Early every spring as I drive into town I notice that
people have erupted from their houses and are out on their lawns.
But, instead of enjoying the balmy air, they stand with their heads bowed,
holding little canisters of poison in their arms dutifully dribbling toxic
chemicals onto the earth. The deadly compounds that they so easily
distribute have the potential to endanger the life of all birds, bugs,
plants, children and grown-ups that might inhale or otherwise consume
them. We chance all that to kill the dandelion sprouts that dare to
"yellow up" our lawns? I would like to dare these people to try
something else and that is to just love the (edible, if not
poisoned) dandelions. What is the worst thing that could happen?
It seems that the world around me has been brainwashed into scorning
dandelions on the lawn. Why must a yard be monochromatic? Why
should everything that naturally comes up be wiped out and replaced with
just one kind of grass? Who made up these rules? We are seeing
that our world is confused about a number of things and I think that this
disdain for dandelions is one of them. This lowly little flower is
quite beautiful and is related to the larger sunflower. If
dandelions were not free I believe that more of us would be ordering them
from mail order catalogs and planting them in rows like marigolds.
Letting dandelions and other wild plants grow is like having your own
personal, renewable, sustainable food source erupting continually on your
lawn. Hardy and full of life-giving energy, a great source of
nutrients and minerals, wild plants have the potential to, once again,
become very beneficial to us humans if we would just kneel down, have a
good look and get to know them well enough to open our minds to their many
Instead we buy vitamins in plastic pill bottles, which add slime to the
landfills when we throw the containers away, while we spray toxic
chemicals on the free vitamins that would grow naturally right outside our
door. I have often seen the same folk who have saturated their lawn
with herbicides in the spring, later in the season, spraying their
monochromatic lawn with precious water during a drought. This
valuable water could surely be put to a better use than keeping up their
prestigious lawns! It could be replenishing the food supply.
In a world where insurance costs are skyrocketing, medical expenses are
out of this world, transportation and food prices are continuously
increasing, wouldn’t it make sense to go back to our roots and seek the
forgotten food and medicinal value of the vitamin packed, herbs that yearn
to grow, wild and free, at our feet? When I proposed this article to
the editor of this website, Neil informed me that, “in Eastern Europe,
lawns are almost unheard of and anyone who doesn't live in an apartment
plants their back yard fence-to-fence with fruits, flowers and
vegetables.” Perhaps we should follow suit.
Our so-called "local experts" are often part of the
problem. I was appalled when glancing through a local newspaper last
spring when I came upon an article by the Master Gardener Coordinator with
the County Extension Office who recommended several applications of a post
emergence, broadleaf, herbicide to get rid of wild violets and strongly
suggested saturating the earth with a combination of broadleaf herbicides
requiring the formulations 2,4-D, MCPP, diamba, MCPA, and 2,4-DP to
control dandelions. Why? We sure have acquired some rigid
attitudes towards what we consider the scandalous weeds that come up
uninvited in everyone’s lawns.
Why don’t we just change our attitudes? It is
my belief that it will be the homestead type, the hobby farmers, the back-
to-the-landers and all the wanna-bes (who really are, but don’t know it
yet) who will be the ones to stand up, proclaim that the emperor is
wearing no clothes, and be the children to the realization that dandelions
and other wild plants are quite useful, practical and necessary, dressing
up an otherwise naked lawn.
My husband, who is a beekeeper, says that when he sets up to sell his
honey the number one questions he is asked by interested customers is,
“Where have all the bees gone?” or “Why are there no bees on my lawn
anymore?” He will answer them with more questions, “ o you spray
your lawn for weeds? Do you let the wild plantains, clovers and
dandelions bloom?” Honeybees are not at all attracted to the golf
course type lawn that many Americans think they have to uphold.
Indeed, birds, butterflies and other wildlife cannot survive on our
deserts of mown grass; they need native plants, shrubs, trees and a
diverse variety of habitats and food sources to thrive and reproduce.
Growing wild plants on our lawns has the potential of saving each one of
us a lot of money as we would have less need to mow and would have no need
whatsoever to buy fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides or grass seed.
Nor do we need to water a natural lawn as most wild plants are very
drought resistant and hardy.
I have a hard time even understanding what people see in
plain green lawns. When I was a child, my parents would take us for
Sunday afternoon drives around the countryside where I would glimpse, from
the car window, plots of overgrown gardens that filled me with
fascination. I wanted to jump right out and go exploring.
Mulched, uniform, clipped, heavily controlled environments didn't inspire
my curiosity at all.
I still see them as dull. The tangled yards, half
domesticated and partly gone back to nature were the ones that tugged at
my heart. Rustic cottages covered with wisteria and ivy looked
quaint and homey to me. Overgrown side yards with native plants left
to twine company with bulbs from Holland filled my need for mystery.
To me a restrained, too orderly garden has no charm whatsoever. It
embraces none of the unpredictable surprises that a little leeway can
When a plant comes up on our property that I do not
recognize I am most inclined to just let it grow. Anticipation
builds up inside of me as I wait for it to come into flower so that I can
identify it in my field guides. I have been thrilled to discover, to
name just a few, such plants as: flower-for-an-hour, self-heal,
jack-in-the-pulpit, flowering dogwood, elderberries, poke weed and spring
beauties coming up in my yard all on their own, perhaps with a little help
from the birds.
A relaxed approach to gardening certainly allows room for
what I call Mother Nature’s plantings. At times she decides to seed
hollyhocks in the strawberry patch, Queen Anne’s Lace with the zinnias or
chicory alongside the sidewalk and who am I to disagree?
You won't see any mulch in my gardens either except on the
paths. Everyone has their own idea of beauty, but a sea of grass
with a few beds of mulch along the sides with a plant situated here and
there is stark and unattractive to me and void of any enchantment.
Some folks find my overgrown yard messy and unattractive but who must it
please, me or them? According to me, the rest of the world is just
way too uptight about yards. Our yard is my oasis, a refuge from the
world of technicality, logic and order. Our lawn is a respite for
myself and my feathered and furry friends. I say let there be
unplanned blooms, private disclosures and never ending marvels. I
need not to be in control; my main endeavor is to be in harmony with
nature. My gardens speak to me of the inexplicability of The Creator
and when I walk there I often feel Him walking along beside me.
A naturalized lawn does not need to be completely natural.
I have the most fun when I let the birds plant a little here, Mother
Nature sow a bit there and I stick in some color where and when I get
around to it. It is like having a whole team, each one of you with
your own talents and contributions. Our lawn goes through a
succession with the seasons, in early April the spring beauties and Dutch
bulbs bloom alongside dandelions and wild purple violets. In June,
the dame's rocket naturalizes beside domestic daylilies and fairy roses.
Come late summer, the goldenrod and New England asters dance beside
sunflowers and hollyhocks. I would like to share some of my tried
and true wild lawn plant recipes for your enjoyment. If you cannot
identify the wild plants that will come up in a natural lawn seek out Park
Rangers, naturalists, herbalists, friends and neighbors in the know to get
you started and learn how to key out plants in a field guide.