We talk a lot about the beauty of native plants we’re cultivating in our yard, but recently I have read evidence that our yard may be positively affecting the lack of discomfort we’re enjoying during some of the more sweltering summer days. We have enjoyed a seventh summer without the expense of air conditioning, all thanks to the shade of multiple trees and our cultivation of what I have recently heard can be called a “Freedom Lawn” (not to be confused with “freedom fries”). In Adam Rome’s “The Bulldozer and the Countryside” Rome explains how homebuilders a century ago designed human dwellings with the climate in mind; where the wind might blow (or not) and where the sun might hit – these aspects were used to their fullest advantage to design homes that were going to be cooler in summer, warmer in winter. The 50s and 60s changed all that, the trend became to build homes with the idea that they will be heated or air conditioned. Our home was built in the late 70s – the builders had great style but were not environmentalists. For example roof solar panels are not an option due to the direction it faces. Other factors about the way the home was built, however unintended, give us the pleasure of shade in summer and a breeze that goes throughout the home. The homes’ “ahead of its time” open floor plan allows the home to breathe – unlike the claustrophobic style of closed off rooms so popular from the 50s to the 80s.
The “Freedom Lawn” I mention comes from a very entertaining book by Hannah Holmes called “Suburban Safari”. Holmes mentions how, beyond the obvious environmental and health wins one gets with a chemical free lawn, a lawn that is allowed to grow “naturally” can give your yard as much as a 30 degree difference on a very hot day. Holmes describes the feeling of stepping onto a lawn, and the cooling effect it has – I had never thought of that but have definitely experienced it. And I had no idea that a lawn can do this, for example: “there’s a whiff of evidence that planting the right kind of lawn can remove even more carbon from the air, acre for acre”. What is the “right” kind of lawn you ask? Read Yale’s school of Forestry and Environmental Studies’ book called “Redesigning the American Lawn” – or Google Freedom Lawn or the New American Lawn to learn how proponents say that what we do now can affect cancer rates, pollution and water shortages. Americans spend $75 billion dollars a year on maintaining lawns; this doesn’t include other costs, such as costs to our health.
We actually don’t have a strict “Freedom Lawn” over much of the yard – meaning we don’t just let things grow unattended; our yard would be a muddy mess without some help. We plant grass seed and clover, and we pluck other things that grow in the grass like oak trees and native flowers, which we often replant in other parts of the yard. We do that by plucking by hand or trimming with a mower, not with poison. Its not a perfect looking lawn, but it works for us.