Grass, I am informed by my family, is essential if you want to play backyard cricket, kick around a ball or ride your bicycle.
I disagree. I do admit that my tendency to plant trees and shrubs in any spare sunny spot available sadly reduced the amount of cricket, ball kicking and bike riding space. I've even kept my promise not to plant any more trees, except to replace those that have been cut down as too tall or that have done their job of shading out the weeds.
'Lawn' - i.e. a stretch of flat greenery - does also help cool the soil and allow breezes to reach the windows.
But it doesn't have to be grass.
Australia has an oversupply of grass: not in paddocks or the bush, where stock or wildlife can munch it, but in front and back yards that are severely deficient of kangaroos, wombats and sheep. Grass may be excellent for herbivores to munch, but it is also a little boring.
Our lawn has 56 species in it, last time I counted, which was during a wet year so there won't be that number now. But the variety works well. When it's dry, some do well; when its wet, others take over; some like the cold and others the heat. Unlike the areas that are pure grass of various species, it is never bare.
If you feel like varying yours a bit, try adding ajuga, or lawn daisies (I love lawn daisies. They are one of the earliest spring flowers and mowing keeps them in check), dichondra, any of the clovers, woodruff, wooly yarrow, pennyroyal, white alyssum, gota kola, or even a few heartsease flowers, as long as you don't walk on it much - the odd bicycle ride or cricket ball catch will just bruise them a bit, but they'll recover.
Your 'lawn' species, of course, will not all grow to the same height. Some may find joy in the diversity of shape and scent and color. Others may think it is a mess. Few herbal lawns achieve the flat green carpet effect unless you have a team of gardeners to remove weeds, top dress the thymes, and trim the yarrow or dead-head old flowers. You will also have more bees, which many may think is a good thing, and others, not so good, especially if any of the family is allergic to their sting and may sit on them.
Of course it is possible to have an extremely elegant, single species 'lawn'.
Queen Elizabeth has a chamomile lawn, not the flowering chamomile but the softly pineapple-scented one that only grows from runners, not seeds. I can just imagine the gentle whiffs as the guests tread among the herbs. Warning: do not try this unless you have a small staff or many gardeners, as lawn chamomile is not dense enough to suppress weeds, so to keep yours looking good you will need weeding, feeding, trimming and regular watering - and not too many garden parties walking all over it.
Prince Charles is said to have a thyme lawn (I had one once too, till the neighbour's cows trod on it and turned it into puddles and cow droppings). I forget how many thousand thyme plants his lawn took - a number so far above my budget that I can only dream of what it must be like.
Thyme lawns need low-growing 'carpeting' thymes, not bushy culinary thyme. These are tiny leafed and flat growing, with flowers that range from deep red through mauve to pink or white. They're reasonably drought hardy but will die if they are dry for too long, especially in a well-drained pot. There's no need to feed them, if the soil is good, but do 'top dress' every two to three years with a scatter of good soil, enough to cover the stems and encourage new vigorous roots. Then every year they'll bloom over two months in summer, in a cloud of colour, scent, and, probably, a heck of a lot of hoverflies and bees.
This week I am:
- Admiring the pomegranates.
- Wondering, as I do every autumn, why some apple tree variety leaves turn butter yellow in autumn, and others become limp and drop off while still green. The really interesting things is that different varieties do this each year. Have they come to a silent arboreal agreement about who's turn it is to shine this year?
- Remembering we have kiwi fruit, and that we either we pick the fruit as soon as the frost hits it, or Possum X and his mates will get the lot.
- Discovering we still have basil! Which means several bowls of Virginia's red and yellow cherry tomatoes halved, with much basil, a small amount of olive oil and a good grind of black pepper.
- Picking what may be the last of the zucchini though they may slowly - very slowly - have produced another six or 10.
- Noticing, finally, that the sasanqua camellia by the back door is in flagrant flower, long before any of our other camellias, and that once again I have missed at least half of its bloom. I really should have planted it somewhere more noticeable.