I’m the type of person who very rarely reveals my emotions, but on this day the look of absolute horror and disbelief peeled away my resting bitch face and left me completely stunned. I stared open-mouthed while the person in front of me proceeded to describe how she wanted a garden removed of all natural clutter, gesturing frantically at the beautiful canopy of trees above us. “All this” (more dramatic gestures), “it gives me a headache”. I tried to close my guppy-mouth, fighting back the urge to prescribe Myprodol (or perhaps an accidental blow to the head) and began to assess the situation. While this garden, filled with plants, trees and nature delighted and calmed me, it had the ability to produce the complete opposite impact on someone else. How was that even possible?
How could someone even THINK to destroy something so beautiful and (horrors of horrors) replace it with artificial lawn? To me that was unthinkable, but to her she needed a “safe” play area for her children. I did wonder, as I marched myself quickly off the premises, whether her children wouldn’t actually prefer to run through the vegetation, climb the trees and jump from the Khoi pond rocks? Or perhaps that’s a far too pre-millennial thought?
What if we could get over our perception of what a typical garden needs to be? Think back to your childhood perception of garden: lawn, edged with beds, perhaps a tree or two and maybe a kitch water feature in the corner with a skewered fish regurgitating water. Sound familiar? Which is great, except for one critical factor: water. The reality of our South African climate has finally set in and our water thirsty European gardens are slowly wilting away. At this very moment of writing this article I have a team of guys in my garden spewing mud everywhere, while they attempt to locate a well point. And why? To save my f***ing lawn.
And surely there should be something more to South African landscaping than simply saving lawn or replacing it with heat-absorbing, dog wee smelling, un-recyclable astro? For goodness sake, we have one of the biggest floral kingdoms in the world! A true South African would never choose box wine over a good bottle of wine so why on earth do we do it with our gardens? Yes, lawn does have a place within a garden, but can we change our perception to realise that a garden doesn’t have to have lawn? All those poor plants who have been shoved to the edges are just begging to break free and become centre pieces, natural meadows, creators of space and most importantly, home to micro-ecosystems.
No, I’m not saying that every garden must become a natural wilderness complete with sandstone rocks, thatch grass and possibly a weed-smoking surfer. The potential is far greater than that. We just need to learn how to break the mould of our preconceived garden ideas and begin to use plants and materials to shape our gardens. I’m not even suggesting that we solely look to indigenous plants and natural materials, but rather explore how to combine indigenous and water wise exotics with natural and man-made elements to create spaces that reflect our own unique characters and identities. And let’s not even get into the potential of being able to eat your garden rather than lie on it! Whether your preference is for clean-lined architectural spaces, or wild organic chaos, I can guarantee you that apart from providing your Labrador with a place to dig, lawn cannot solely satisfy your aesthetic needs.
So while I resume my resting bitch face and continue with my landscaping endeavour, perhaps it’s time you considered a break up with your lawn?