Behind the Muhlenbergia capillaris that lines the driveway,…
Behind the ever expanding bed that holds the muhly grass, behind the new plantings that were inspired by the Lurie in Chicago, the Fairelurie, (click here to read about it) …
…there is the lawn. The only lawn grass on the entire property, a concession to the Financier who wanted a patch of green grass for the family to play on and a token to the neighborhood of trying to blend in to the other houses on the block. It is not a good play area though, for it is not level enough nor wide enough for even a small game of frisbee catching, let alone football, baseball or soccer. Don’t even think about basketball. This warts and all shot from 2003, very warty!, shows the messy pampas grass still living in the middle driveway island bed down by the street, the row of tiny Arborvitae, a collection of potted plants waiting to go to Semi’s brand new home, the gas guzzler, the walking path lined with egg rock with an old stump placed in the middle, (what was I thinking!), the just paved driveway looking blindingly bright and the newly seeded lawn. The staked tree like thing is a butterfly bush standard, now replaced with the witch hazel, Hamamelis ‘Arnold’s Promise’.
Oldest offspring MA, son of offspring Chickenpoet was helping us out with the reel lawnmower at age five. He is now eleven and would have no problem pushing that heavy mower. The line of muhly is not even a figment of our imagination yet. The things sticking up at the driveway edge are the seed heads of liriope, which rims the entire lawn space so there is no edging needed. I hate to edge. There are those who want to do away with lawn and those who have successfully done so. We enjoy having a little green, thinking of it as just another plant growing here. Deborah, (Kilbourne Grove) of Green Theatre has written about her lawn thoughts here.
Fast forward to present day, August eighteenth of this year to be exact. Inspiration from various magazine, book and blog articles led us to try cutting paths through the lawn in a design. It is supposed to suggest a fan shape, except the far right portion is upside down due to the shape of the space. I wanted the paths between the sections to be two mowing strips wide for ease of maintenance. The paths were cut shorter than normal to show the contrast between the cut and the uncut. We had to abandon the reel mower in favor of the easier to push corded electric model some years ago.
One thing that was noticed immediately was how fast the paths would grow to nearly the same height as the uncut fans. More frequent mowing at shorter heights helped to keep the design in place. It is hoped that as the fans grow taller there will be less frequent path mowing needed. The entire mowing process takes less than ten minutes, including cleaning the lawnmower and depositing the clippings into the compost bin.
Satisfied with the shape of the design and the ease of care, the next consideration was planting the fans with something that could be mowed down at the end of the growing season. Looking around for plants that might fit the bill, these were on hand. Salvia coccinea, Japanese blood grass, Imperata cylindrica, Verbena bonariensis, Amaranthus paniculatus ‘Autumn Palette’, and not in the shot, Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Dallas Blues’ were tried to see how and what color might look good. These have grown well and stand tall enough to be seen above the tall fescue and Kentucky blue grass that makes up the lawn, along with various weeds. The Amaranthus is my favorite, three plants are all that were managed from a whole packet of seeds, not enough to fill these areas for a nice show. Too bad, I like them a lot. Dallas Blues is a new and very tiny plant, not large enough to see if it will grow well in amongst the lawn grasses.
These trial plants are nice enough, but not really the vision. The next fan over is planted with sprigs of little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium gathered around the yard that grows wild here. It died right after planting, but some have begun to show new life.
Bulbs have been added to the fans, planted in groups at the point and in three clumps along the wide ends of each fan. A mixture of Tulipa batalinii ‘Apricot Jewel’, photo on left, and Puschkinia scilliodes var. libanotica alba, on the right, a total of two hundred of each might show up through the mowed grass next spring. Images are from the Van Engelen online catalog.
Any and all suggestions of plantings for these fans will be welcomed. The criteria are that they can be mowed after the growing season, probably in December, without harm. Or perhaps we should not mow it at all? We are zone 7a, with slightly acidic, well drained with clay based soil. That eliminates anything woody or with a tender crown, the mowing part. The leaves should not smother the grass, or the plant be so floppy as to fall over and smother the grass. This is not that easy an assignment, is it? Self seeding annuals might work, but they have to be able to grow in the lawn grass and be tall enough to show above it but not be too tall. One thought would be all grasses, the blood grass would work and goes dormant, but that thought is just not lighting my fire. The wild bluestem will probably be too coarse and not look like much during the spring and summer. Flowers, maybe. Interesting seed heads for fall and winter interest would be good. Should it be all the same thing? Something different in each fan? A chaotic mix? How tall will the lawn grass eventually grow? Will it flower and seed? All that is known for sure is that it needs something more than the lawn grass. Or does it? Any ideas?
Added: After so many wonderful ideas, thanks everyone!, keep ’em comin’!, I started looking online for some bulbs to order for the lawn and found most were already sold out! Panic set in, so we went ahead and ordered from Brent and Becky’s; 15 Allium ‘Mount Everest’, 100 Anemone blanda ‘Blue Shades’, 5 Camassia – leichtlinii ‘Semiplena’ (pricey), 10 Ornithogalum – nutans (just to try them), and 50 Fritillaria – meleagris. Don’t know how they will be planted yet, but didn’t want to completely miss the bulb boat. Added again: 512 Ixiolirion pallasii from Van Engelen (12 from the grocer’s).
List of possibles: (This will be added to from the comments received)
Thanks everyone! Late suggestions are more than welcome. This will be an ongoing project, ongoing forever maybe! How fun. 🙂