Our “Biodiverse” Lawn

Our “lawn” would be outlawed in most of the Twin Cities’ tonier suburbs.  But living in the city allows for a little more variety.  Twenty years ago we sodded our yard after building an addition.  The grass was perfect — pure, uniform blades of healthy green.  We kept it that way for a couple of years, then quit using chemicals when our son was old enough to play in the yard.

First a few common violets dotted the grass with their subtle, delicate blooms.  Then dandelions showed their bright heads —miniature globes of sunshine that blossomed into balls of fluff.  Our son loved to blow the fluff, watch the seeds dance on the breeze and settle into the grass (to grow the following spring).

Canada violets and common blue violets grow in our backyard.

White clover (Trifolium repens), Canada violets (Viola canadensis) and common blue violets (Viola sororia) grow in our backyard lawn.

Canada violets (Viola canadensis) and dandelions (Taraxacum officinale).

Canada violets (Viola canadensis) and dandelions (Taraxacum officinale).

Over the years, seeds from garden Siberian squill and striped squill spilled out into the lawn during heavy rains.  They popped up in all parts of the backyard along with three other species of violets.  These spring blooms are lovely and welcome, but the plantain, chickweed and crabgrass that appear later in the summer?  Not so much.

Siberian squill bloom in the grass in April, but quickly disappear for the rest of the growing season.

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) bloom in the grass in April, but quickly disappear for the rest of the growing season.

One afternoon our neighbor, Steve, an environmental engineer, stopped to chat while I was digging out dandelions.  I bemoaned the state of our lawn.  Steve looked at it for a minute, then said that he thinks of it as a biodiverse lawn.  The variety of blooms, though they are “weeds” in the eyes of most people, provide a great source of nectar to native bees and other pollinators.  The insects and worms provide food for birds, chipmunks and many small critters.  In comparison, Steve said, our former uniform lawn was a “dead zone” with little life beyond the non-native grass.

I still miss our perfect lawn when I look at the lush, tidy, green grass on our block, and every summer I’m tempted to use chemicals to restore ours.  But, I ignore that urge and instead, we mow the “grass” down to a short patch of green turf that is alive with birds, insects and other creatures — and that also looks  acceptable to our neighbors!

Early Spring

Spring is slow in coming this year; but over the past two weeks, the awakening of life has softened the dingy, post-winter landscape.  Summer bird migrants add their songs to the morning chorus; maples, Canada cherries and other trees bud; chipmunks dart about in the yard; and the early spring bulbs begin to bloom — among them my favorite: the beautiful blue squill.

Siberian Squill (Scilla Siberica)

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica).

Striped Squill (Puschkinis scilloides).

Striped Squill (Puschkinis scilloides).

Crocus buds (Crocus spp 'ladykiller).

Crocus buds (Crocus species ‘Ladykiller’).

Crocus blossoms (Crocus spp 'ladykiller')

Crocus blossoms (Crocus species ‘Ladykiller’)

Red Maple Flowers (Acer rubra).

Red Maple flowers (Acer rubrum).

Canada cherry (Prunus virginiana 'Canada Red') leaves and flower buds

Canada Cherry (Prunus virginiana ‘Canada Red’) leaves and flower buds.

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) © T.M. Murray 2014; used with permission.

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) © T.M. Murray 2014; used with permission.

White-throated sparrows are migrating north and add a melodious, clear whistling to early spring mornings.  Once you’ve heard the song, it’s easy to remember.  Many people liken it to the phrase, “My Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada”.  This sparrow has a bright white throat, a black-and-white striped crown and a bright yellow spot between the eyes and bill.  Listen to and watch a white-throated sparrow whistle its lovely, plaintive song.


Eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus) are out of their dens.

Eastern Chipmunks (Tamias striatus) are out of their winter dens.

American robins (Turdus migratorius) are building nests.

American Robins (Turdus migratorius) are building nests.

Newly opened Glory-of-the-Snow (Chinodoxa).

Newly opened Glory-of-the-Snow (Chinodoxa).

A patch of striped squill and Siberian squill in our garden.

A patch of Striped Squill and Siberian Squill in our garden.