BayScaping: Design Your Perfect Yard
Our idea of the “perfect yard” grew from our ancestors’ appreciation of the manicured lawns of English estates. Large expanses of grass require heavy investments of fertilizers, pesticides, water, and labor. After Edwin Beard Budding invented the lawnmower in 1830, Americans became obsessed with lawns. By 1870, thanks to promotion by landscape architects, the detached home with a manicured lawn was the standard to which homeowners aspired. (New York Times, “A Thousand Years of House & Home,” December 30, 1999) Today, Americans spend about $7 billion a year on lawn care equipment and supplies.
By thinking about how we actually use our outdoor living space, families might design their yards to reflect how we really use them, and create a yard that requires less lawn, less maintenance, and is more environmental to boot.
Connecting lawn care with Casco Bay
Casco Bay is one of the primary reason people live in this region. Residents need to know that their lawn care practices can affect Casco Bay, even if they are not waterfront owners. Every time it rains water flows off roofs, streets, driveways, lawns, parking lots, and other surfaces, carrying pollutants. Water flows like a funnel down the watershed into the Bay. Runoff from yards enters groundwater and streams and eventually makes its way into the Bay, where it can promote algae growth that can deplete oxygen marine organisms need.
- Discuss, “What does grass need in order to grow”?
(i.e., Sun, Soil, Nutrients, Water, Warmth, Air (carbon dioxide and oxygen)
- What do children need for growth?
(i.e., Air (carbon dioxide and oxygen), Food, Water, Shelter, Clothing)
What requirements do plants and humans have in common?
What requirements for plant growth are supplied “automatically” by nature?
Which assistance/addition might need to be supplied by humans?
- Find photos of different kinds of yards. Photos of different kinds of yards, especially from different cultures, which can be found on the Internet or in Home & Garden magazines. Try to locate examples of English estates (our heritage), Japanese gardens, desert or xerotrophic yards, forested area, wildflower fields, rock gardens, paved playground, water garden, etc.
Discuss one highlight from each landscape. Highlight yards that minimize grass, as they require fewer chemicals to maintain them (fertilizers and pesticides); yards that have many trees or bushes, as these help to prevent stormwater runoff.
Ask children which landscapes they like best.
What features would they add to their own yard?
- Ask them to consider
How do you like to use your yard?
Who else would you like to use it? (wild animals, birds, insects, friends, pets, etc.)
How could you make your yard better for the environment? (don’t put down pesticides, prevent stormwater runoff, have buffer plantings to hold soil, cover bare ground with grass seed, less grass, etc.)
- Together, make a rough map of your own yard or a nearby plot of land, incorporating some or all of these features:
- Unvegetated areas
- Any buildings, structures, driveways, walkways or areas without lawn
- Uses of your lawn
- Sitting or barbecue area, play areas, sports areas, garden work area or compost bin, open turf for visual enjoyment
- Non-turf vegetation
- Garden beds, groundcovers, trees, shrubs
- Best areas for grass are generally where the lawn gets 6 or more hours of sun a day
- Problem turf (grass) areas
- Heavily worn, compacted, pest-damaged, or unused/excess lawn areas
- Surface water runoff, gullies, or eroding soil
- Soggy areas
- Ask children what features they would add/delete to make their yard more environmentally-friendly and more kid-friendly. Are they the same features?
- Have them re-draw their property depicting it with features that would make it their ideal yard.
- Brainstorm alternative uses for the family lawnmower if you had less lawn!
Read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Discuss how a special piece of land can be a refuge and an outlet for creativity.