The Path from Lawn to Wonderland

We have lately taken on two clients, one in Dahlonega, Lumpkin County and one in Sautee, White County, who want to make the leap from lawn to something else. That’s a big order for us, as these are the first clients who have asked for such.

For Art of Stone Gardening, grass in the form of a lawn is a design element. A swath of lush, green grass is calming, and it is beautiful. We use it to set-off or act as a backdrop to other elements in a landscape design.

The White County client recently moved into their “forever” home, and they don’t want the burden of forever maintaining a lawn. The Lumpkin County client is interested in native plants and sustainability. These two clients have different reasons for their request, but in the end, the solution is the same.

Vast green lawns of grass are a legacy handed down to us from the landed gentry in Britain and Europe. Before the industrial age, the creation and maintenance of non-agriculturally productive land was a show of wealth.  These landowners were rich enough to keep the land out of production because they had enough land on which they could produce marketable crops. And, they had enough wealth to support people who could maintain these open spaces. Given the historical connection between the settlement of the United States and the people who migrated here, it is not surprising that lawns became a status symbol for those who could afford it.

Here’s an extreme example of this status symbol. The action in Clint Eastwood’s 2008 film Gran Torino really begins with a lawn. The main character – a gun toting, bigoted old man in Detroit – has a postage stamp-sized front yard that he assiduously tends and defends with a Korean War era weapon when his “messy” neighbors’ trespass on his lawn. It’s a film worth revisiting, but let’s get back to our north Georgia clients…

As beautiful as lawns may be, there are good reasons to move away from them.

A green lawn of grass is labor intensive, requiring, during the growing season, weekly mowing, which depending upon the size of the lawn can be very time consuming. Some folks enjoy the exercise (behind a push mower) or the mindlessness of a driving mower, but the weekly ritual of cutting grass can become a tiresome or expensive burden.

Maintaining a lawn taxes your pocketbook. The obvious expense is cutting the grass. You need either a lawnmowing machine, which requires attention, gas and service, or you need a lawnmower, a person or company that you pay to cut the grass for you. The other expenses include pest control, weed control, fertilization, soil testing, aeration and seeding. You can do these things, costing you time on top of the expense of the work, or you pay someone to do it.

The expense of a lawn is also paid by its damage to our health and the environment. According to watchdog group Beyond Pesticides (, “Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 16 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 12 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 25 with liver or kidney damage, 14 with neurotoxicity, and 17 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. Of those same 30 lawn pesticides, 19 are detected in groundwater, 20 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources, 30 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 29 are toxic to bees, 14 are toxic to mammals, and 22 are toxic to birds.”

Wow! That’s sobering.

Here’s more. The grasses used to create lawns are not native. They add little to the health of the ecosystem. The lawn – an expanse consisting of a single plant – is a monoculture. It is a place that lacks diversity and requires herbicides (see above) to maintain its dominance in the landscape.

Before picture (Image 1)

So, what is the path from a lawn of grass to a wonderland? Image 1 shows one of the spaces we are reshaping. Image 2 shows the plan for the space. The tracks in Image 1 define the pathways and islands in Image 2. As shown in both images, the path to wonderland is not direct.

Landscape design for Dahlonega, GA
Image 2

Up front, reclaiming a lawn has significant costs involving the installation and cultivation of the plants as they establish themselves. But, over time, the ecosystem created by the plants begins to take care of itself. Less maintenance, less water and fewer chemicals – in fact none at all – will be required for the space to flourish.

The plants included in the plan (Image 2) will become a community. They will grow together, warding off weeds and pests, growing without mulch and conserving water. The design and selection is such that the plants will provide a variety of color and texture across every season that grass can only dream of.

These folks came to Art of Stone Gardening because we are not a “mow and blow” landscaping service. We are a specialty gardening company that wants to not only meet the needs of our clients but to also serve the world in which we live. For that reason, we are a good choice for these two property owners.

We’ll report on these two projects as they progress. In the meantime, what are your thoughts: grass or no-grass?

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