The abundant rain this summer has been a huge boon for my garden. Last fall, my husband and I expanded the garden beds by creating a low rock wall border. I went a little crazy, as I usually do in spring and early summer, adding plants – mainly perennials – to the garden, and our hard work has paid off bee-utifully.
I live in a neighborhood predominantly characterized by older mid-century homes set back from the street, with large expanses of tightly manicured lawns and unassuming, low-maintenance foundation plants (large bushes and green ground cover.) It’s stately – and frankly, a bit boring.
More than anything, I am concerned about the perpetual use of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation systems used in these yards to maintain their perfectly green lawns. We have seen a decline in the bee, butterfly and firefly populations over the past decade, which can be directly attributable to non-sustainable gardening practices.
We refuse to chemically treat our lawn, allowing different kinds of grasses (and weeds) to commingle, perhaps to the chagrin of some of our neighbors. In between mowing, the clover flowers pop back up, and bees are often bouncing from one to the next. It’s a real lawn, and as my friend Sloane (one half of the husband and wife team of Freedonia Mercantile & Design, who creates garden spaces for people seeking a renewed relationship with the outside world) says, “the lawns we played on as children.”
Our street gets a fair amount of traffic, so I decided that I wanted our yard to be a bright spot of color and delight for passerby – and for us, as well. With few exceptions, there’s not a lot of life or color in the yards on my street, although the neighborhood association does upkeep on the ravine and creek that runs behind our properties, providing much-needed green space and respite for birds, rabbits, and other animals.
My efforts seem to be paying off. The garden is bright and colorful, and I can often be found outside, deadheading spent blooms, weeding, arranging flagstone or adding more plants. It makes me so happy to connect directly with the Earth through my garden.
Dahlias are one of the few annuals I planted, and several of the plants have really taken off. The bees love them, and spend every chance they get, gathering pollen. Today, I counted at least 7 or 8 bees flitting around the dahlias and they were not in the least bit bothered by my presence. I’m seeing a few more fireflies in the evenings too, which is encouraging. I’m hoping the lantana and yellow daisies lure more butterflies back into the garden too.
I’m already planning to expand the garden beds to further minimize the huge expanse of lawn. We generally do not water our lawn but in times of drought, a large lawn creates an unnecessary burden to maintain. Plus, a well-tended perennial garden really doesn’t require a lot of upkeep, whereas a big lawn constantly requires mowing, edging, fertilization etc. Once you’ve made the initial investment in the plants, they continue to return on that investment year after year.
Ultimately, I hope we inspire our neighbors to change some of their practices and create sustainable, “greener” yards with more color and life. The time spent outside, tending to gardens in the front yard create more opportunity to reconnect with other neighbors, building a stronger, supportive community. It also sends a message to our children that the Earth’s flora and fauna are worth cultivating, nurturing and protecting for its well-being – and ours too.
Plant your garden with love.
*A shout out to my awesome hubby for suggesting the title of this post, with all due respect to Ram Dass.