When it comes to our residential landscapes, turf grass continues to have a firm grasp on our imagination. I remember when we first moved to our 80 acre farm some 30 years ago, our idea of domesticating these wild, weedy spaces was to till them up, seed it in turf grass and mow. I am astonished to look back and think that we had no sense of any alternative. We had no idea that there were other things one could do with open spaces, other than leave them in weeds or to convert them to turf grass.
Granted, there is something pleasing about a golf fairway, or a pristine baseball field, a well-maintained park, the mowed ditches along the freeway. Some might argue that such mowing communicates a sense of order, civilization, humanity's dominance over nature. But the problem is, it seems to me, that turf grass is the only show in town, so to speak. Like when we moved out here on our farm some 30 years ago, we could conceive of no alternative to turf grass.
This, and yet the down side to turf grass is clear: turf grasses are high maintenance. Billions of dollars every year are spent on spraying herbicides on lawn to control weeds. Not only does one have to mow a lawn, but annoyingly we have to do things to our lawns that make it so we have to mow them more often, such as water and fertilize. As Michael Pollan has put it, the task of maintaining a lawn is truly Sysiphean (you will recall that Sysiphus is the Greek Mythological character who was sentenced for his wrongdoing was to push a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down and have to repeat the process).
My thinking is that the two work nicely together, can complement each other. The paths and parameters of turf grass can enhance the prairie plots within them. I like to leave a bit of turf grass along a driveway, which gives the natives a give it a more intentional look.
There are often many parts of a lawn that is put to no real use. These parts can be converted to prairie which makes for a low-maintence, environmentally productive, and beautiful landscape. Some day, part of owning a residential landscape may involve the homeowners saying to themselves, "we're not using this part of our lawn for anything. Let's put it in pollinators."