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Green gardens replace brown lawn

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

When a septic issue necessitated digging up their front yard to install new pipes last year, Richard and Amy Webb decided they'd had it with grass.

They were sick of dealing with moles and grubs, and the trouble and expense associated with trying to keep their lawn green seemed never-ending.

So, the Litchfield County Club couple decided to go in a drastically different direction.

Instead of replacing the lawn, they put in winding rock paths and plant beds that cover the front yard and backyard, and include a mix of perennials with vegetables.

"It's a beautiful, edible and productive space," Amy said.

It's also a growing trend, said David Alston.

A former horticulturist at Brookgreen Gardens, he owns Alston's Advanced Lawncare in Murrells Inlet and was hired to install the gardens, which Richard, an artist, designed.

Alston said he has done a number of similar projects in recent years, though only three have involved getting rid of the lawn entirely.

"You can do it at different levels," Alston said. "It just depends on the customer."

The Webbs have beds planted on about 2,000 square feet, and have no regrets.

"It's been a joy to go out and pick my own produce," Amy said.

She's a breast cancer survivor and since her recovery, she has become very selective about what she puts in her body, so she said she welcomes the opportunity to have fresh, organic produce at hand.

The couple grows tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, collards, butternut squash, peppers, figs, okra, herbs and a variety of other foods, which they happily share with friends, neighbors and a variety of wildlife who come over to nibble.

For decoration, they have ornamental peppers, Indian blanketflowers, alliums, marigolds, ginger lilies, cat's whiskers and verbena. Both take obvious delight in the garden, checking every day to see what new things are growing.

"Oh, look! I had no idea this was here," Amy exclaimed over a melon earlier this week. She said it's a hybrid she and Richard tried on a recent trip to Northern California. They weren't sure if they’d have any success growing it themselves.

"Every day is an adventure," Amy said. "That's what I love."

The Webbs said others also get a kick out of watching the garden change from day to day. They have a 92-year-old neighbor who walks over every day to look for new growth.

While installation of the garden was "not inexpensive," the cost of maintenance is a fraction of what the Webbs were paying to try to keep their grass looking green and healthy.

The beds also require less water than grass. The Webbs use a drip irrigation system to keep the garden healthy.

The garden was designed to be low maintenance, but Amy warns the upkeep is an effort, and takes time and commitment.

"You've got to want to do it," she said. "It's certainly not easier than just mowing the grass, but you get more out of it.

The couple share the work, though Richard's back keeps him from helping with some of the labor, such as weeding.

"He's got the vision. I'm more execution," Amy said.

Neither of them has much experience with gardening, so they’re learning as they go.

"We just stuck these things in the ground on blind faith and a little research," Richard said. “It’s all an experiment.”

“It’s been a vertical learning curve,” added Amy.

The Webbs’ yard has been known to stop traffic since they got rid of the grass.

“We’ve had people stop their cars in the driveway and say, 'what did you do here?' " Amy said.

She and Richard don't mind. They want the garden to serve as an example of what a low-maintenance garden can be.

"It doesn't have to be some ugly thing you have to hide in the backyard," Amy said. "What I hope is that it gives people ideas and makes them say, 'wow, there is another way to use this space. Grass isn't the only option."

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