Ministry Of Controversy

How to Teach a Town to Garden – Ideas, Please!

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Fabulous plant-filled border, small lawn.

The Mission

To turn my mostly-lawn community of 1,600 townhouses, some with incredibly large yards, into a place with gardens that benefit the environment and humans, too.   We do have large trees and lots of geometrically shaped hedges, but that’s about it, except for the houses on the perimeter that face the woods.  (Sadly, there’s a whole lotta chainlink fencing.)  What’s sorely lacking are small trees, shrubs, and perennials.  Also, privacy, since most of the hedges are 4 feet tall, and there are sidewalks running across the back yards of most of our homes.

Here are the ideas I have so far, and I welcome more.

Articles in the Local Paper

I’ve been promised plenty of space in our weekly (still print) newspaper, and will start with an article arguing that to achieve a variety of environmental and human goals, removing lawn and planting small trees, shrubs and perennials is the simple answer.  Sure, rain barrels help, but deep-rooted plants retain stormwater while looking pretty and providing for wildlife.  Future articles will promote upcoming events, report on those events, and teach basic maintenance of shrubs, trees and perennials.

The “Less Lawn” Garden Tour

Most garden tours feature the prettiest and often the most expensive gardens available to the tour-organizers, but the tour I’ve volunteered to organize will avoid the sticky wicket of choosing the prettiest and simply choose the most instructive – and inspiring, too – the ones with less lawn and more plants (okay, turfgrasses are technically plants but barely).  To increase the educational impact, I’ll be posting photos and plant lists of each garden on the tour to the web.

Does anyone know of a Less Lawn Tour that’s ever taken place?  I’ve asked some of the top experts in lawn reduction and they tell me they know of no such tour, ever.   So it’s high time to have one, and promote it as a model for duplication elsewhere.  Lawn reduction is officially a trend now, ya know.

Demonstration Garden(s)

“Before” photo of a neighbor’s yard.

To the surprise of exactly no one who knows me, I’ve adopted several of my neighbors’ yards already in my first year living here, and the one shown here is the perfect spot for showing how to turn a yard into a garden – by simply creating some borders and filling them up with plants, in this case give-aways that cost the homeowner nothing.  I used the popular newspaper+mulch method of lawn removal and am documenting every step in the process with photos and plant lists.  Here’s a “before” shots of the front yard, all turf and hedge, which now sports a new border in front of the hedge.

Talks and Demonstrations

Speakers are primed with their PowerPoints on the subject of rain gardens and alternatives to lawn (that one being my topic), and there will be at least one demonstration of pruning techniques, in someone’s actual garden.  The primary shrubs in town are, for hedges, privet and euonymus, and for foundation plants, azalea, so we’ll demonstrate much-needed pruning on them.

Web Resources

The community blog I edit and write for will have a special section (yet to be named) for photos and plant lists of gardens on the Less Lawn Tour, plus lots of other stuff.  Ideas include videos of the pruning demonstrations and profiles of plants that do really well here.

Master Gardener Help

Our county’s Master Gardeners have a booth at the local Farmers Market once a month, so I’m hoping they’ll be willing to carry the Less Lawn message, share plant lists, and more.  A pow-wow with the coordinator of the Farmers Market event is coming up soon.

Partners in Garden-Teaching

Speaking of pow-wow’s with possible partners, the more the better.  I’ve joined two co-op committees and am meeting with a couple more.  Better to have known people and groups sponsor the activities, rather than this newcomer.

Free Mulch Deliveries

One enthusiastic partner in garden-teaching is on the staff of the co-op and has volunteered to arrange for timely, free deliveries of mulch to help turn yards into gardens.

Name that Campaign!

We’re looking for words that convey nature-friendly, yet people-friendly, too, and easy.  So we won’t be using words like “sustainability” or “stormwater” but maybe “Yards to Gardens” or “Less Lawn, More Life” (thanks to Evelyn Hadden).  Ideas that use the town’s name, Greenbelt, include “Greenbelt Gardens” and “Greener Greenbelt.”  That last one is tricky because Greenbelt was planned as part of the “garden city” movement of the early 20th Century and being “green” is part of its self-image.  Trouble is, its “greenness” comes from its walkability, lake and surrounding woods, not from plants in people’s yards.

Posted by

Susan Harris
on February 22, 2013 at 9:13 am, in the category Lawn Reform, Real Gardens.

11 Comments

  1. I’m sure you’ve already heard of Incredible Edible Todmorden in England, which took a guerrilla approach to turning their public spaces into food production and revitalized the community. There might be some ideas here for you, including using the competitiveness of police and firefighters to jumpstart the planting of public spaces.http://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/projectshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUUJsb4V5aU&feature=share

  2. There are people who are never going to get involved with their yard/garden. They are going to hire maintenance. Of the mow and blow and meat balling kind. Unless you have landscape maintenance co.s that are trained to take of the type of landscaping you are promoting at the same price as mowing blowing, these folks are not going to buy in. So what about having classes at the vocational school/community college that would teach these classes or change their curriculum for the professionals?

  3. I love the ideas you have already. In addition (and maybe this is something for a little further down the line), I wonder if you could show people how to propagate plants that they already own as a lower cost way to fill their gardens with beauty. Even better would be if you could organize volunteers who have mature gardens to donate cuttings, unwanted self-sown seedlings or seeds to those who are new to gardening. Just getting started when your yard is completely bare can be so pricey and learning to grow a plant from a cutting, seed or seedling makes you feel extra connected to those little beings.

  4. Here’s what we did in London Ontario Canada… we held a boulevard garden contest. We enlisted the help of our neighbourhood association and rounded up some nice donations for prizes. We set guidelines so the gardens wouldn’t infringe on city bylaws. A group of three qualified judges was brought on board and we set a “judging date” so all the gardens would be observed on the same day. We promoted the heck out of the event– mailbox flyer drops, media release, posters on billboards. We took photos of the gardens as they appeared and set up a web site to display them. The prizes were given out at the fall fair.
    The project was a success and now, ten years later, most of the boulevards are still being maintained as gardens. Many of the gardeners went on to garden their front lawns and to join the neighbourhood garden club.
    Oh, if your neighbourhood doesn’t have a garden club, start one. Your first event should be a plant swap– make sure everyone goes home with something nice to plant!

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