Grit Blogs > Nature and Gardening at the Edge

What grew here, what can grow here

Several years ago, the National Wildlife Federation printed an article that intrigued me. The article started with the idea of what would happen over time if you quit tending your lawn. Of course your neighbors might be aggravated and things would look shabby. In the long run, your lawn or garden would return to nature. Of course, nature looks different in different areas of the country. In some areas, trees sprout and eventually turn into woodland. In other areas, trees die out and grass returns. The article scenario was for the east coast so only mowing was eliminated from the plan. Living on the plains, I would suggest that watering would also be eliminated from the plan as most lawns and gardens would be quite different living only on natural precipitation.

These scenarios are interesting and useful as well. Certainly we all like to improve upon nature, whether growing food, trees or sod but the improvement can take a lot of effort.

To see nature in your area, look about at land that is not cultivated or tended. It might look like some of the prairies in my area or it could grow taller grasses, or trees. Nature moves in stages and initially, weeds and other species that are sometimes described as growing in “disturbed” areas will invade. Rural roadsides are often like this. With frequent grading or mowing, only the first wave of the natural vegetation can become established. It can take twenty years or more for an area to return to nature.

Another area that can become very natural is near a creek or river where the land is either too wet or too rough for agriculture. In many parts of the country, these areas area are also rich in wildlife and used for hunting, bird watching and other wildlife activities.

A lesson that we can take away from studying these natural areas is the possibilities of what your land will support. I have seen numerous abandoned farmsteads on the plains and inevitably they are marked with dead or dying trees. Once trees are not regularly watered, they eventually become stressed by the cycles of precipitation and most die out in time. To have a tree shaded lawn here, I must either water trees regularly or select very drought resistant species that can more likely withstand the dry cycles.

Some in this area advocate xeriscaping, planning for very low water usage. One part of this plan is using Buffalo grass for lawn coverage. While, I water a lawn, I can see some befits to this tough, low growing grass. It never becomes tall or needs mowed. While it is more of a grey green, it is tough and endures with very little water. 

Natural areas can also provide an inspiration. Rock gardens were initially planned as a bit of alpine landscape where plants from mountains could be grown and displayed. I am afraid my rock garden doesn’t look a lot like an alpine area, but certainly both the inspiration and plants are available to create such a spot here on the plains.

Native grasslands showing taller growth where moisture is available