Gardens, Not Grass!

Well, in my last post, you were warned! This post is unashamedly an anti-lawn rant.

But let’s start with some conciliatory words. Lawns can have a place in a domestic setting. I’ll cop that. They give kids a clear space to play in that is forgiving when they take a tumble. Backyard sport is an Aussie childhood tradition and lawn is an intrinsic element of that – my brother and I played some epic backyard tennis-ball-soccer games as kids, with the garage side door as a goal. And taking the Burley out for kick-to-kick on the front lawn without bringing down the powerlines that hovered overhead was a challenge we rose to endlessly.

Those days are long, long past, and I have not done my bit to extend the family tree. There seems no reason to have a lawn in a kid-free zone, and I’m pleased to say I dug the bastard up some years ago (the lawn, not the kid) – see previous post. Good riddance, and I’ll explain why directly.

You folk out there who have kids, or for some other reason (can’t imagine what!) want a lawn, ferchrissakes at least make sure it’s one of the new easy-care varieties like Sir Walter buffalo. Buffalo is relatively easy to strip away once you’ve realised the error of your ways (or the kids have grown up). Whatever you do, JUST DON’T PLANT COUCH or any variety of it! Please please please!

Couch is a curse, an invasive alien that has escaped many a field in the country and slowly strangled the bejaisus out of surrounding native plants. In a domestic urban setting it is a bloody nuisance. It can send its runners as deep as 2 metres (yes!) and is damned hard to eradicate.

There are only two proven ways I know of to murder couch:
1) Dig it up (and that is a challenge I fervently hope I never have to face again – next time, I’ll be thinking bobcat)
2) Feed it up until it’s lush, then spray it with Roundup, or an equivalent

Roundup is a nasty potion, though, which I won’t use. But not everyone is prepared to lose half their body-weight in sweat and fury tunnelling to the centre of the Earth on the trail of every last couch root. For you wimps, Roundup is the lesser of two evils, so go ahead if you have to – just this once.

It took me multiple weekends of gut-wobbling effort to dig up the front and back lawns, and the verge, but it was worth it. In place of that useless, water-hogging, bindi-prone, time-wasting couch, we now have a verge and front garden full of waterwise native shrubs, mulched with green street prunings (‘enviromulch’) – the best mulch there is, and it cost nothing (see The garden is now virtually weed-free, and maintenance is minimal – so there’s more time to crack a tinnie and, if you’re so inclined, sit back and watch native birds like honeyeaters and wattlebirds flitting in and out of yer prostrate grevilleas.

Once the lawns were gone, I ripped up the spray irrigation front and back and replaced it with a sub-mulch hi-tech drip system that quietly and invisibly delivers water right to the roots of the plants, without wasting a drop through evaporation. I completed the lot – back, front and verge – for under $200, and that was before the government decided to give a rebate on drip irrigation. Our water bills have plummeted, and the plants have never looked happier.

Retro-fitting drip irrigation to replace a spray system is easy. You don’t even have to change the solenoids or stations. More on this in subsequent posts.

But best of all, for me, is the backyard. Once a boring square of lawn, it is now…
…an organic herb and vege mini-farm!

That shot is deceptive, actually. It looks like the whole backyard is devoted to broad beans, but in fact, the bed is quite small, and it’s one of several. The backyard itself is smaller than average, but year-round it keeps us in lettuces of multiple varieties, rocket, silver beet, Chinese veges, chillies, lemongrass and virtually every herb you’ll ever need.

Seasonally, the backyard serves up sweet corn, tomatoes, eggplants, onions, spring onions, shallots, garlic, beetroot, parsnip, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, broad beans, runner beans, potatoes, capsicum, pumpkin, limes, lemons, cumquats, mulberries…and I’m talking el primo organic produce far fresher than you can hope for from the supermarkets.

Here are some pics of our backyard produce (pathetic, isn’t it…but this is how you get once you’re back in touch with yer inner vege farmer) – and lemme state for the record that not one droplet of insectide, nor a granule of superphosphate or other chemical fertiliser, contributed to this 100% organic backyard bounty:




(They’re zucchinis – as big as butternut pumpkins! Seen anything like that at Woolies or Coles lately?)

Sure, growing organic veges and herbs takes a bit of effort – though less than a well-maintained lawn demands. And the learning never stops. But the daily buzz you get using the glorious produce from your backyard in your cooking is more than ample reward. Not to mention the flavour and health benefits that derive from fresh organic food.

I can’t remember the last time I bought broad beans, lettuce, rocket, Chinese veges, silver beet, chillies…

Ditto lemongrass, rosemary, bay leaves, parsley, basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage, mint, chives…and herbs take almost no effort. That’s value!

Where’s the value in lawn? Your backyard (and front yard, for that matter) is your own organic excitement machine just waiting to happen. The only obstacle in its way is that bloody lawn and your attitude. Go on – dig it up. You know you want to.

Related posts:

  • The Waterwise Gardening Revolution
  • 4 thoughts on “Gardens, Not Grass!”

    1. Onya, LL!

      If you’re really limited for space, pots of lettuces and herbs work well. You should be mindful, also, that my knowledge is limited to Perth conditions (in fact, limited generally…lotsa learning still ahead).

      Malaysia’s tropical climate and your soil are factors I couldn’t comment upon, but they’ll make a difference – probably more positive than negative, I suspect.

      To be honest, I’ve found tomatoes to be one of the hardest to get right. Still haven’t gotten anywhere near the beauties my father used to produce (but he used superphosphate, insecticides etc). And last year, when we looked set for a bumper tomato crop, rats (would you believe it?) took them one by one at the earliest sign of ripening – many kilos worth in total. VERY frustrating. Multiple baitings all through summer and into autumn made zero difference. Fingers crossed that the rodent curse doesn’t afflict us this year.

      Anyway, good luck with your veges, and lemme know how you go.

    2. your garden looks fantastic! We’re in Perth too and have just started our garden 3-4 months ago. No lawn, but we’re maxing out on self watering pots and planters!!

    3. Hi petrina, and thanks for your comment – harvesting the produce from the garden is a daily buzz that never wanes.

      Good on you for not having lawn! I wish you success and satisfaction in turning the space that would be uselessly and expensively occupied by lawn into a bumper backyard organic garden!

      I can highly recommend the ‘Great Food Garden’ seminars. VERY popular now, so you’ll need to book ahead. Great if you’re starting up, and even for experienced backyard food gardeners, there’s a lot of new stuff to learn about adapting trad methods to our unique Perth climate and soils, while remaining waterwise and not adding to the nutrients that leach into the water table and end up nourishing algal bloom in the Swan River.

      PS: I wanted to check out your blog site, but the computer hung and required a re-boot every time I clicked on your link. In the end, I removed the link in case others found the same. Maybe you could check out any issues, and re-post the link here when it’s working ok?

      Update as of August 5th 2011
      The Great Gardens team have split. However, a core group of team members have started a new group, Beyond Gardens, which is running free seminars on backyard fruit and vege growing along the same lines as the Great Gardens ‘Great Food Garden’ seminars. Check their website for details of dates and venues. Booking essential.

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