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we mulched our lawn…

January 25, 2011

after the transformation

before the transformation: water intensive, labor intensive and low use.

I had lots of help

early winter with leaves falling

This past year we began to transform our front yard from plain lawn to native and edible landscape. Last May, as part of the 350 garden challenge and with the local environmental group, dailyacts, we had a morning workshop in the yard. Attendees learned how to mulch a lawn and change it into a rain garden and native plant/edible garden.

Before the day of the transformation, there is lots of prep work, and Trathan and Erin, of dailyacts are an excellent support team. They keep hands off enough to let me learn what to do and do what I wanted, but keep the support coming just when it is needed. First, I make about 15 garden designs. The yard is literally just lawn. It is a true blank slate, which can be challenging. I want it to be much more functional. The three year old isn’t going to be playing on the front lawn, in fact, he races across it towards the street. I end up with a circular swale design on each side of the front walk, with places for native plants, medicinal plants and edible plants. I leave the existing roses against the front porch.

After the plan is “finished”, we have a physically fit friend dig trenches where the swales are going to be. Not an easy task in sod that has been there many years. It takes him two days. The trenches are to be filled with mulch and become rainwater diverters and double as the garden paths. The dirt from the trenches is piled up where the garden beds are to be, right on top of the grass. The lawn is “edged”, the edges dug out and piled up nearby so mulch can stay beneath the concrete line at the edge. I love that we can just leave the lawn there, underneath everything.

On workshop day, lots of compost is mixed in with the dirt  and lots more compost added on top of that. Then cardboard is rolled out over all the contours, watered, and covered with mulch. Now we have a more rolling landscape with places to walk and plant. Into this mulch we plant huckleberry bushes, a yellow currant, a california hazelnut, a thimbleberry, toothache plant, some yerba buena (an aromatic native tea plant) a bunch of kales, and lots of sages across the front to keep the myriad dogs that walk by out of the yard without a fence.

It turns out, these sages will be needed to deter deer as well. Who knew there would be deer in town, but we see them walking down the sidewalk once in a while. The other day Lukas pointed to a deer walking past our neighbor’s driveway and said, “That deer is going to the creek for some water!” The creek is about a block away, and indeed the deer made the turnoff at the corner.

Since then, Lukas and I have planted a lot of little things: yarrows, self heal, more yerba buena, tobacco, woodland strawberries, lavender, red buckwheat, more sages, greens, and tomatoes (they had some of their leaves eaten by deer) There is lots more planting to be done and things are still growing. There is a ways to go, but I am working on patience and seeing what happens in each season.

Now, when we are in the front yard, Lukas runs the paths, looks at the plants and helps me weed and plant new things. It is a much more entertaining and functional environment. And we can use some of the things in this garden. This winter, we are watching lots of birds enjoy seeds throughout the yard! It’s actually hard to get Lukas in the house when we arrive home and sometimes hard to get him in the car on the way out too… When the leaves fell from the trees last year, we had to rake and pile and send them to the yard waste can—how silly! It feels very good to be able to make use of them this year, sweeping them right into the yard for mulch.


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