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New Year, Less Lawn

Updated: Jan 6

Nature's Best Hope book cover

I'm kicking off this year reading "Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard" by Douglas W. Tallamy with my 6 year old daughter. We tried his first book "Bringing Nature Home" together, but within the first few pages she was asking more about word meanings than concepts. So I was thrilled to find another book by Dr. Tallamy that has been "translated" for kids. Each night we read the young reader's version of "Nature's Best Hope" together before bed and save time to talk about issues around the planet and what we can do at home.

So far (we're only about halfway through), his main takeaway is reduce lawn and plant native species to connect ecosystem networks around the world. He calls this Homegrown National Park and it's a park that everyone of us with a slice of outdoor space can contribute to.

When we lived in our Philadelphia row home, I grew more than a dozen native species in our 4'x16' garden and a multitude of herbs we happily shared with our caterpillar friends. It was beautiful, lush and full of interest. Even in that small urban space, we were contributing to Homegrown National Park.

Small urban garden in Philadelphia
Our small garden in Philly was only about 64SF but it was packed with layers of native plants

girl looking at caterpillar on parsley
My oldest daughter, at just over two years old, watching swallowtail caterpillars eat our parsley plants in our small city garden

suburban lawn
July 2020: South Lawn "before"

We've since moved to a beautiful 1.3 acre property in the suburbs. You might think it would be easy to instill that same scale of diversity across our new land, but the reality is, it takes lots of time to design, plant, and manage gardens on that scale and, with four little kids running around, time is scarce.

But in reading "Nature's Best Hope", the call to action is now. So in whatever free time I can find, I'm designing our property to serve as an ecosystem corridor for wildlife, a mini-market for our family, a stormwater vessel for our community, and a beautiful space for our friends and neighbors to visit.

spray painted bed lines in turf
This is the primary path from our kitchen to the compost; outside of the path will become a woodland planting

I've already performed the first steps of design: site inventory and site analysis. I know this property well through all seasons of the year and all times of day. I know how the shade and sun changes in the winter versus summer and which areas remain wet and which areas are rock-hard clay when we haven't had sufficient rain. I know which window views are important to us and what needs to be screened as we sit on the pool deck. I'm intimately familiar with how a cacophony of bats stirs in the sky at dusk.

The challenge is how the property changes in ways I can't predict: neighbors adding a new fence, interrupting that borrowed view; or extending a downspout to the property line, creating a new bog; or, worst of all, clearing a woodland, decimating the population of bats.

Adding to the challenge is our need to eventually start pool construction to fix our massive 1960s pool and pool deck. While that provides opportunity to further reduce stormwater runoff, there's no doubt that construction vehicles will need a path to the area and space in which to work, limiting what I can plant along that route until the project is over.

lawn with vegetable garden
December 2023, progress of the South Lawn: We've added a vegetable garden and young Paw Paws; the neighbors have added a fence. The white line denotes the proposed meadow while leaving space for future construction.

But as I've observe the conditions of the property and the needs of my family, it paints a more detailed picture of how to lay out the landscape to function for Homegrown National Park as well as our needs. So here are my key goals for our dream property:

  • Plant a diverse collection of native trees

  • Restore bat habitat

  • Welcome the neighboring fox population to our yard

  • Screen neighboring houses, sheds, and trampoline

  • Convert property to have less lawn

  • Plant winter interest plants to be utilized for Christmas decor

  • Create beautiful, stylized gardens around the house

  • Continue adding edible and harvestable plants throughout the landscape

Stay tuned for HOW exactly I achieve these goals. I'm working on the design now, but the implementation and management will be the harder part.

While a project of this magnitude is new for me on a personal level, I've designed dozens of residential landscapes and participated in construction and some level of management in most. I've seen the struggle to keep plants watered, or to keep weeds at bay. I now have a thorough conversation with each of my clients about phasing (or not) and what they can realistically expect in terms of garden development and management.

A garden with lots of color and texture, but no lawn
This is a garden I designed in which we removed all lawn in the front yard. This client is an avid gardener and wildlife photographer and she was willing to put the time and energy into ensuring this garden's success

I'm a firm believer in not biting off more than one can chew in a landscape. Unlike a kitchen renovation, landscape renovations are dynamic. Not only do the plants grow and change through the season, but outside forces impact your investment- weed seeds, high winds, deer browse, stormwater runoff, etc all have the ability to ruin the design intent. Once a portion of the landscape is renovated, it must be watched and cared for carefully to give new plants the best chance at survival all while limiting the chance for weeds to take over.

Knowing this, I need to carve out time to continue watching the gardens I've created, continue fighting back the invasives we inherited, and forge forward with my contribution to Homegrown National Park.

To learn more about Homegrown National Park and how to get your own property on the map, check out

Homegrown National Park

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