Friday, October 2, 2015

Grass: The Down and Dirty

Last fall, before the logging. (All photos by author.) 
In our vision of a dream home, there is no lawn, but native trees, shrubs, moss, and wildflowers, au naturel. Having lived in New Jersey for decades and being busy professional folk, we paid plenty to landscapers to weekly whack away at grass and weed with multiple loud machines. The pleasure of a newly mown lawn is fleeting; the impact on the checkbook is not. Our no-lawn goal seemed like a no brainer, its New Hampshire and we have lots of trees. Well, maybe too many trees. Trees block views and a few had to go.

Painting by Canadian artist Emily Carr.

The first time that logger Steve came to cut we
were very conservative—leave this tree, this tree, this one, don’t even think of cutting over there (color-coded surveyors’ tape came in handy). As we got to see the lay of the land we discovered a surveyor’s map (scale 1” to 100’) can’t reveal the undulating micro slopes. To clear a swath for the barn that didn’t entail a walk-out basement, the logger was called back, plans were changed, more trees cut. Result: the barn is on level land and now we also have lots of beautiful bare earth we need to protect from erosion. Excavator Dave says to throw a little conservation mix seed on it; it’s excellent for erosion control and attracting deer to graze. Again, no problem. It’s fall; we’ll just go to the local hardware store and pick some up. Easier said than done.

Home site will be in front of trees in foreground and a little to left. 
Canaan Hardware is sold out; West Lebanon Tractor Supply Company (TSC) on the phone says they are sold out. We head out on a quest. It’s like we are seeking rare tickets for a Josh Grobin concert; we want it! And yet there is no conservation mix to be had. Resourceful New Englanders that we are (albeit recent ones, my stock is Pennsylvanian, Doug hails from Canada) we will make our own—a cuvee of grass seeds to approximate conservation blend (35% red fescue, 25% tall fescue, 15% annual ryegrass, 12% perennial ryegrass, 10% Kentucky bluegrass, and 3% white clover). For comparison, the formula  of the more easily procured contractor’s mix is 30% red fescue, 30% annual ryegrass, 30% perennial ryegrass, and 10% tall fescue.

There seems to be a lot of hype in grass seed these days. High-end seed sold in Home Depot (HD) as high-performance is 95% NOT seeds but enhancements (fluff?) that hold moisture and supposedly help the seed take hold. Yet another seed package on an adjacent shelf for a similarly expensive variety touts there are no additives. Confused? I am.

Meadow seeded. 
Here is what we end up with from available offerings at TSC and HD. Two parts HD Contractors Mix (perennial and annual rye grass, no clover, no bluegrass), one part TSC Farm & Ranch Pasture Mix (fescue, rye grass, Kentucky bluegrass, clover), and one part TSC straight clover. There is not a Cabela’s within 100 miles but online I find Imperial Whitetail Clover brand seed, which sells for $44 for four pounds, which is way more than we pay for good steak.

P.S. Bear evidence. Recent photo from night camera nearby.
We sow and wait, which shouldn’t be too long; some of the seeds germinate in as few as three days. With warm weather and gentle rain, we hope Mother Nature is hanging out in our corner of New Hampshire and will smile on our patch of mountainside. 


  1. I love Emily Carr! Many of her paintings are in the national art museum in Ottawa, along with contemporaries with a similar style. Bryan planted the 10-acre field behind their house with wildflower mix then carved paths through it with the mower. Made for the most awesome walk ever! And always different, week to week. Loved the picture of the bear. Oooh. Excitement awaits!

  2. Emily Carr is a fave of mine, along with all the Group of Seven (which she wasn't officially part of) who painted Canadian landscapes in the 1920s. Recommend the McMichaels Museum outside Toronto featuring Canadian art.
    Will consider the wildflower mix come spring.
    P.S. The bears are very big. Saw some more pixs of one standing up. Not to be messed with.

  3. So bottom line? Will this be a mow-free meadow, or will you need to bushwhack your way to the barn in the summer? :)

  4. After planting the seed we had some pretty heavy rain and then we re-seeded. Don't know what we are going to get exactly. Grass definitely grows slower in NH than NJ and if we do it right, we might have to whack it just a couple of times a year. (there's some more technical term than whack but I can't think of it right now.) In any case, the barn is just past the house and accessible by the same driveway (which will have a big turning area, required for emergency vehicles in homes out in the boonies).