I pulled into the driveway and squinted at the sprawling green vine dotted with pink and purple flowers. I tilted my head to get a better look. Five or so snap peas. The boys clambered out of the van and began tugging the pods gently off of their vines and popping them into their mouths before I could sample one.
Scooting past the fava beans that stretched up to greet the unseasonably warm January sun, I walked over to greet my neighbor- the same one I surprised last year by pulling a potato out of my front flower bed. We chatted about the weather, the economy and whether she would mind my planting a pomegranate tree where the front lawn used to be.
I didn't always host a Victory Garden in my front yard. Once, a lawn spread neatly out from house to sidewalk. My trusty landscaper dutifully mowed and blowed our grassy expanses bi-monthly. Our yard was neat, clean, and fairly lifeless (if you discount the kids).
One day, about eighteen months ago, I read that "a traditional gas powered lawn mower produces as much air pollution as 43 new cars each being driven 12,000 miles" and that "home-owners apply ten times more chemicals per acre just on their lawns than farmers do on their crops." (Big Green Purse, 248). What was the point, I wondered, of carpooling or buying organic if all those emissions and chemicals just went in to my garden? I subsequently learned that lawns are the most irrigated crop in the United States, sucking up an average of 238 gallons of water per person, per day.
And so I began my journey toward greener pastures.
Making the Grass Greener
- Live and let live. It never occurred to me that my gardener used chemical fertilizers or pesticides in our yard until I asked him to stop. He did. We both turned a blind eye to a couple patches of clover and a few nibbles in the ornamental plants. Just that simple step removed toxins from the environment and ourselves and reduced polluted run off to our rivers, streams and oceans.
- Save green, save carbon. I later liberated my gardener along with his gas powered mowers and blowers and found a new life with a push mower and rake. Neither emit greenhouse gases and both actually burn calories! Of course, not everyone has time for their own gardening and, for those who don't, there are certified green gardeners.
Greener PasturesNo matter how much I greened my lawn, though, I realized that a lawn isn't all that green.
- Bit by bit. I slowly extended my flower beds into the lawn. Then, in the front yard, I whittled away at the lawn's edges or at isolated patches of grass. First to fall victim was the sidewalk strip, then the grass between the pathway and our driveway.
- Diversify. Grass is a monoculture - a single type of plant planted over a wide area. In it's place, I tucked biodiverse plantings: natives, edibles, and wildflowers. What was once a grassy walkway because a "pollinator" garden buzzing with butterflies, bees, humming birds, finches, and ladybugs. A pepper plant lounged between Shasta daisies and a native monkey flower perked up the corner of the house.
Edible gardens make good sense in a down economy. They allow us to feed ourselves for the price of a few seeds and some mindfully applied water. They also shrink our food mile average from 1,500 miles to about 100 feet. Grassroots groups have been begging the Obamas to plant a Victory Garden on the White House lawn and, if the Obamas' new chef is any indication, they just might get their way.
- Lookin' good. I started by dotting the ornamental looking veggies amongst the flowers in my traditional flower beds. Swiss chard, potatoes, peas, peppers, herbs, and blueberries blend in easily and are quite attractive.
- Ring the dinner bell. Once I got a taste of homegrown potatoes, there was no turning back. I began planting every sunny patch I could find. Last fall, we grew over 60 pounds of pumpkins. That's a whole mess o' pies.
It hasn't been a particularly difficult road to victory, but it has been a tasty one. Will you pick up a rake or shovel and join me?
The food's better, here. I promise.