At the Root

Story Felder Rushing

Root_GardenOkay, it’s finally spring, and by now enough stuff has bloomed to help shake off the fever … and I am already amused at the effort or money some neighbors are putting into lawns they don’t really use or enjoy.

I long ago came to terms with my being a lazy gardener who is gone a lot — sometimes weeks at a time — but who entertains quite a bit, when home, in my little cottage garden.

And I’m too cheap and picky to outsource the chores to professional gardeners. So in my little garden I had to cut to the chase. I designed my garden for maximum use, but minimum maintenance, using more people-friendly spaces and plants that thrive with no fuss.

With closely-planted mixed trees and shrubs, grouped perennials, mulches and ground covers (including Asiatic jasmine, a jack-of-all trades for sun or shade) to take up space and decks providing the open spaces so important to keep things calm and tidy looking, most of my chores are eliminated, leaving me more time to relax or entertain.

In fact, the most maintenance I do now, other than rake or blow leaves, and hand-pull a few weeds before they get too established, is plant and water the groups of potted plants that give me seasonal color, herbs and a few attractive vegetables. All without my having to bend or lift.

Not that I don’t appreciate a nice lawn; I’m trained in turf management and love strolling across a neatly mowed lawn. Lawns are a strong unifying element to the garden, creating open spaces for viewing everything else and providing a place for kids to play and birds to swoop.

But the only time I see most of my neighbors out in their yard is when they mow — or are inspecting what paid mowers did. And they’re usually fretting.

Luckily, large lawns — the costliest part of most landscapes — are losing their across-the-board appeal, if not becoming downright passé. Modern lawns are smaller but more eye-catching. Think “throw rug” instead of wall-to-wall carpet.

This is not practical for folks with large landscapes, but getting rid of at least part of the lawn is the most compelling new landscape trend in the country for both more interesting looks and lower maintenance costs.

Hedges, fences, decks and walks, groups of shrubs and ground covers can easily divide big spaces into smaller areas or garden rooms, which is how most European gardens are designed. Only a small portion of lawn for garden strolling or public viewing (where neatness is most needed) is left.

To make a lawn smaller, simply cut a shallow ditch around what you can reasonably mow and cover the non-lawn area with mulch — the green and brown yin yang gives instant gratification — then plant other stuff as you get around to it.

No two people will do it the same, so don’t sweat criticism.

There’s a garden style revolution going on, folks, and its outcome looks good — with less work.