Buying a home and property is an exercise in balances. It’s impossible to get everything we want, but we feel lucky with what we have. One of the things we did not want that we were stuck with, in addition to a pile of rotting wood behind the shed, is a large area of lawn that had been mowed all summer, every year.
we live in Vermont, so this isn’t exactly the same as a lawn in California. We’d never water it. It’s possible during some years it could turn a bit brown, but for the most part Vermont is ridiculously green during the entire growing season. So unlike California lawns, we are not irrigating with water ‘appropriated’ from elsewhere. We won’t fertilize it, why would we want it to grow faster? (lawn fertilizer also will make its way into the Winooski River and Lake Champlain, degrading water quality).
We also found that we had a lawnmower left with the house:
It needed only minor repairs, but by the time we got it running the lawn was quite overgrown… and this lawnmower doesn’t deal well with long grass. It was a struggle, to say the least, and I ended up dragging it backwards some of the time because it seemed to work better. All said and told, by the time everything I wanted to mow was mowed, I’d gone through nearly a gallon of gas. I could driven my relatively inefficient truck 20 miles with that amount of gas! Not to mention the lawnmower has no emission control system. And I love yardwork, but I’d rather be growing plants than mutilating them.
Because the lawn had gotten so long, mowing it resulted in extensive drifts of cut grass. Above is after the second mowing. I hope it kills some of the lawn underneath!
It’s been interesting watching the weeds and wildflowers respond to different mowing regimes. Areas that are mowed often (when not buried in clippings) tend to have grass, clover, ground ivy, and dandelions. An area that was apparently mowed regularly last year but was not mowed this year instead has waving grass seed heads and two surprisingly beautiful types of hawkweed. A few fleabanes (look similar to New England Aster) have also popped up.
Our larger field, which was probably cut a couple times of year in the recent past (but was a lawn further back), is full of bedstraw:
The below area was apparently mowed less recently due to there being a fallen tree and some blackberry bushes nearby. Here there is milkweed and goldenrod:
So our tentative plans? Native wildflowers under the shade of our hardwoods, a large swale and rain garden on the downhill side of the house (with water directed to it, away from the basement), and tons of garden space. Our garden this year is tiny due to a late start and lack of rototiller. Breaking sod by hand is HARD work! Also the plants have barely grown due to the cool, wet conditions.
As for the large field, I’d most like to have a mature forest of sugar maple, but since that will not happen in our lifetime, and totally abandoning the field would probably result in an invasive buckthorn thicket, the plan is to grow a few dogwoods and manage the rest for pollinators. As most people have heard bee species are struggling, and butterflies and pollinating flies also need help. Brush hogging the field after the growing season, when birds are no longer nesting and insects are going dormant, will also allow the field to transition from mostly grass to more pollinator-valuable species such as milkweed (already present in small numbers) and goldenrod. Planting or allowing a few dogwoods to grow will provide more flowers as well as perches and potential nesting habitat for birds. We already appear to have red winged blackbirds nesting in the area – not a rare species by any means but they certainly reward us with their beautiful songs (and apparent bird cussing when i walk into their territory). Leaving ground unplowed will allow bumblebees to nest in the area (another reason not to mow during the summer – we want these bees around but don’t want them pissed off and stinging me). We’ll also be planting fruit trees and maintaining the blackberry patch and a few blueberries (uncertain how they will do in this soil). Hopefully the pollinators visit those as well.
At first I wasn’t excited about the field, but it now seems full of opportunity (and work). The biggest challenge is that we don’t yet have a brush hog. It’s amazing how many things you don’t realize you need until you buy a house and land.