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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Grass Is Not Always Greener

It kind-of all started last year. After the usual mid-summer outbreak of sod-web worms chewing the grass to raggedy edges in the back yard. Then follow-up rounds of chinch bugs sucking the juices out of the lawn leaving patchy, dead areas.

At that point, it had been roughly a full two years since I gave up my addiction to commercial chemical fertilizers (and pesticides) and opted instead to feed and treat the lawn (and garden)with organic alternatives.

The fusion of all these factors brought me to the decision to quit fighting this predictable annual cycle. As much as possible anyway.

So when the thinning, damaged grass under the oak trees in the back last fall was at its worst, you may recall I created a pathway by removing a wide trail of the green stuff.

Making use of pine straw as the naturalistic covering for the trail it brought to my attention how making subtle changes to an area could give the same area a completely different feel. In keeping with the new-look lots of bromeliads, exotic-looking begonias, large-leaved crinums and bananas along with alocasias were added along the margins of the pathway. The idea was to create many new vignettes along the way.

All of these elements worked together to increase a sense of peacefulness while walking along under the oaks in the back garden.

Creating a naturalistic atmosphere between garden areas throughout is not to be confused with the numerous times lawn turf has been removed just because a new planting bed or veggie bed was in order. Such was the case last July when the front lawn was removed on the street side to create a drought resistant landscape bed. Well, now that I recall there was some pest damage to contend with there also.

I'm not against lawn turf. It has many useful qualities afterall. It serves as a restful break between many planting beds. It lies in wait for family to run, play, chase, and enjoy outdoor games. Even so, we have eliminated a large portion of it over the last few years. This has allowed for more increased habitats for the wildlife and at the same time inhibiting storm water run-off.

The use of pine straw as an alternative ground cover has become a favorite since the initial installation in the tropical pathway. In my mind it is reminescent of a forest floor. In some places such as the new circle garden fine pine and pine straw replaced the newly removed lawn.

Then there are those places where foot traffic wears down the grass. Or we could say troublesome areas where the grass just never seems to do well no matter the consistent efforts made to maintain it.

Such was the case between the house and two planting beds on the north side yard. It is the familiar route to the veggie garden.

An area of grass that struggled year after year. Even to the point of my laying down new sod every spring only to lose it by summers' end repeatedly.

I finally got it. Quit fighting it and come up with an alternate plan. Perfect.

Leaving the sparsely thriving grass in place, to keep from disturbing the micro-organisms growing just underneath, I layered this area with sheets of newspaper, moved the stones from the edge of the closest planting bed more toward the center, and pine straw became the new floor. With the gift of the wrought-iron chair (hugs to Mom) and the placement of a container pot next to it, a previously troublesome area became a focal point and another restful, peaceful place in the garden.

Interesting, too, how learning to work with our conditions rather than against them brings so much more peace of mind to the gardener.

Happy March, fellow gardeners! Spring is here and I wish you many hours of peace in your garden. Meems


  1. All great points, Meems. Go with the flow (or nature).

  2. Well said, Meems! I also have several areas where the weeds just taken over. I have some plans for those areas in my mind, but don't know when I can exercise them. One at a time, I guess :)

  3. You have made so many great points. I love that you make grass more of an accessory then the main element to your garden. I do like grass and how it creates a visual transition and also cools the landscape. Your paths and beds work very well with the grass as an accessory :^)

  4. After years of mowing what used to be a cow pasture, my husband has finally agreed to plant trees and shrubs to make the yard more wildlife friendly and prettier. We are working on it slowly year by year. If we did everything in one year, what would we have to look forward too:)

  5. Meems,
    Great post! I am trying also to reduce my small lawn area and make it more nature friendly. You share a lot of good ideas.

  6. This is precisely my philosophy. Work with what you've got. After all it is your garden talking to you. It is best to be friends with your garden rather than being its Boss.

  7. Meems - what a great area. That wrought-iron chair is so beautiful and looks so at home, an open invitation to sit and enjoy the garden.

  8. Reducing or eliminating lawn is being Florida friendly. You are doing it in a very visually pleasing way. I love following your projects and learning what can be done. Thanks for sharing the details.

  9. Well, Meems, I certainly always thought your grass was greener! My lawns have suffered the devastating effects of pestilence as you describe. I can't bear spraying (as the neighbors do) because of my birds and butterflies. After all, I'm inviting them into my garden. Anyway, my entire front lawn is completely devastated. We have replaced what areas DH would allow with groundcovers, but he insists on resodding a certain amount he has designated. Semi-shady areas, for some reason, have done better in my yard, and so far, I still have green grass in those spots.

  10. Meems,

    Thanks for this article. Our grass is kaput and we have seen lots of mole hills, hence sod web worms. We need grass for our dogs to play on otherwise they come in nasty when it is wet outside.

  11. Beautiful, Meems! I'm envious of your garden...I'm getting there, but will take some time, I believe. That's OK, though. Time is on my side. I like your use of pine needles...I've never used them, but they look really nice and natural in your setting.

  12. Brilliant, Meems! I love how you've learned to be flexible and creative and turned your "problem" areas into strengths and colorful focal points.

    Oh, and the new header is lovely. (It may not be that new, but I haven't been by in a week, shame on me.)

  13. Hello Meems, I love the look and feeling of the forest floor the pine straw gives. I wish I could get that here. We do have the casaurinas that the fallen needles that are perfect for walking on. Now that's an idea I will file away for later use. Have a great weekend my friend.

  14. Meem, great post: 'learning to live with our conditions', adapting to the natural habits... rather than fighting it.

    We have no lawn on our 6 acres here in the PNW and after attempting to plant our first tree 17 years ago (in rock and sandstone), we realized we had to bring in top soil and plant on top of it. The lessons nature teaches us!

  15. What an inspiring, fun post, Meems. I love the shift in your thinking and how you've created something that is more lovely, more restful, and more ecologically apt than a grass monoculture. I'm with you--not opposed to turf so long as it can be done in a at least partially sustainable way (without drenching it in chemicals is a good start.) I'm involved in gradually taking back more and more of the lawn around our place, and the other day had a conversation with Longsuffering spouse that went like this;
    Me: I'm going to plant evergreens all along that fence line.
    He: It'll be hard to mow!
    Me: The idea is LESS mowing, dear. You won't have to mow there. We're going to let the evergreens take hold and whatever wildflowers want to fill in, can. Leaving you more time to play with your boat instead of dealing with mowing or trimming.
    He: Oohhhhhhhhh!

    Sometimes I can be very convincing.

    I'm intrigued by what you call pine straw, as I have never heard that term before. It looks to me just like pine needles, which make an awesome mulch. We have few pines around my immediate neighbourhood, so new pines are part of my plan for this spring, in part because I covet the needles as more much.

    This post is a must read one for those who are addicted to their lawns--just so they can see it doesn't have to be a chemical wasteland or a 'mess' of overgrown grass. (you know how some neighbourhoods are about postagestamp turf wastelands in yards...) Excellent!

  16. Great post, Meems. I think it is true: Find an alternative when something is NOT working!!! You are doing a great job of finding alternatives to the grass which doesn't grow!!!!

    You should feature your yard in one of the Home and Garden Tours down there... Do they have such things there? We have them up here ---and we learn so much by seeing how others 'do it'.....

    You are the CHAMPION.

  17. Mother Nature has set a new path for you.....enjoy your vignettes and I can't wait to see more.


  18. Dear meeems, What you've described is a journey that more gardeners are making away from believing they need to have a perfect green lawn in order for their yards to be attractive. Pinestraw is a beautiful alternative to lawn! It really dresses up an area. I do love how it smells, too.

    I am planning on pinestrawing the paths this spring...there is one sunny spot that is covered with clover that I plan to leave for the bees~


  19. Cameron,
    So often I find myself trying to "fix" what goes wrong and it takes me a while sometimes to realize I'm fighting the flow. Part of the learning curve I suppose.

    The best plan is long range goals with a "one at a time" attitude. We will be so much happier along the journey if we take on each project with joy and don't let ourselves stress about what 'isn't' accomplished. (I'm talking to myself here, too.) lol

    I hadn't really thought abuot it that way but I like your use of terms. What used to be the highlight has become a part of the whole.

    It has taken me years to gradually carve out more and more planting beds. I agree... it gets the creative juices flowing to have something to look forward to.

    You make a great point also. No matter the size of the lawn every yard can be utilized for additional wildlife space.

  20. Lisa,
    A true friend is a good listener... thanks for the reminder.

    When my mom gave me that chair it dawned on me it could serve as the perfect 'resting place' for the seque from the front gardens to the veggie garden.

    Ahhh, the details. Thanks for the vote on my way-too-much-ramblings. lol Seriously, I do hope it helps others in some way to maybe "see it" and if it's something that works for you, too, then hopefully it helps get you there also. Sharing ideas is one of the great things about blogging. I've learned so much from others... it's a wonderful way to exchange ideas.

    You must have the right type of grass growing in those semi-shady areas. Coupled with the fact that those areas don't get as stressed in the summer OR the winter.
    I've replaced areas of sod so many times, too. I'm realizing more and more that in Florida that perfect, lush St. Augustine grass isn't even practical anymore with the watering restrictions and the predictable cycles of pests.

    I'm not at all familiar with the varieties of grass you can install up there in NC. But I agree the doggies need grass just like the grand-kiddos... got to have a place for them.

    Last fall was my first ever experience with pine needles. History here has proven that oak leaves worked into the soil and also composted were my mainstay for mulch. The pine needles came to mind for the tropical pathway and it worked nicely. Now I'm increasing my useage of them in other areas.

    Gardens are always evolving... you are so right ... time is on your side. Breathe in the moments and love every minute of gardening and peace will be your guide. The bonus is that along the way we get to encourage each other and share ideas. What could be more fun for plant geeks?

    Thank you. The new header is a cheerful hollyhock and it hasn't been up too long. :-) The longer we garden the more we realize there will always be problem areas. It certainly is more peaceful to find the most practical solution that "fits" rather than the struggle of working against it. Gardening is full of life lessons isn't it!

    Hello, dear Helen,
    I'm on that quest to creating a more naturalistic space with my tropicals intermingled in strategic places. The pine needles offer a soft, natural setting that, much to my surprise, I'm really loving. Best wishes to you, dear friend. hugs*

    Your place is magnificent. The conditions you work with 'could' discourage a weaker soul. I admire your wisdom.

    Fortunately for me Mr. Meems lets me be as creative as I want to be in the garden so no consultations about how much grass stays or goes. He does however question my sanity at times which makes for some interesting times. LOL

    I like your idea for the evergreens and your convincing ways~~ helps to talk their language. LOL

    You are correct it is pine needles, a term interchangeable down here with pine straw I suppose. The pine trees themselves are abundant in Florida but they serve as lightning attractors so we don't have any on our property. I found a place to purchase the pine needles by the bale. Remarkably, this is my first useage of them although I know many folks have used it as mulch... my go-to mulch has always been my own falling oak leaves. Now I'm really appreciating the mixture of oak leaves, pine bark, and pine needles. The combination also adds to the naturalistic appeal I'm evolving towards.

    In Florida the postage stamp, lush green lawn has forever been the norm. Lots of factors play into that mentality but suffice to say it is highly impractical in our environment.

  21. Betsy,
    I've been a slow learner in this area. But hopefully I'm "getting it" now. And about those tours... I think you have to be "invited" to participate. *smile*

    I think it's that I'm "finally" taking the right ques.

    Oh, how nice to have a clover area to leave for the bees. I've never really thought of it as "dressing up an area" but I like the sound of it. I have to admit I breathed deeply when I brought in so many loads of pine bark.

  22. We only leave in what makes sense for utility and the rest goes. Great post on making these transitions in the garden.

  23. That bee image is amazing! I am so happy I clicked over to your blog from one of my favorite Garden Bloggers!

    Happy Bloom Day... can't wait to see what spring holds for you and your garden!

  24. A stunning new banner photo, Meems. This seems to be a metaphor for life in general doesn't it? Stop wishing and toiling for what you DON'T have and find the peace and contentment in what you do have. Kudos to mom for the chair. Very cool.

  25. That looks really nice! I hope to someday have a home with only mulch and groundcovers with no grass. Maybe a nice bed of mondo...

  26. WG,
    Thank you.

    Compost in my shoes,
    It is in interesting evolution of thinking on my part... as well as the changes in what makes sense for utility. When kids were growing up we needed every inch of lawn for them to enjoy.

    Hi BG Garden,
    So glad you stopped by. Spring is close at hand and the anticipation is high for the newness it brings.

    I'm starting to use mondo again.It is slooooowwww to grow but so nice for ground cover or between stones.

  27. Grace,
    Contentment. Finding peace with our gardens and going with the flow of it. It's taken me a while to get there but I think I'm finally 'getting it'. I do love the chair... don't LOVE too many "things" but I DO love the chair. :-)

  28. "Quit fighting it and come up with an alternate plan."

    I think you neatly summarized the solution to just about every garden challenge, Meems!

    Thanks ever so much for sharing your lawn-removal posts for this month's GGW Design Workshop. What an abundance of ideas and inspiration for getting rid of unneeded lawn.

  29. I was wondering if you use a barrier between lawn and beds? We recently expanded our planting beds and edging is not my hubby's fav thing to do. Thanks!

  30. Daisy,
    Hi. Thanks for the comment. I admit I'm a little over the top when it comes to clean edges. I don't put any unnatural barriers between grass and border if that is what you mean. I edge every time I mow... it is the only way to keep st. Augustine grass looking crisp and clean at the borders. Having said that in almost every instance I DO use plants to delineate the borders. For me, edging out entire beds with liriope or flax lily or bulbine or society garlic or bromeliads (or whatever), pulls everything together and finishes off the space. But that might just be me.


Have a blessed day,

September 2010

Back Garden: October 2010

Louise Philippe: Antique Rose

Tropical Pathway