We need to talk about our grass habit. Did you know that lawns are the most grown crop in the United States? Not corn. Not soybeans. Grass. What with the world’s exploding population, decline in arable land and endangered soil quality, the idea that the most-grown crop is something that doesn’t feed anyone—even animals—makes less and less sense the more you think about it.
And yet Americans especially put an enormous amount of money, resources, time and effort into maintaining lawns. According to the EPA, "of the 26 billion gallons of water consumed daily in the United States, approximately 7.8 billion gallons, or 30 percent, is devoted to outdoor uses. The majority of this is used for irrigation." That means lawns. Yikes.
There are a lot of reasons why, and lawns are great in a lot of ways. They are a nice surface for people and pets to play on. Green spaces are great for mental health, property values and even crime prevention. But there are lots of ways to achieve these goals, and it might be time to think outside the lawn in order to be better stewards of the environment and our own, personal resources.
Here are some suggestions and resources to help you get started. There are lots of choices, so we focused on the best-smelling ones. Because if you're going to make this change in your personal environment, it might as well smell fantastic.
As opposed to English thyme, which is the cooking herb we usually think of, varieties of creeping thyme are hardy, aesthetically pleasing groundcovers that can thrive in all kinds of climates and need significantly less water than a grass lawn. Do you have poor soil quality? Perfect! Thyme and other herbs can thrive in bad soil and even work to rejuvenate it. It only grows a couple of inches tall, so it needs minimal mowing. Plus, when you walk on it, creeping thyme will release a lovely aromatic smell. What's not to love?
Speaking of great smells, chamomile is another low-maintenance lawn alternative. Roman chamomile is the kind you want for your lawn to get that neat, green lawn aesthetic without all the mowing and edging work! It produces daisy-like white flowers smelling of apples that you can enjoy in their natural state, pick for some chamomile tea or mow if you’re just not that into it. Chamomile is drought-resistant and a good source of nitrogen, so it’s great for the soil.
Chamomile is a little more high-maintenance than creepying thyme, but ultimately still less work than grass. You’ll need to make sure you can keep foot traffic to a minimum for at least 12 weeks while your chamomile lawn establishes itself, and make sure your soil is well-drained. Be sure to check with your veterinarian if you have pets to determine whether it’s safe for your four-legged friends.
Wouldn’t you love a breath of minty fresh air every time you step outside? Consider Coruscian mint as a lawn replacement. Mint is a little more finicky than chamomile and thyme – reports are mixed on how it tolerates foot traffic, and it isn’t drought-resistant. It also needs a mild winter to survive. But if you live in the right climate, it makes for a lush green carpet that smells like Christmas. Amazing. Don’t be scared by reports of mint running rampant—this creeping variety is pretty well-behaved.
Learn more about mint and many more lawn alternatives: