The concept of the personal spot of green surrounding a private home…better known as a lawn, is relatively new in the history of modern man. The lawn originated in Europe in the Middle Ages as a “grazing pasture” for farm animals, its mixed grasses and wildflowers were kept in check by hungry sheep, cattle, or goats, who by the way also helped to keep the green space well fertilized. Expansive, manicured lawns became popular among Europe’s nobility by the 1600’s, while the less fortunate commoners enjoyed the communal space provided by a village green.
The early American yard was more often a small vegetable and herb garden with some pasture for grazing animals. However in the early part of the 19th century, turf began to gain prominence in the U.S., when rambling, meticulously maintained lawns became a status symbol of the wealthy and powerful. It wasn’t until after World War II, that lawns became more attainable for average Americans. As cities sprawled into suburban residential developments, the new American homeowner took great pride in claiming their own little piece of real estate heaven – an outward sign of their growing prosperity. The attractiveness of the lawn, a natural extension of the home’s taste and personality, became an important criteria for determining the value of the property – in other words, it’s curb appeal.
With the advent of the postwar lawn, came the development, and use of chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers to aid in the creation of the “perfect” lawn – one that was lush, green, and weed-free, no matter the climate or weather conditions…not a sustainable trend by any measure. The result was nitrates from fertilizers contaminating water supplies through run off and leaching, and unintended consequences to wildlife and people from unregulated pesticides and herbicides. Overuse of water for irrigation of lawns also posed a serious threat to metropolitan water supplies.
According to one estimate, 40 million acres of land is devoted to turfgrass in the United States with nearly 75 percent in home lawns and more than 30 billion dollars spent on annual lawn maintenance.
The 21st Century Lawn
Fortunately, more and more homeowners are making a transition to more sustainable lawns that allow for private green space without wreaking havoc on the environment or the family budget. Whether you are looking to update your landscape, create a new deck or patio, reduce water and energy use, or improve your home’s privacy and security, taking the time to look at some sustainable solutions to your outdoor projects can save you time and money, while helping you do your part for the environment.
Choose climate appropriate, drought tolerant and native/adapted plants. By using plants that are suited to local conditions you can reduce irrigation water use, help to prevent erosion and lower maintenance costs.
Reduce turf and grass areas. Turf lawns require more supplemental water and are more maintenance intensive. Use turf only in areas such as those for play or other areas set aside for recreation. Select grasses capable of withstanding some dry periods, without additional irrigation. If you must water, manual watering with a hand-held hose tends to be the most efficient. Water your lawn or garden during the coolest part of the day (early morning is best).
Re-naturalize more of your lawn. As you reduce the amount of routinely maintained turf area, increase natural areas by avoiding mowing, fertilizing and raking leaves. With time, native plants will take root and re-establish themselves, transforming the space to a natural habitat for birds and wildlife. There will be less of your lawn to mow and maintain, and the re-naturalized areas will help to absorb rainwater and reduce storm water runoff.
Use trees and shrubs to help make your home more energy efficient. Shade trees not only make spending time outdoors more comfortable, they can help drastically reduce energy bills in the summer if they are strategically planted to shield the home from the summer sun. Keep in mind that deciduous species, (those that shed their leaves in the fall) will also allow the suns rays to warm your home in winter.
Consider sustainable products when updating outdoor structures or paved areas.
An outdoor deck or patio can increase the livable space of your home and create a comfortable setting for family gatherings and outdoor recreation. For the deck, there are a number of environmentally friendly choices to check out. For example decking is now available in recycled plastic or recycled wood/plastic composite lumber that can be used as an alternative to conventional virgin wood. Or if you are a wood purist, consider a wood variety that has been sustainably harvested and certified.
Consider porous natural clay paving bricks for patios, walks and driveways. By using porous paving materials instead of asphalt or concrete, you can reduce storm water runoff and improve rainwater absorption. Natural paving bricks come in a wide variety of color choices and styles to complement any home and landscape.
Fencing can provide privacy and security for your home and garden. There are a number of sustainable fencing options available on the market, including: salvaged, reclaimed, recycled or certified wood; fiber cement, recycled plastic lumber, or composite lumber, which require less maintenance. Consider a “living” fence, using plants to create privacy and a barrier to unwanted animals or humans. Blackberry and raspberry bushes are choices that give the added benefit of fresh berries in the summer. Talk to your local nurseryman about these and other varieties of plants that are quick growing and indigenous to your area.
Source: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency For more about sustainable building products, visit www.greenhomeguide.com the website of the U.S. Green Building Council.