In defence of lawn

Lawn. It's like uttering a dirty word these days.

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I get it, I really do - we live on a planet that is getting dryer and dryer, and in a particularly parched country at that. There is a lot to the argument that in this country, or at least in the driest parts of it, water should not be wasted on keeping a completely ornamental patch of turf alive. The thing is, I don't agree that lawn only serves an ornamental function, and I'm here to argue in its defence.

When we first moved here, nobody had lived in the house for a few years and the bush had been allowed to grow all the way up to the porch. It was beautiful and we loved that our little house sat right in the middle of a native forest.

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Unfortunately we also knew that we would be completely insane to leave it that way in a hugely bushfire prone area, so we had some pretty severe clearing done. This left us with a dustbowl completely surrounding the house, which turned into a mudpit every time it rained and all winter long.

We had a choice at this point: leave it cleared and watch the native scrub (mostly tea tree) and weeds grow back in over time, increasing our bushfire vulnerability again; or try to improve the "soil" (which is a hugely flattering euphemism for the rock and clay we have here) and grow something else in this space. We chose the later.

We started by bringing in a bit of dirt to give a small amount of coverage to the cleared area and we spread some grass seed and green manure. We let weeds grow in and occasionally mowed them back.  We eventually fenced the space too, to keep the roos and wallabies out.

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After a little while we realised that we were losing soil, nutrients and water as it ran off down the sloping site, so we built it up into three terraces, bringing in an incredible amount of dirt to do so. We spent a long weekend laying turf (which is a tough gig when you are a few months pregnant, fyi!). Turf was the best choice for us as we don't have the water supply to grow a lawn successfully from seed.

We figured a proper lawn would act as a green belt for defending the house in a bushfire. I had read several articles about landscaping for bushfire protection, and one idea that came up time and time again was to include a well-maintained lawn around the house. So long as it is kept alive and cut short, this can act as a fire retardant (there's some really great info about landscaping for bushfire protection here).

There's also quite a bit of evidence that the soil temperature under lawns is significantly lower than anywhere else in a garden, which can lead to a cooler microclimate around the house. Always a good thing in a hot climate.

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I have a bunch of other reasons why I love lawn, but they are all more personal and a bit superficial... I feel more calm about my kids playing outside than I did when we had bare, rocky ground. I love to be able to walk around barefoot in the garden all summer long. I adore laying on the grass, in a sunny spot on winter days, or in a shady spot in the height of summer...

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Of course, in saying all of this, we still have a massive responsibility to not waste water in this country. And for us that is a fairly straightforward prospect - we only have access to tank water, so if it runs out, we have no water. We are extremely conscious of this. In the height of summer, we use our water to keep our lawn alive, but we do so in the most efficient way possible. We also have no expectations of having a perfectly green lawn year round - that isn't a realistic expectation for where we live. But truly I think that for us, in our situation, lawn is worth the effort and we won't be ripping them out anytime soon.