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"Un-Lawning!"

Robert Fanning

 JW: I'm Judy Wagley. This is “From the Ground Up!” True confession: As much as I love being outdoors with my plants, mowing my lawn is not my favorite chore. So when I saw a magazine article called “Un-lawning your Front Yard,” it caught my attention. And when I learned that Denise Fanning “in-lawned” her yard in Mount Pleasant, I gave her a call. And here I am! Thanks for having me here today, Denise.

Judy Wagley
/
WCMU

DF: Thank you so much for your interest in what I'm doing here, Judy. It's really great to meet you.

JW: This is a beautiful garden, that covers most of your yard here in Mount Pleasant. And when we are talking about “un-lawning” your yard, it's not just about letting everything go to weeds. This is very, very intentional. Why did you decide to do this?

DF: Well, it's always been a dream of mine to have a little secret garden of my own to have a place where I could find a little bit of solace and connect with the earth and watch things grow. And so when we acquired this land, we decided that it was time to let it happen.

JW: Since we are on the radio, we can describe for folks that this is a fenced-in garden with many, many beds full of flowers, herbs, vegetables, native plants and all kinds of wonderful things--- and some wildlife too.

DF: Yeah, it is definitely a much more diverse environment now than it once was-- a barren landscape of dying grass covered with mole hills. And now it is beds, as you said, that are full of vegetables, herbs. I have a lot of native plants. I have a lot of ornamentals and bulbs. I have a lot of medicinal plants, and they all have become hosts to many, many types of native bees and many kinds of butterflies, moths and everything you can imagine--grasshoppers, ladybugs.

JW: Denise, what was your process once you decided to turn your lawn into a beautiful garden? It's full of raised beds, but it looks like quite a lot of work too. What was the process?

DF: You know, we assessed our light and our environment. I think it's really important for when you're planning something like this to assess whether you have the time and passion for a project like this, because obviously the larger the garden, the more of both it requires. And so it was something I really wanted to take on. So we laid out ropes in the yard, which I recommend doing-- in the areas where we thought we might like to plant gardens. And we used the ropes to sort of delineate the shapes and spaces to kind of get an idea of scale and size. And then because we decided we wanted a more organic feel for the for raised beds, we went and bought cement pavers that we built into walls. And then what we did next-- and what I recommend doing because it worked so beautifully-- was we smothered out the grass within those forms with clean cardboard—tape-free cardboard that didn't have much dye on it. On top of that, we put lawn refuse and compost and then filled them with soil and started to plant.

JW: There's such a wide variety of plants here. Where did you get them?

Judy Wagley
/
WCMU
Denise Fanning's backyard oasis features a wide variety of plants.

DF: Well, I first began by splitting up some plants that I already had in other areas of my gardens so that I didn't have to buy quite as much. But then I put a call out to friends who were gardeners, and anyone who might have plants that they were willing to split up and so many wonderful, lovely people came to me and offered plants. I had people dropping things off, I had people letting me come to their garden and splitting things up. It was a really busy spring of just going from garden to garden with people offering me their plants, and as a result, now I have this beautiful space full of pretty well-established plants that were established quite quickly because of already being loved by other people! And now I can walk around my garden and I know each plant came from a different person, so it's nice to remember each person as I move through the space.

JW: Denise, you've done this wonderful thing, but not everyone can turn their yard into a garden. Can you give us some inspiration on maybe just getting started?

DF: You can start so small like from literally one plant! From just possibly removing an invasive plant from your yard and adding a native plant. You could also start by just building the smallest little bed by getting some brick pavers and making a circle in your yard that you add a couple of new pollinator plants into that you gather from a friend who's willing to share with you. And just-- adding new life into a space where there once was no life is always going to be a beautiful addition to your world.

JW: And I'm thinking about how you went from mowing to growing.

DF: Oh, I love that. That's great. Yeah, we have indeed. And it's been a really beautiful transition. I'm so grateful to have this place, to walk out into and to live in harmony with. Thank you so much, Judy.

Judy Wagley is WCMU’s midday host, and is the producer of The Children’s Bookshelf from From the Ground Up! She guides listeners through their weekdays from 9am to 3pm.