#NoMowMay: A Step Toward Abolishing the Lawn?

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

This month is #NoMowMay, mostly in the UK but in the US too. The hash tag and concept was invented by the Plantlife site, “is a British conservation charity working nationally and internationally to save threatened wild flowers, plants and fungi.” From the FAQ:

Why “No Mow May”?

Over-maintenance of lawns and other grassy areas means that the wild plants in those grassy areas don’t have a chance to grow, flower and set seed. Changing the way we mow, mowing less regularly or allowing some areas to get long and leaving others short, enables a mixture of wildflowers to grow, flower and set seed.

If you change the way lawns and grassy areas are cut you will see more wildflowers; this is good for our senses and for pollinators.

And:

What is “No Mow May”?

We’re encouraging you to leave your lawnmower in the shed and let all your lawn grow long, just for the month of May. In this way, smaller plants like daisies, dandelions, selfheal, and clover will get a chance to flower. After the survey, you can carry on and leave some or all your lawn unmown if you want to encourage flowers for pollinators.

Some people will already have left all or part of their lawn unmown from the beginning of the season. It’s great if you’ve done this – letting a mini-meadow grow like this is an easy way to encourage wildflowers and wildlife into your garden.

The month builds toward a nice piece of citizen science:

On 21st May we’ll be asking all No Mow May participants to take the Every Flower Counts survey. Simply count the number of flowers in a square metre patch of lawn and get your very own Personal Nectar Score.

#NoMowMay is big enough in the UK that it serves as a news hook. From the Guardian, “Mow problem: gardeners encouraged not to cut lawns in May“:

Thousands of people take part in Plantlife’s annual Every Flower Counts citizen science survey, the largest ever study of garden lawns in the UK. The charity says the results show a “radical shift in attitudes towards lawn management is under way”. It says 78.8% of 2,157 EFC participants last year did not mow for a month before taking part in the survey, an increase from 33.6% in 2019.

People who chose not to mow were rewarded with rare plants. More than 250 wild plant species were recorded by gardeners last year, including wild strawberry, wild garlic and very rare plants including adder’s-tongue fern, meadow saxifrage, snakeshead fritillary and eyebright. Many orchids were also seen, including the declining ​man orchid, green-winged orchid, southern and northern marsh orchid and bee orchid.

Plants considered weeds should be welcomed in lawns in summer, the charity added, especially those such as dandelions, which provide important nectar for pollinators. Despite being outnumbered by daisies 85 to one on a typical 2021 lawn, they produced 9% of its pollen and 37% of its nectar sugar. Plantlife said just eight dandelion flowers may produce enough nectar sugar to meet an adult bumblebee’s baseline energy needs.

(I confess that I am enough of a bourgeios to regard dandelions as, well, a moral failing; a faliure to take care of the property properly. It seems that I am wrong!)

And from the BBC, “Gardeners urged to let lawns go wild to boost nature“:

One gardener who has been enjoying a more relaxed approach is Tom Jennings, 45, from Buckinghamshire. He says it’s a chance to reconnect with the natural world.

“There’s an obsession with neat gardens,” says Tom. “And a lot of that uses not only obsessive mowing but also chemicals which aren’t compatible with nature.”

After letting his back garden grow out, Tom witnessed an explosion of dandelions – important for pollinators such as bees.

Tom says he’s been stunned at how quickly bugs have returned to his back garden: an encouraging signal given the global decline of insect populations.

“You could walk through the middle of the garden on a sunny day, and it throbbed with that sound of insects,” he says. “That used to be commonplace in the British countryside, but sadly isn’t these days.”

Sarah Shuttleworth, 39, a botanist who works for Plantlife, has also noticed the chirping of crickets getting much more noticeable after allowing her lawn in Somerset to grow wild.

“It makes you feel like you’re somewhere tropical instead of your own garden,” she comments.

Here are a few examples of lawns unmown: A very inviting path:

Another inviting path:

Not just bees. Birds:

A meadow:

#NoMowMay hasn’t gotten much traction in the United States — there’s no equivalent of the coverage from the BBC and the Guardian — but I did see this story from the Associated Press, which I found encouraging. (It inspired this post, because I did some searches on “lawn.”) From “America’s love affair with the lawn is getting messy“:

LeighAnn Ferrara is transforming her small suburban yard from grass bordered by a few shrubs into an anti-lawn — a patchwork of flower beds, vegetables and fruit trees.

It didn’t happen all at once, says the mother of two young kids. “We started smothering small sections of the lawn each year with cardboard and mulch and planting them, and by now the front yard is probably three-quarters planting beds,” she says. “Every year we do more.”

Ha. I always said sheet mulching, which is what Ferrara is doing, was a gateway drug:

I want to put in a plug for sheet mulch, permaculture’s gateway drug: The idea (oversimplifying badly) is to mimic the accumulation of organic matter on the forest floor by covering one’s beds with at least a layer of newspaper or cardboard, and then layering straw on top of that. (Gurus do a lot more layering than that.) You can see at once how the paper would act as a weedblocker, and I like that, because weeding is work, and I don’t like work, but what’s less evident is how good sheet mulch is at capturing and retaining water. I walked over the straw at the edge of a bed just now, on my way out to, er, mark my territory to scare off the deer, those pests, and I could feel the dew against my feet, quite wet, all captured by the time the sun has risen. Quite remarkable. I only water the garden while the plants are establishing themselves, in early June, and then I don’t water at all for the rest of the season, and I like that, because watering the garden is work. Did I mention that I don’t like work? Sheet mulch is the reason I don’t have to water.

(Sheet mulch is also good for worms.) The trend toward “messy” is a fine case of over-determination. Back to AP:

In states with water shortages, many homeowners long ago swapped out turf grass for less-thirsty options, including succulents and gravel.

Elsewhere, the pandemic has speeded the trend away from lawns. Gardening exploded as a hobby, and many non-gardeners spent more time at home, paying more attention to the natural world around them.

Municipalities across the country are handing out lawn signs with “healthy yard” bragging rights to homeowners who forgo lawn chemicals or mow less often. Many towns are slapping regulations on common tools like gas-powered leaf blowers and mowers, mostly because of noise.

“For people interested in gardening, a lot have come to the realization it can’t just be ornamental anymore. It has to serve some other purpose, whether food, habitat … pack in as many uses as you can,” says Alicia Holloway, a University of Georgia Extension agent in Barrow County. “It’s a shift in thought, in aesthetics.”

(“[P]ack in as many uses as you can” is a succinct statement of the permaculture principle of “stacking functions.”)

Personally, #NoMowMay strikes me as a bit reformist. Why mow at all? I’m an abolitionist! Here is a fine rant from David Roberts:

I hate lawns — particularly suburban front lawns — beyond all reason. Probably more than I can justify. But they really are terrible.

I’m not just talking about the environmental impacts, though they are considerable. Maintaining millions of acres of monoculture means fighting against nature. With a little googling, you can find a million articles about the enormous amounts of water, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides used to grow America’s most common crop.

All that stuff is true, but it’s not what sticks in my craw. What bothers me most is the trade-off of public for private space.

By which Roberts means:

Instead of public gardens, everyone plants their own garden. Instead of events, gatherings, and festivals in public plazas, everyone has their own backyard BBQ. Instead of playgrounds and parks, everyone buys their own toys and play structures and has their own f’ing lawn.

The promise of the American suburban dream is that we don’t need a public — that the nuclear family can be sufficient unto itself. As Margaret Thatcher famously put it: “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”

The lawn began as a feature of UK feudal estates. The whole point was to flaunt wealth, to demonstrate that one owned so much land that one could afford to turn over swathes to nothing but ornamental green.

Then as now, maintaining that swathe of green required enormous amounts of resources and labor. That was the point, to show you had those resources.

Well, we don’t anymore, do we? Some resources the lawn demands, like the fertilizers and the poisons, shouldn’t be used at all. Other resources, like the labor, the water, and the soil, should be put to productive use (and not just productive for humans, but all life).

* * *

It’s all so obvious. But not necessarily to everyone! Issuing my standard caveat that IANAL — but maybe, readers, some of you are! — I want to look at two obstacles to treating your lawn as something other than a “tidy” status symbol and “mess”-free dead zone. First, local regulations. Next — and much more complicated — Home Owners Associations ( HOAs) and their Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CCRs). (What follows applies to property owners, but it also applies to renters, since the same rules applly to each.)

On the local authorities, Bee City, in its discussion of #NoMowMay, has these helpful hints:

Most cities and municipalities have some form of weed ordinance that dictates the height and sometimes even the types of plants a homeowner is allowed to grow. Unfortunately, many of these ordinances are woefully out of date and out of touch with the modern movement towards creating yards that support wildlife in urban settings. While local ordinances will vary greatly from place-to-place, here are a few tips for keeping local officials, and your neighbors happy:

  • Maintain a mowed buffer. Yes⁠, after spending a considerable amount of time discussing the problems with lawn, we are suggesting you keep some⁠—strategically. Keeping a mowed edge in front of or around a natural planting of a foot or two may be all that’s needed to define “lawn” from “garden” and keep you in step with local ordinances or Homeowner Association guidelines. Maintaining a tidy mowed edge also makes a busy natural planting look less overwhelming, and makes these spaces look intentional rather than neglectful.
  • Engage with your city council, health department, or other local officials. Tell them what you are doing, why, and begin a conversation about how they can support natural landscapes in their community. This fact sheet from Penn State can help arm you with facts to overcome the common myths that have led to overly restrictive weed ordinances.
  • Suggest an “opt-in” program, such as a Natural Lawn Registration program to sidestep the need to re-write a health code ordinance. Under such a model, a homeowner may register their natural landscape with their local health department. The health department can then decline to fine registered properties as long as they are maintaining the natural landscape properly and not encouraging the spread of noxious weeds.
  • Educate your neighbors and passersby about your landscaping choices. Displaying a simple sign designating your yard as pollinator habitat can be the difference between it being seen as a neglected area to people viewing it as an important part of a thriving landscape. Xerces offers downloadable signs for No Mow May and you can receive a pollinator habitat signs as a thank you for your donations through our gift center

(I really like the idea of a “pollinator habitat” sign. It has the great merit of being true!

HOAs are, I think, a tougher nut to crack. HOAs, so far as I can tell, exist to preserve [genuflects] property values:

HOAs are responsible for the community’s curb appeal, so expect yours to have rules about overgrown lawns, weeds and unkempt exteriors. Be sure to check the bylaws about what types of trees, plants and shrubs are allowed to be planted.

Yes, “curb appeal” is the euphemism I was looking for; which is weird, because I got many compliments for my garden, in both it’s vegetal and floral phases, and I can’t recall a single compliment on the boring lawn. But I suppose, from the buyer’s perspective, or perhaps the real estate agents, lawns are fungible, and gardens or meadows are not. (Of course, CCRs, the “bylaws”, were also said to keep property values high by keeping HOAs judenfrei, not even to mention Black people, but all that was a long time ago and we’ll hope it wasn’t true.)

Here is an example of a CCR:

• All front, side, and rear yard areas shall be seeded or sodded within six months after completion of construction. Within one year, not less than $250.00 shall be spent on each lot for landscaping other than the lawn.

• Lots shall be periodically mowed and loose debris and materials picked up and properly stored to prevent them from being spread and blown throughout the Properties.

And there are plenty of HOA members willing to do their bit enforcing the CCR. From the minutes of the same HOA:

L*** R****: Proposed a lawn committee based on the Covenant 5e that no weeds are going to be permitted to commence on properties and tree maintenance. Teach the people that the covenant is there, have conversations with neighbors. Doing some more education, cutting suckers, weeds contained.

One can only imagine what R**** would think of sheet-mulchinge one’s “sod.”)

(OK, “seeded” with what? And “mowed” like one of those cute UK paths? L*** R****: “Don’t get smart with me!”) The whole CCR thing ticks me off so much it’s hard for me to think straight. What gives these people the right to determine what I plant in my soil? (To which the answer is: “The CCR, which you signed. Did you read it?”) However, there are advantages to keeping a level head and a cool heart. From “What to do when your HOA bans vegetable gardens in your front yard?,” Nicole Schauder’s letter to the HOA:

At the HOA meeting, you asked me to speak about fulfilling my responsibility as a homeowner to ensure that my front garden is aesthetically pleasing and well-maintained.

You will see in the picture attached that we have very dutifully trimmed the browned leaves. We have also raked the leaves from our neighbor’s yards. We promise to continue to maintain, prune, harvest, prevent rot and keep our garden as beautiful as possible. Currently, we do not have anything growing on the trellis as it is winter. We were planning to decorate it with evergreen long wreaths for Christmas.

If you find our front yard unmaintained, let us know immediately so that we may rectify the situation as soon as possible. We tend to our gardens every single day.

We use a “cottage style” aesthetic with minimal borders and lawns. I have also taken a short-course on garden aesthetics. Thanks to that course, my front yard design has been featured in the Hall of Fame designs of English garden designer, Rachel Mathews.

I believe that the maintenance of our front vegetable garden increases the market value of Fox Creek Community for the reasons elaborated above:

– Overall health of the people that our garden feeds

– Happiness of our neighbors, through friendships, community tours, sustainability education

– Beauty of our lawn

– Environmental Impact & Green Living

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and considering the reasons we have given to allow us to grow fruits and vegetables as we would like.

This worked, apparently. (I bet it was the “featured in the Hall of Fame” bit that did the trick. Though whether L*** R**** would have been persuaded is an open question. (Reading between the lines, Schauder was also quite a networker, and a lot of other HOA members were gardening, too. HOAs do, after all, vote.)

* * *

Hopefully, lawns will collapse in The Jackpot, so there’s an upside! In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing from readers who have abolished their lawns, and even more from readers who faced and overcame regulatory and legal obstacles. And have you at least left the mower in the shed?

APPENDIX

If you want “tidy,” here’s tidy:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Permaculture, Politics on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

53 comments

  1. Oisin

    No mow may here in Ireland. No fertiliser for over 10 yrs. Cowslips, dandelions, daisy’s, clover and bugloss. Tons of lesser celendine in the shrub areas. Only ‘weed’ I partially control is nettles and goosegrass. Hoping to plant some areas with oxeye daisies and a few other self sustaining species next autumn.

    Reply
  2. Arizona Slim

    When I was 8 years old, my family moved to the woods. Since it was too dark to grow a lawn without cutting the trees down, my parents decided to go lawn-free.

    That decision didn’t cause us to fit in with the neighborhood, but we didn’t care. If anything, it freed up time that we used for pursuing other interests.

    Reply
  3. Larry Carlson

    It feels like there’s more of a continuum of landscaping options than just mown versus unmown. About one third of my property is lawn, but I’d consider it relatively environmentally friendly since I overseed periodically with white clover (which blends well with grass), tolerate dandelions (and pretty much any other ground cover willing to mix into our lawn), don’t use herbicides or other chemicals, and use a 4”+ high cut to preserve flowers (the mower is set to mulch rather than bag the clippings, so I don’t need to fertilize). The more natural areas of the yard can actually be fairly labor intensive, since in my area a monoculture of bush honeysuckle and other invasives tends to develop when land (other than dense forest) is left unattended. Once a good mix of native plants start to solidly establish themselves, the labor required drops off, but that can take quite a few years.

    I’ve seen neighbors experiment with prairie restoration, which can also be labor intensive: sterilizing an area, establishing native plants, removing invasive plants regularly during the first few years (less often in later years), and controlled burns to remove woody plants and other invaders.

    Reply
    1. Medbh

      “The more natural areas of the yard can actually be fairly labor intensive”

      This is my experience too. I garden extensively and it’s physically hard, time-consuming work! The invasive weeds are relentless. I pull multiple lawn bags of garlic mustard and perennial thistle every year. I’m not removing it so the yard/garden looks pretty. If I don’t, it completely takes over and smoothers all the native plants and vegetables. I use cardboard and mulch, and still barely keep up. The amount of work required from grass lawn versus a meadow/garden is huge.

      I wish more people would convert their lawns to gardens, but unless you’re willing to spend significant amount of time on upkeep, you may end up with an invasive weed garden instead.

      Reply
  4. scarnoc

    Those of us in more arid locales do not necessarily need to make do with gravel and sand. On our property deep mulch (4 inches plus), grey water recycling, drip irrigation and tree canopies have allowed us to grow nearly anything we want without a large increase in water input. Waterwise trees can be a little pricey, so one day I visited a nearby zoological garden with excellent drylands botany. I collected whatever seeds I could find on the pathways, pocketed them, and sprouted them. I’m not sure this was strictly legal, but no official fuss was made.

    Reply
  5. Lunker Walleye

    I just counted 16 spring beauties in a square foot of our No Mow lawn in the woodlands. Our yard is full of them, dog tooth violets, regular violets, dandelions and creeping charley. Neighbors on either side of us have pristine lawns and use chemicals (one is a big white box as was discussed on yesterday’s NC). We have resided here for over 35 years, neighbors less than 5 years.

    Reply
  6. carly

    Some of us use their gardens as places where blankets are laid out on the grass, where garden chairs& tables are the main eating venues in summer, where all kinds of games are played on the lawn.

    We’ll have to mow and mow until hell freezes over :-)

    Reply
      1. ambrit

        To have functional public parks, one needs a theory of what a “Public Good” is and it’s ‘value’ to society.
        First, Maggie Thatcher, who is probably job sharing with Ronnie Reagan down in H—, promoted the “there is no such thing as society” meme, as a way to encourage ‘private’ grifting and corruption.
        Second, neo-liberalism promotes the idea that all ‘value,’ all of it, is purely monetary in nature.
        Third, the idea of “Public Good” has been corrupted in the West to mean “Private Profit.”
        So, new “public private parks enterprises” will have admissions charges, mandatory purchases of foods and drinks from ‘approved’ vendors, and rentals of blankets, prams, parasols, etc. Only the “Good People” will be allowed in.

        Reply
      2. CanCyn

        Public parks with public washrooms and allowance for picnics that might include wine! In my apartment living days I kept a folding chair and blanket in my car so that I could get outside in nice weather – the pidgin poop covered 18th floor balcony wasn’t much of an option (I tried all pidgin discouragement known to mankind, nothing deterred them for long). There were no parks with washrooms nearby which either curtailed sitting time or meant a bit of a drive.

        Reply
  7. Tom Pfotzer

    Lambert, this is genius.

    Mowing is one step sideways from washing dishes. Bo-ring. I have been longing for the perfect chance to “simplify my life”, and by golly, here it is.

    No-mow is just a skip and a jump from permaculture.

    And, it’s incremental; it’s the sort of change you can believe in, and comfortably befriend.

    :)

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The co-op I live in has its collective land area in lawn. It is no fertilizer, no chemo, scheduled mowing by a hired service. If the growing weather between mows is really good, the lawn-clippings can add up to enough to where I find it worthwhile to let them dry in place for a few days, then rake them up and use them in my garden. A modest yield of modest benefit.

      Some nearby municipal lawns which are mowed less often leave behind bigger bunches of clippings worth gathering up for taking home.

      If I had a “my own yard”, I would leave some of it in no-inputs no-treatments lo-mow lawn for a modest yield of garden-grade clippings and for kids and others to do lawn things on in the meantime.

      Reply
    2. Heather

      I actually love to wash dishes! Since no one wants to help I get to be all alone and when I was raising four kids, that was very welcome. But I got hooked and even now I love it! All by myself in the kitchen, with my music.
      I grew up on a farm and my dad rarely mowed the front or side yards. It was wonderful for us kids, we ran through the long grass all day long. And we were visited by lots of wild animals, heaven!

      Reply
      1. Tom Pfotzer

        If my dish-washing experience was as pleasant as yours is, I’d like to wash dishes, too.

        Maybe I need to update my perception, since the reality of it ain’t changing any time soon.

        :)

        Reply
  8. Hepativore

    I live in the Upper Midwest, and the water table is very high, we get a lot of rainfall during the year, and we also have loamy, but heavy, clay soil.

    There are lawns, and then there are “lawns”. There is a big difference between fussing over every little weed, dumping massive amounts of chemical fertilizer on the grass and making sure it is picture perfect at all times as opposed to just having a lot of regular grass.

    Most people that I have seen do not do all of that…they just periodically mow the grass and do water it along with the rest of their garden plants when it gets really hot, but a low-maintence lawn is no more or less demanding than many garden plots, as the grass around here mostly takes care of itself other than cutting it.

    Reply
  9. Alyosha

    I mix it up. I use turf lawn as the accent to my beds, fruit trees and veggie garden. I also mow high and regularly overseed with white clover (high setting on the mower allows most of it to flower). I do pull dandelions because otherwise I’ll have to fight them everywhere, but plenty manage to flower (and since my neighbor hasn’t mowed her backyard in 3 years there are plenty).

    I have flowers blooming long before the dandelions and weeds do. Great swarms of bees of all varieties visit the yard all season long. Fully no-till vegetable beds, cherry and peach trees, a whole lot of perennials shrubs and small trees packed into a 50 x 160 lot. Someday I’ll probably break down and allow it to be a site on the city’s garden tour as requested but for now my standards remain higher than theirs.

    While I agree with ditching lawns and their upkeep, in most places just not mowing doesn’t usually encourage native species so much as non-native and invasive species.

    Reply
  10. Henry Moon Pie

    Re: HOAs

    It’s to be expected that people so determined to control Nature find it easy to add controlling other human beings to their behavior.

    I haven’t mowed since last fall (which pales in comparison to my hair that I haven’t cut since 2008), but I plan to cut it all off this month (the grass, not the hair). I’m ready to implement the plan (there goes that control impulse again) to improve this side yard that we acquired when the house next to us was demolished.

    I’ve been accumulating (a nice way to spin procrastinating) a lot of sticks for several years, big piles of them, and quite a few of them from very thorny rose, blackberry and goji berry plants. After doing some French drain work on a section of the house, I’m going to use the branches to form some Hugulkultur mounds, and I will toss freshly cut grass in there before I cover it with dirt to add some green to the brown. On top of that, I’m planting two seed mixes from Ohio Prairie Nurseries that contain warm and cool season grasses native to Ohio (thinking of you, Gabe Brown) along with wildflowers and some species happy with wet feet in part of it. I used a OPN rain garden mix for a section on the other side of the house where we’re dumping water from a paved sidewalk area, and I’ve been very happy with that result.

    So the idea is that after I cut the grass this May, I won’t be cutting it ever again.

    And to be clear, I’m not touching my hair.

    Reply
    1. Tom Pfotzer

      Almost cut my hair.

      Happened just the other day.

      But I didn’t, and I wonder why.

      Feel like letting my freak-flag fly….

      Remember those lyrics? CSNY.

      :)

      Way to go Henry!

      I just did my semi-annual Einstein-look to Pvt Mr. Tom hair-do fix. I try to time it so I have insulation in the winter, and enjoy the cooling breeze in the summer.

      My wife does the barbering; it’s not that hard, doing a buzz-cut with the electric clippers.

      I look pretty retro for a few weeks, and then … it’s all good.

      :)

      Reply
      1. Henry Moon Pie

        “White collared conservative,
        Flashing down the street,
        Pointin’ their plastic finger at me,
        Hopin’ soon my kind will drop and die.
        I’m gonna wave my freak flag fly high.”

        Jimi Hendrix, “If 6 Was 9”

        Yeah, my spouse was my barber for about 30 years. I have a think about barbers. The fat of my right thumb still bears the scar of my first haircut where I impaled that thumb on the barber’s scissors.

        My hair, left uncut since the fall of Lehman, is my way of saying, “I was right about this stinkin’ system all along.

        Reply
  11. Revenant

    In defence of the lawn, historically they were for sport. Monasteries, Oxbridge Colleges and palaces have some of the oldest lawns in the UK, for bowling greens. Pembroke College Cambridge has a famously ancient bowling lawn, IIRC (but not as old as Southampton’s from 1299). So, these congregate living lawns are the very antithesis of bowling alone!

    Reply
    1. CanCyn

      I believe sports were played on park or institutional lawns, not so much private homes. Regardless, like the ‘so much land I don’t have to do anything with it’ lawn, those lawn sports were not for the plebes but the elite. That, and the fact that pollinators see a ‘pristine’, chemically treated lawn as a desert are what put me over the edge with regard to lawns. I’ve long thought grass lawns were boring. The pollinator problem is what convinced hubby to stop even the once annual weed and feed at our old house. He kept the blade high and mulched. Our lawn was alway slow to start in the spring, less green than others at first but survived the August heat much better than our neighbours’ chemically treated and short cut lawns. We knew watering wasn’t really necessary in that August dormant period and our lawn was always much nicer in fall than the others. Some clover was coming in and we let the dandelions blossom. That said, I still would have preferred less grass. Had we stayed in the city, my retirement project would have been fighting the lawn care by-laws and growing meadow and veggies instead of grass.
      Instead we’ve moved to a rural area and have half grass/half woods. We are in tick country and ticks love the long grass. We live in a mix of small farms and residential plots. Some of the houses were no doubt former farmland and have huge lawns that take an inordinate amount of time to mow. Many of them have been cut twice already this spring. Our grass is just greening up now and won’t be cut until it and the ‘good’ weeds have had a chance to flower. I guess We’ve been practicing no mow May without knowing it was a thing!
      We are also in lake country and many of the lake associations are trying to educate homeowners about the evils of fertilizer run-off into the lakes, it causes algae and fish diversity problems.
      We have a lovely, small farm to our immediate south. They practice regenerative farming and rotate crops, flowers, chickens and a small beef cattle herd and the occasional pig or two. They also keep bees for honey and beeswax products. They have a website with online sales, local delivery or pick-up at the farm.
      For us, letting things go, whether grass or woods, is not so easy. The maple saplings crowd each other in the woods to the point that they seem like bamboo and the nasty weeds (hello garlic mustard and giant hogweed) quickly take over in longer grass. It is slow work to ‘tame’ them. I even keep nitrile gloves in my pocket (hogweed can burn your skin) in to pull them from the ditch when I walk the dog.
      For now we cut the grass high and mulch and have begun over seeding with slow grow grass and clover. We have a small veggie plot but little topsoil (limestone). Much enhancement is required before expanding the growing area. And I try to make room for the wildflowers and natives in the woods.
      We struggle to find the right balance of ‘control’, trying to do good rather than harm. Luckily I like the work, no gym membership required.

      Reply
  12. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Bless you, Lambert, for making me aware of No Mow May. (I have loathed lawns ever since I had to mow ours with a manual lawn mower [dating myself here] “or else!”
    May [sic] it soon extend to the other eleven months.

    Reply
  13. John R Moffett

    I decided to do this on my own years ago because the wildflowers looked so nice in the spring. I often mow areas where there is just grass, but leave large areas where the wildflowers and weeds grow. I usually have to mow eventually, in late May, because it is getting near 2 feet tall, but by then many of the early flowers have set seed and dropped them. In mid May the flowers are covered with bees of various types, including some honey bees. I am glad to see others are starting to do the same.

    Reply
  14. Propertius

    Just pointing out that dandelions are not native to North America, so I’m not sure I’d consider them to be a “wildflower” here.

    Reply
  15. Copeland

    At the various properties I’ve owned over the years, I went from big, professionally sprayed* (cringes) lawns in the 90’s, to smaller lawns and a lot more ornamental plants in the 2000’s, to all ornamentals and edibles with no lawn at all in the 2010’s (also went all organic), to almost all edibles with a few ornamentals in the late 2010’s up until 2019), still all organic.

    And now as an old, sick guy I’m going back to more lawn and less garden, along with a much smaller property. Gardens are hard, even for a pro horticulturist like me, when your body is ruined from a lifetime of planting 2,000 trees (not hyperbole) and auto-immune disease…still all organic though, never goin’ back. With today’s battery-electric machines, almost anybody can maintain a lawn, not so with other ways (anything but lawn) of maintaining a property. But yes, mow high, mow less often, let all the plants that pollinators like grow in your lawn, don’t spray anything, and encourage as much clover as possible, it “makes its own” nitrogen. Oh, and I still have over 100 woody plants and perennials and counting, because I’m a plant addict.

    * These days I would never let my dog roll on a pristine, all-grass lawn, sure sign that it is laden with chemicals.

    Reply
    1. Lexx

      If you have a moment… I’m interested in the Garden of Eatin’ approach to your properties. What did you plant, and how did you handle “pests”?

      Mange here wiped out predators like foxes and coyotes. The packs are still recovering, and those we hear in the distance at night have remained distant. The bunny, squirrel, and mouse populations exploded! More predatory birds moved in to nest (red tail, sharp-shinned, and owls) but their best efforts (raising hungry chicks) and smaller appetites can’t keep up. Meanwhile, the bunnies and mice have voracious appetites and dine well… at least until they become an entree… fingers crossed.

      Reply
      1. Copeland

        We were in USDA zone 8 so we had a lot of options and planted everything that would grow: fruit trees, bushes and brambles, perennials and biennial/annual edibles. Our biggest pests were rats (ate the fruit on trees, tomatoes), woodlice (chewed off new seedlings) slugs and snails (just about anything). there were no rabbits when we lived there but they have rapidly moved in and I imagine they are causing some trouble in that town now. Plenty of mice around but I don’t think they ever ate anything. Also plenty of squirrels, same, although I occasionally saw them running off with a neighbors edibles. Diseases were troublesome on some crops, apples were impossible unless you approached them as a full time job, too many worms to ever have a good crop.

        Good luck, I used to live in colder places with a lot of rabbits. They never damaged my gardens during the growing season but they would chew off woody plants and tree bark at the snow line during the winter. Maybe you don’t have enough cats around;-)

        Reply
  16. eb

    I never cut the lawn in May, because a couple of years I planted a lot of spring bubs in the lawn, snowdrops, crocusses, daffodils and tulips. I only start cutting when the spring bulbs have died down completely. My lawn was always a bit wild but nowadays it is full of wild flowers and attracts lots of songbirds.

    Reply
    1. rjs

      if you have bees, mowing after the tops dry spreads viable seeds everywhere…5000 crocuses will turn into a solid lawn of 50,000 crocuses in 20 years….they don’t grow very tall, either…

      Reply
  17. Jen

    My property is mostly woods with a small cleared area around the house. I’ve been gradually replacing the crappy little lawn in front with flower beds, blueberries, and raised beds for growing veggies. I planted a variety of bee balm a few years ago that is colonizing another part of the lawn. The bees love it! I’ve counted 30 or more on that plant alone.

    In the fall I rake leaves into the flower beds. My chickens scratch the leaves out in the spring and then I add some compost and wood chips (took a huge white pine down last year – I will never run out of wood chips).

    I’ve left some open areas, where I’m letting the clover, dandelions and yarrow take over. There’s a lovely patch of soft, brilliant green moss on the north side of the house.

    I probably mow what little lawn remains about 6 times a year. The clippings go in the chicken coop, and that eventually feeds my compost pile.

    Reply
    1. Mel

      I mow all around the house at the highest setting (3-1/2 inches) as an ecological discouragement to field mice coming in. I don’t pay much attention specifically to what’s growing there, just that it tops out at 3-1/2″. A biologist who visits sometimes pointed out that some stuff growing prolifically in the SE corner is actually salad greens. Well!

      Reply
  18. The Historian

    I love this idea. I consider all lawns useless – including my own. If I could get away with this in my neighborhood, I’d do it in a heartbeat! But, sigh, I have very nice neighbors who would cut my grass for me if they saw it growing long thinking the reason was that I was sick or something! Then of course, I would feel guilty….

    This is one of the coolest videos I’ve seen in a long time – what an apartment house owner in Portland is doing with his green space. It makes so much more sense to do this than just to plant a green lawn and have excess parking! And it is ever so much more beautiful!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCGXVk-cBVk&t=2420s

    I

    Reply
  19. Nikkikat

    I always kept areas of the yard filled with semi drought shrubbery.
    We never watered in the winter and generally only once a week during the summer. One small area of grass. We never used pesticides of any kind nor fertilizers. We mulched with organic mulch from the city. We would buy a truck load and work it through all the plants and over the grass. We planted wild flowers through out the beds and grew flowers in pots.
    There were other areas where we used drought tolerant ground covers. It worked pretty well.

    Reply
  20. jackiebass63

    This sounds good at first. The problem with not mowing a field is over time it no longer will be a field. In a short time ,a few years, the field will soon become taken over by other plants. At first it will be low growing shrub like plants. These will gradually be replaced by trees. In not many years a field will disappear. Actually wild flowers are short lived. I mow a 1.5 acre field , usually weekly but less often when it is dry and doesn’t grow. My field is always full of wild flowers. It seems new one pop up to replace those that are mowed. I’m for preserving nature but sometimes things are taken to extremes and actually do more harm than good.

    Reply
    1. anon y'mouse

      my question is why are you trying to preserve a field when the natural succession of your land wants there to be trees there?

      is it for a fire break? a view? an access road?

      Reply
  21. Adam1

    If you’ve ever had the luxury to peruse through very old family photos you really wont find a mowed lawn until around the 1950’s. I recently was sent a picture of my great-grandmother and her sister holding my infant mother, taken in 1952 in a rural community in upstate NY. In the background you can see a neighbors home across the street and it is obvious that the lawn was not mowed; probably not once that year.

    Reply
    1. MT_Wild

      Way back when in my college years, the start of my horticulture class was various black and white sketches of different tree silhouettes. Everybody was asked to rank them in order of most pleasing to least pleasing. The results was that there was a strong universal preference for trees that evolutionarilly would have allowed our primate ancestors to escape predators. Basically the type of trees you would find on the savanna. And even then, scattered individual trees were more favored than large groups or clumps of trees.

      The point for the class was that horticulture applied to residential human development was working with what you have and wants to grow where you are, but recognizing we’re wired to find some landscapes more pleasing than others.

      At least some of the obsessions with lawns probably stems from this history. I look at most golf courses and see african savanna, minus the predators.

      Reply
      1. Lexx

        I recall once reading that the explosion of golf course building in America followed WW2. The golf course neighborhood I live in is peppered with retired military officers… and American flags that are never taken down. Their lawns are immaculate and they control the HOA board.

        Reply
        1. Copeland

          Ha! Plenty of military and their favorite “outdoor decoration” in my neighborhood too! And yes, they love them some pristine all-grass lawns. We all had to sign off on some rules before building homes in the hood but so far everyone seems to be ignoring them, especially the cops and firemen…maybe I’ll put up a clothesline after all!

          Reply
  22. Earthling

    And a hearty shout out to the various highway departments of the US, which allow the early flowers to bloom for quite a while before the first mow. Spectacular to see the carpets of crimson clover, or intense purple verbena, or just bright mixtures across the South this spring.

    A long boo to the ones (often local county outfits) who poison roadsides to kill everthing, including blackberries.

    Reply
  23. CuriosityConcern

    I’m a convert to Lambert’s Lasagna Method(tm). Front lawn is gone, backyard is wild and weed whacked occasionally with the clipping partially left in place and partially added to compost piles.
    Thanks to drumlin, cocoman, amfortas, henrymoonpie, Lambert and others whose names escape me at the moment for sharing.

    Reply
  24. skk

    Over 30 years ago, in the UK, my neighbour kept badgering me to mow the lawn. Eventually I said : ” I keep it the French style” ( He knew I travelled to the South of France regularly on biz and so I’d knoww that the Cote d’Azur hotel lawn grass were much higher – water conservation in an hot area I guess).

    Blow me down, he started to keep his lawn grass taller too !

    Reply
  25. anon y'mouse

    i have been told by the town that i can’t allow my lawns to run wild, and will be fined. last year i let it go a few weeks and got a notice posted.

    this is not a gated community, there’s no HOA here. we’re just in a small town. i guess wildflowers are not encouraged here.

    my solution is to plant the front areas with microclover or wild thyme so that they won’t need mowing. of course, until they fill in thoroughly i will be hand weeding.

    i wonder if they will cite me for my back yard, which is only visible if someone travels down the driveway. i’m willing to test it without calling for permission, because when i called for permission on a fence they wouldn’t give me the codes and wanted to send someone out to look over my property instead. what this implied to me is they get to pick and choose who has what kind of fence in this area. sounds like essentially there are no codes they want to disclose.

    Reply
    1. Earthling

      It sounds like they are just attempting to nip dilapidated properties (‘bad-looking’) in the bud.

      Nobody wants to live near a property that has been let go to heck and turned into a junk heap. Yet you can’t write a jillion regs to keep that from happening, there are so many variables.

      So their approach is to wait til one of them thinks something looks messy, and cite.

      It sucks, but I can show you neighborhoods where nobody got cited for that first car-up-on-blocks, or 3-foot-high yard, and 10 years later every property is derelict.

      Reply
  26. Bsn

    Slight warning regarding cardboard. Depending on many things of course but rollie poliies (Armadillilium vulgare) and slugs can really thrive under the cardboard and they’ll damage smaller plants and sprouts. Also, the best cardboard can be found at the back of bicycle shops and appliance stores. Picking big sheets up there can save the shop dump fees. Win win.

    Reply
  27. Sue inSoCal

    Many years ago, I planted a huge wild towering flower garden in the front of my house in No California. It was stunning; people would drive by to look at it. I even sneaked an eggplant and some tomatoes in there, but you couldn’t see those from the street. I had one very Chem Lawn buttoned up tight neighbor that was so pissed I thought he was going to have a stroke. I think that eggplant sent him over the edge. My conjecture is that he realized he lived next door to a peasant and was powerless!

    Reply
    1. anon y'mouse

      did you egg him on with periodic offerings of free vegetables? i wouldn’t have been able to resist.

      i love your peasantry. peasanthood is something i can only aspire to. those people were darn useful.

      Reply
  28. rjs

    May is OK, but by July the morning dew will last way past noon if the field isn’t cut close…i work on this land, don’t just present it for show…

    Reply
  29. Phil in KC

    I have been converting my chemical-based lawn into something much more healthy. detoxifying my lawn has meant using no manufactured fertilizers natural,is fine tho. I am in year three of no herbicide /pesticide/fungicide, just seed and sun and water. I sow clover and leave dandelions alone. I do mow, but on the high setting.

    I know from experience that in cities, rats and snakes take up residence in tall grass, and this is likely why HOA and towns have codes regulations noxious weeds and tall grass. So I am dubious whether this can work in many U.S. settings. I’ve planted native wild flowers, cherry trees, and milkweed in my yard to compensate for my mowing. That, with the clover and dandelions, should attract and sustain butterflies and bees.

    I am fascinated by “bee lawns” which are being developed in the Twin Cities area and Minnesota U. My local agricultural extension agents are entirely ignorant of this movement, but with the popularity of no mow May, Albert their aware will be raised, challenged, and changed.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *