BEST OF: LAWNS INTO MEADOWS, REGENERATIVE LANDSCAPES with OWEN WORMSER
Cultivating Place is proud to receive support from listeners around the world. Thank you for your generosity – you help this program and podcast grow each season! This week we introduce a new section at the end of our weekly interview entitled "Speaking of Plants...and Place". We will look forward to hearing what you think!
Still in the Dog Days of Summer - the heat it hot, the days are long, and garden maintenance in the form of watering, weeding, and perhaps mowing and blowing (especially in the dry and droughty parts of the country right now) might be wearing thin….especially with the relentless watering/mowing/blowing of a thirsty lawn. Maybe you’re re-thinking your lawn? Wanting to water/mow less and see butterflies, hummingbirds and fireflies more?
With just this in mind, this week on CP we revisit a Best of Conversation with Owen Wormser inspiring us to transform our lawns (or some portion of them) into regenerative and lively meadows! Enjoy -
At a time when our gardens large or small often feel more important than ever, I think our focus on exactly what our gardens contain and consist of is also more important than ever.
In 2021 this episode aired as the second in a three-part celebration of gardens that offer back more than they consume.
Based in Western Massachusetts, Owen Wormser is the founder of Abound Design providing design & consulting for regenerative, sustainability-focused landscapes. He is also the co-founder, with traditional and clinical herbalist Chris Marano, of the non-profit Local Harmony, focused on encouraging and creating community driven regeneration.
Finally, Owen is the author of a new book entitled Lawns into Meadows, Growing a Regenerative Landscape, out now from Stone Pier Press.
In his work and in his book Lawns into Meadows, Owen supports his life long understanding that the world naturally tends toward abundance. In his mind, the rich life that results from turning irrigated turf grass into the diversity and nurturing power of a meadow is the perfect illustration of just this.
You can follow Owen's work online at Abound Design, at the non-profit Local Harmony and on Instagram @lawns_into_meadows
FOR A FULL (lightly edited) TRANSCRIPT OF THIS WEEK'S PROGRAM: TRANSCRIPT
IF YOU LIKE THIS PROGAM,
you might also enjoy these Best of CP programs in our archive:
JOIN US again next week, when we head straight to the heart of Texas in conversation with Pam Penick, a lifelong Texas Gardener based in Austin. She hosts the Blog Digging, is the author of several books on gardening in relation to the particular joys and challenges of Central Texas, and she is the organizer and host of an annual garden speaker series in her region entitled Garden Sparks. This will be a conversation with a little heat!
Speaking of Plants...and Place:
There is an ongoing discussion about lawns and mowing in our larger horticultural world. To have a lawn or not to have a lawn, to mow that lawn year round, or not to mow a lawn. The answers to these questions like the answers to most gardening questions includes some variation of it depends. On where you live, the space involved, the natural climate, and your resources including water, time, money, what your “lawn” consists of – just non-native overfed turf grass, or some mix of grasses, low growing annuals, wildflowers, weeds even. It also depends on what your goals are: like reducing your own use of precious resources, and maximizing the amount of wild and life in your gardened spaces.
Many people like both the function and the feel of something like a lawn, and if like me you live you live in an arid climate, our options include many good native grasses, and low-water, lawn alternatives.
My own little backyard lawn is an interesting case in point as to the middle ground between no lawn and a lawn alternative. When I first moved into my little suburban house and garden, I had young children and two dogs – all of whom liked to roll around outside. A little bit of lawn made some sense.
After some research into the best way to create a lawn like patch with the lowest inputs in the way of water, mowing, feeding, my partner John and I settled on a native bent grass – agrostis pallens – for my 10 x 5 foot area. We sourced the turf and some plugs from a regional grower. I was committed to NOT overwatering and allowing the lawn to be mostly dry in summer. The natural base of my site is fairy hard clay-lava cap, which had been covered in decomposed granite by the previous owners. After removing the granite and reusing it for a path on the side of the house, John brought in topsoil, and laid the lawn in late fall. Eight years later, I still have a scrappy little native grass turf lawn generally watered with spot sprinklers 1 time a week in the growing season, up to 2 times a week in the hottest 2 months, and on which dogs and children like to roll around even now that they're older. I mow with my push mower once a month or so, and I mow at the 2 inch or taller setting so the grass stays long enough to allow cover for bugs, and shade for water retention and the soil life beneath.
And here's an interesting twist: because my beds and borders around this little patch of grass includes native plants and climate adapted plantings, these past years of not-too diligent mowing or watering, have resulted in lots of volunteers into the lawns spotty patches. Ratibida, buckwheats, and western chocolate flower- berlandiera lyrata – have all self seeded into the grasses well as some weedy clover. Native coyote mint, thick stalks of milkweed, some creeping thyme, and a low growing marjoram have all sent runners into the grass from the outer edges. It is, in my opinion, a very nice best of both worlds – for me, and for the wild and life included in y garden. And so back to our answer as to mow or not to mow to have lawn or not to have lawn I think the question is best answered by observation, by experimentation, and by experience as you and your garden grow together.
Thinking out loud this week:
One of the things that I love about having this conversation is that in the wake of 2020 especially, and following some of my previous interviews with the likes of Robin Wall Kimmerer, Doug Tallamy, Lorena Gorbett, Kiss the Ground, Edwina Von Gal, Laura Ekasetya, the Plant Me A Rainbow endeavor, and Leslie Bennett of Pine House Edibles, I have gotten so many many questions along the lines of “where can I find an ecological landscape designer? where can I find this book ?or this resource? where can I find a nursery like this?"
And that is great. When I was more infrequently asked those questions more than 18 months ago, the answers were there – the solutions and answers have always been there - but they were harder to find. NOW these networks are reaching a tipping point in their boiling and building and they are much much more visible. And that is an even greater source of hope in my mind – a beacon in an otherwise often murky world.
I want to share with you a story of invisible connection becoming visible. In the hopes that this bolsters in each of you even a little each the belief in the power of you and your garden to help meet the challenges you are most worried about.
I often get kind generous emails about what Cultivating Place, or my writing or talks mean to people – how it has changed their thinking, improved their outlook, held them through their grief to resume action. And I am profoundly humbled by every one of them.
Not long ago, on my most recent visit to my help out some with my father’s healthcare, I had an email from a woman who told me that she too was a writer, that she had started her own gardening journey just newly and that “that journey had truly changed her life and sense of calling, and what it is I can and should give during my time on this planet. This is due in no small part to your podcast, your incredibly thoughtful interviews, and your books, which I treasure.”
She went on to say she had recently completed a project and that with her earnings she had some money to give and she wanted to very specifically invest it In indigenous led land-work. She was talking in the 10s of thousands of dollars. She asked me for thoughts on where I would like to see the funds invested. And believe me, I got her my list of suggestions as fast as I could muster them.
I know many days it does not seem so, but on the days when your own power to effect change makes itself visible to you – trust it. Whether it’s the folks in your book club, in your garden club, the energy and attitude you send your kids out into the day with, sharing seeds or produce, sharing 10 dollars or $10,000 with work you believe in, every garden thing you do makes a difference.
As gardeners we see daily that our actions have both immediate fore and almost as often the grace of long term forgiveness. Both matter.
Like a seedling moving from tender to established root systems in the ground water of us - these positive networks in the garden and hort world of integrated, ecological, culturally respectful, acknowledging and contributing gardens and gardeners are as vibrant and meaningful as they have ever been in my ½ century lifetime. And I will stake my garden life on their continued and successional thriving. I know many of you will too.
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