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No grass, no sprinklers at this Wellesley yard

Posted by Your Town  July 10, 2009 09:04 AM

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By Peter Rovick
Guest Columnist

Stop by the front yard of one home in Wellesley, and you will notice that something is different. There are no sprinklers, and in fact, there is no grass. The front yard at my home at 12 Appleby Road, in the Wellesley Square and Dana Hall areas, consists entirely of carefully planned landscaping, consisting of trees, bushes, and other plants, including ferns.

A local landscaper from Sudbury has helped us to design and implement a low cost, low maintenance front yard that actually saves us money and helps the environment.

Which brings us to the History of Lawns in America.

“We didn't always have a love affair with our lawns,'' says this history of lawns. "In fact it wasn't until the industrial revolution that lawns became practical for most Americans. Lawns were seen as a luxury expense for only the wealthy who could afford grounds keepers to maintain the fine bladed plants using scythes. Not everyone wanted cattle or sheep grazing in the front yard to keep the green stuff at a manageable height as did Woodrow Wilson while occupying the White House.”

“It was not until the Tudor and Elizabethan times that the garden and the lawn became a place to be loved and admired,'' says a Wikipedia entry. "Created as walkways and for play areas, the lawns were not as we envisage them today….In the early 1600s the Jacobean epoch of gardening began. It was during this period that the closely-cut "English" lawn was born. By the end of this period, the English lawn was the envy of even the French; it was also seen as a symbol of status by the gentry….Toward the end of the 19th century, suburbs appeared on the American scene, along with the sprinkler, greatly improved lawn mowers, new ideas about landscaping and a shorter workweek.”


A Grass Alternative at 12 Appleby Road: The carefully planned front lawn includes a dogwood, a magnolia, and several pine trees to one side. These are complimented by rhododendrons, holly, small evergreens, and other small bushes bordering the front exterior of the house. Additional ground coverings include ivy, ferns, multiple wildflower perennials, and assorted plants. In sum, these plantings provide shade and a unique defining aesthetic quality to the front yard.

Low Maintenance: A local landscape specialist visits once each spring and autumn to prune, provide minimal amounts of fertilizer, to suggest additional landscaping options, and to help with general maintenance. In the meantime, a layer of mulch (added every two to three years) locks in moisture from the rain, which helps to prevent the need for watering and to inhibit growth of unwanted plants like dandelions.

Cost and Environmental Benefits: The yard is designed to be self-sustaining with no need for watering, though I do perform “spot-watering” for additional pumpkins and for some plants during times of severe drought – only once or twice each year. We conserve resources and help the environment by reducing our water usage and using far lesser amounts of fertilizer than are used on typical yards.

Come by for a Visit! If you are interested in considering alternative low-maintenance landscaping for your home, feel free to contact me and to visit 12 Appleby Road. You can contact me via email at or via home phone: 781-237-8462.

Also make sure you leverage the vast resources of the Wellesley Natural Resources Commission (NRC), located on the lower level of the Wellesley Town Hall. Or visit: The NRC is a partner in the Wellesley Pesticide Awareness Campaign (WPAC), and has received grants from the Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI).

Alternative Landscaping is just one “Win-Win” for helping the environment while reducing home expenditures. One other resource of note is The Power of One, which “brings together Wellesley residents and organizations to achieve long-term reduction in energy use and carbon footprint.”

Happy Landscaping!

Peter Rovick and his wife have lived in Wellesley since 2001. Peter has served both on the Wellesley Trails Committee and the Wellesley Conservation Council and has a growing interest in conservation and the environment. He is proud to give back to his local community in these capacities and to help lead by example in these efforts.

Additional Links:

· Top 10 Tips for Low-Maintenance Landscaping:

· Eco-Lawns - Washington State University:

· Fact Sheet - Lawn Alternatives:

· The Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds:

· Groundcovers – The Other Grass:

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8 comments so far...
  1. Good for you guys. I wish more people would abandon their obsession with the perfect lawn and seek more eco friendly (ie less water dependent) alternatives. There are lots of beautiful plants and ground covers out there.

    Wish this article had posted pictures though. Not possible for everyone to stop by your house.

    Posted by myrtle July 10, 09 11:40 AM
  1. I have a lawn. I end up mowing it probably 10-12 times a year. That takes 45 minutes each time. I enjoy it. I don't own a sprinkler. If it gets brown, it gets brown. It gets green again when it rains. My kids have a place to play. I put down fertilizer in the spring and in the fall. That takes 10 minutes. In the fall I clean up the leaves, the kids jump in the piles of leaves and I enjoy the cool autumn air.. As for a "local landscape specialist", well, that's me. I get out some pruning shears, get out some gloves and go to town, cutting back some stuff and pulling out others. Sometimes the kids help and have a good time with it. Nothing has died yet. A truck delivers 4 yards of mulch every other year and I spread it. Spreading it takes a total of 8 hours. Maybe I throw down some new grass seed every now and then.

    A lawn doesn't have to be a high maintenance thing if you don't want it to be. My neighbor used to spend every waking moment out there, but it was his "thing" and he really enjoyed doing it.

    These "low maintenance lawns" seem kind of funny to me, especially when the "history of the American lawn" is added in, since they invariably involve hiring specialists and consultants to come out and tend your lawn, which certainly sounds a lot like "luxury expense for only the wealthy".

    Note that I'm not trying to attack you for choosing to put something in as a lawn that's not grass -- it's your land and your property, your are free to do what you want. If you like the plantings and the aesthetics, that's great -- good for you. It's just that I find the justification to be a little funny and ironic.

    Posted by J July 10, 09 11:18 PM
  1. Did you seriously write this piece with a random website and a wikipedia entry? How is it that a major American newspaper thinks it can get away with not using fact-checked sources? That's not only lazy but also unprofessional. I don't even care if the facts are correct; the Boston Globe should be using better sources. Both Ted Steinberg and Virginia Scott Jenkins have written edited, fact-checked, and likely peer-reviewed books on this topic. Offering the links for readers to see is fine, but they are not sufficient sources.

    Posted by Lisa July 11, 09 09:05 AM
  1. Lisa, get off your high-horse. It was a good article and an interesting read. Wikipedia works fine here. It's not a story on nuclear arms shipments. It's a story on lawns and alternative to lawns.

    Peter -- great story. Thank you. Ignore Lisa.

    Posted by Steve July 12, 09 10:48 AM
  1. Hello - PICTURES???? WERE AT YOUR PICTURES. Would love to see your masterpiece. Sounds wonderful. Please post pictures.

    Posted by Lora July 14, 09 05:59 AM
  1. Thank you all for your comments - a few additional notes....

    1. PHOTOS: I have uploaded some photos to my Facebook account: - wasn't sure where else to post them (but open to suggestion). Feel free to contact me via email if you would like me to forward photos (

    2. LANDSCAPER: comments by "J" are well taken. Believe me, if we owned our own home, we would not be hiring a landscaper. Living in a condo involves working with the other condo owners to determine how to maintain the structure & property - I'm all in favor of doing the work on our own. I did not mention in the article that I have helped to reduce expenses by doing much of the weeding, raking, mulch laying on my own. Care to sub for me at our next condo assoc. meeting?!!

    3. PURPOSE: My goal in writing this was to share an example about an alternative form of landscaping, in hopes that others would consider doing someting similar. I encourage others to post links to specific sources on the topic or to write their own articles on the same subject in order to share further insights.

    Posted by Peter Rovick - article author July 14, 09 03:12 PM
  1. Peter -- you had me at "condo association" :). I won't sub. I like having my own "condo association", where I am the benevolent dictator. At least you got people to agree to pay money for the service rather than trying to get them all to pitch in. Inevitably everyone is for it, but is always busy when it comes time to pull weeds or lift a finger.

    I did live in a house that had a similar "lawn" to yours, and the bills from the landscaping company/gardener were amazingly high -- but maybe it's because I'm cheap and not used to paying for these types of services.

    I wanted to add that an important lesson from this type of thing is that it is entirely possible to keep a lawn in addition to doing some sensible plantings. All of the plantings around our house are selected for the climate in which we live, so they don't need any special treatments to survive, and grow back every year. We plant maybe one flat of annuals as accents in containers.

    There are also "greener" ways to keep a lawn, too -- ranging from organic treatments, the use of rain barrels/cisterns for watering, lawnmowers powered by electricity or people power and so on. Also, keep in mind that you don't have to go all the way and get ris of all the grass, too -- you can keep some grass area but expand the mulched area to compromise between having some grass for the kids to play in, but cut down on mowing time.

    I'll also add that my lot is only a half acre overall and if you have a acre or two acres like some people do, you are indeed going to have to spend time or money keeping up with the lawn -- be it grass or landscaping.

    Posted by J July 15, 09 11:10 AM
  1. Hmmm. I thought grasses were a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is interesting to learn that we now have the ecological thought police attacking nature as a threat to nature.

    Posted by ABD July 20, 09 07:01 AM