Simple Living

Suburban Lawn to Nature Preserve- Part 1

I’ve said it a thousand times on this blog. I don’t like living in the suburbs. I don’t like tiny yards, too close neighbors, sterile lawns and conspicuous consumption. Unfortunately, I live in the suburbs, and there’s not a whole lot I can do about it right now. Someday, yes, I hope to live on a huge tract of land with woods, pastures and a creek, where I can watch my horses graze and deer saunter across the fields; but for now, I’m stuck in Suburbia.

My current garden- small and not super productive.

It’s easy to get caught up in the If/Then game. If I lived on land, then I’d be happy. If I had this thing, then I’d be happy. If this happened in my life, then I’d be happy. You can insert your own circumstances in the equation, but most people at one point or another get caught up in this kind of thinking. I know I do.

I spent many an hour lamenting the unfortunate circumstance of my living situation, until finally it occurred to me that the only difference between an acre in the suburbs being a blessing or a curse is my perspective. I’ve decided to view the land I live on now as an opportunity.

The suburbs are generally regarded as terrible for the earth in many ways. We’re spread out, so we drive more and create more pollution. We put all kinds of nasty chemicals on our lawns that run off into our rivers and oceans. We insist on having monocultures of grass, which are food deserts for bees and insects. There is a better way. Here’s a great article from the New York Times on that topic.

Just because I live in the suburbs doesn’t mean I have to contribute to the vanishing of bees and insects and the use of horrid chemical fertilizers. I can make my little piece of suburbia a haven for nature.

There are some definite positives to my yard. It’s small enough for me to work on projects one by one without getting overwhelmed. I already have bird feeders, hummingbird feeders, a small vegetable and herb garden, and some pretty flowers and flowering trees. I even compost already. I’m well on my way to breaking out of the suburban mold.

Front yard flowers.

My acre is not particularly healthy right now. Most of it is a lawn with some flower beds, so it’s been fertilized with nasty chemicals, had landscaping fabric laid over it (which kills the soil and the insect and worm population under it), been scalped of native grass and flowering plants that the bees and butterflies need, and generally been under-appreciated and unloved. I plan to change all that, and to create a tiny nature preserve right smack in the middle of the urban sprawl.

Herb garden with rosemary and bee balm in the side yard.

My husband insists on having a pretty, green lawn, as does my HOA, but there are parts of the yard that can be re-purposed into productive gardens or wildlife habitats. I don’t have the space to attract deer, but I can make a lovely area for the birds. I don’t have room for cattle, but I can grow herbs and medicinal plants.

A rose in my backyard.

I have a rough vision in my head of how I want my yard to look, but a better idea of how I want it to feel. I want it to feel very different than it does now, very different from the average suburban yard. I envision it as a sanctuary, a place I want to spend time in, a place with an abundance of flowers and herbs, and a place where birds, bees and butterflies will find a home. Instead of moaning about how terrible the suburbs are for the earth, I can transform my little plot into a tiny wildlife preserve. I plan to do this little by little while spending as little money as possible.

Side yard before- mostly weeds and bare dirt along the side of the house.

My first project was to work on my side yard, which at the moment is not very attractive. My neighbors graciously allow me to have half my veggie and herb garden on their property, and they said they don’t mind if I make some more flower beds along the edge of their house. It was just bare dirt, weeds and some mint, lavender and a Lamb’s Ear that I planted last year. My daughter and I weeded, put down some wood shavings, and lined the edge with some firewood. We’ll get rocks eventually, but for now we have wood. We’re planning on planting some more herbs and perennial flowers.

After pulling weeds and laying down wood shavings. We’ll plant some more things soon.

My next project is to turn a large flower bed in my front yard into a tiny meadow. We have two huge oak trees in our front yard, and their shade is killing the grass. This puts my husband into a panic. He is quite attached to his golf course grass. He wanted to cut down the oak trees, but I threatened divorce and he quit bringing it up. Instead, we’re going to distract from the poor grass with a wildflower meadow . There are flowers that grow naturally in the shade of trees, so that’s what we’ll plant. It will take some time, but eventually that big empty patch should be full of flowers and native grasses. It will be a buffet for the bees and something pretty to look at.


We’re going to take it one section at a time, and over the course of the next few years I hope to see a major transformation. In the meantime, here are some articles and videos I find inspiring…

Michigan Backyard Meadow – great except for the use of Roundup. Skip the Roundup!

Lawn to Meadow in England

Why You Should Turn Your Lawn into a Meadow

The Vanishing Insect Population- one reason to transform your yard

The Suburban Homestead YouTube Channel


5 thoughts on “Suburban Lawn to Nature Preserve- Part 1

  1. Loved reading that!
    As someone who does live out in the middle of nature on a few hundred acres I get sick of people from the suburbs telling me that I’m bad for the environment. Despite the plentiful habit and wild life I am surrounded by.
    It’s good to hear from someone who realizes the damage done by people in and around cities. Keep up the good work!

  2. Your projects sound interesting!
    Please post which wild flowers you plant in the shade. Also, what method of composting are you going to use: a compost bin or or a compost pile?
    Careful of the wood right next to the house siding. You wouldn’t want those termites to think it was an invitation to dinner! If there is any building/ remodeling going on in your area maybe the contractors would have some scrap granite or quartz left over they wouldn’t mind getting rid of for free. They might make an interesting garden border.

    1. Good point about the wood! I’ll have to replace it pretty quick. I do a compost pile. I just toss it over the fence right into the garden boxes. It’s the easy (or lazy) method, but it works and I have all kinds of things popping up in the garden as volunteers.

  3. This is so well written and so wonderful. Thank you so much for this! I’m bookmarking this article.

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