What's the best way for homeowners to incorporate permaculture principles at home? "Get your lawn off drugs, water and regular haircuts," jokes permaculture instructor Marian Farrior. More seriously, she explains that it's crazy to keep feeding turf lawns a steady diet of fertilizer and pesticide, using precious groundwater to keep lawns artificially lush and burning fossil fuels to keep them manicured.
Farmer Greg David concurs. "When someone asks me, 'What can I do about dandelions or creeping Charlie in my lawn?' I tell them, 'learn to appreciate it.'" David points out that creeping Charlie makes a great ground cover. "It attracts myriad predatory and pollinating insects early in the year when there is little else for them to eat. It smells good when you walk on it. It's hardy. What more does a lawn need?" As for dandelions, David explains that their deep tap roots bring up minerals and open up the soil to worms and other biota. "Plus, they're an edible vegetable and produce pretty flowers," he adds.
Going a step further, adventurous suburbanites can devote a small area of their yard to native plants. First, Farrior recommends sheet mulching to kill a section of existing lawn. Once it decomposes, it's time to plant native grasses, flowers and shrubs. (Check with your local chapter of The Nature Conservancy (www.nature.org) or Wild Ones (www.for-wild.org) to ask where they recommend getting local genotypes.) Farrior cautions that it takes several years to establish a site. But once it takes hold, it requires very little maintenance and is surprisingly beautiful and diverse. If you live in an arid region, such as the southwestern United States, consider transitioning part of your lawn to xeriscape plantings, which require no artificial watering.
And for the pièce de résistance, add a bird bath. By attracting wildlife and insects, it will help your yard take a giant step away from monoculture and toward thriving natural diversity. "When the birds come and drink there, they'll fertilize your garden in the process," Farrior says. Be forewarned, though. Next thing you know, you'll be wanting a flock of chickens.