunately I didn't take so many pictures early on of the jungle of blackberry vines and poison oak. But now I'm off to see how my cuttings are doing!
Country Mouse said…
BTW Barbara I love your mention of Shirley - I also have a particular fondness for our lizards and believe I can recognize a few who have their domains in specific places. I think I like them because they look back at me, and don't always run away. And they look so cool! - Best, Country Mouse.
Anonymous said…
Town Mouse I love the photos. With the posts you've done on designing your native garden in the front and your participation in the Natives Tour, we've seen a lot of your front yard, so it's great to see more about what's going on in back.

I appreciated the part about not realizing how much you would enjoy just stepping out into the garden just to see what was going on. I recently visited a client who when we started out, was neither knowledgeable nor interested in gardening. Two years later, her favorite thing to do when she comes home from work is to do a "tour of inspection" and see how everything is doing. She's completely hooked and in fact now emails ME great links about gardening topics she thinks I should know about.

Thanks for linking to the Lawn Reform contest - I have been so inspired by what participants have to say and have also discovered some great new blogs!
rebecca Sweet said…
What a great post - I love what you did with your pool, especially the detailed photos. Photos speak a thousand words and I'll definitely be showing this post to many of my clients who don't know what to do with their un-used pools! Thanks again!
David said…
Great post- I am envious of your lizards! Wonderful!