HOW TO TURN YOUR LAWN INTO A WILDFLOWER MEADOW
- Selecting the Planting Site:
You can stop an apocalypse near you. Invite bees that help pollinate our food, butterflies that deck the landscape with color, and plants that are meant to survive without much watering in your local habitat, nourishing the birds with seeds. Look at the flat canvas of your suburban lawn. My beloved did. He never did like the suburbs till I dragged him here. Now he fights the neat, manicured plots all over Long Island, creating density and traffic via wildflower meadows.
Years ago, he started with vermiculture, raising worms, red wrigglers from Africa; he even packed some worms from Tamil Nadu in a yogurt container. He did not even tell me what he had snuck past customs. But Raju never sits in fright for long. Before you know it, he was inviting his friends over for worm tea, a concoction of worm waste and water to be sprayed upon the newly sprouting seeds he was nurturing—
a. Go into the woods, the mountains, a field of flowers. Seek out where your body moves away from edifices of fluorescent lighting. Find a patch of soil or lawn to begin your native garden/meadow.
eggplant from Udumalpet, determinate and indeterminate tomatoes, spearmint, tulsi, basil, gheeya or long gourd from Amritsar. Relatives brought seeds in pill boxes and socks from different parts of India so we could grow the vegetables we know.
When my beloved is not here, I love his garden even more. The orange poppy glistening in sunlight, its petals open like landing pads for butterflies. Does the tiger swallowtail know who planted the zinnia? Does the blue jay know who set the birdbath?
b. Cover your soil/lawn with cardboard and then generously cover with mulch. Your grass will die on its own as you replace it with a new landscape.
2. Choosing a Seed Mix:
It’s a post-modern pastiche of a garden, like Lahore before Partition when my grandparents were alive. On the western side, there is a wall of bamboo considered an invasive species, lush and limber providing a natural barrier so we cannot see the rest of the neighborhood. Beside the bamboo are three rectangular boxes painted bright yellow, rich with zinnia, poppy, yarrow, coneflower, lily and beachgrass, giant sunflowers standing guard like beefeaters. Even between the pavers, good ol’ American crabgrass wants to make its presence, resisting man’s impulse to create order, a place for man and woman to tread instead.
My beloved is still learning the names of plants in our newly sprung meadow. There is beard tongue, partridge pea, Indian blanket, ironweed, false indigo, names I have never heard silenced by the monoculture of lawns. I learn all the names and want to keep forever, the way Emily Dickinson collected an herbarium, dried in lovely geometric design. Our flowers are a motley mix with “outsider” flowers like lilac and familiar ones like iris.
c. Learn what grows in your part of the world before highways, cars, and strip malls encroached upon the surface of the earth. Here where I live, in the land once called Paumanok, grows golden alexander, coneflower, bee balm. Think of the colors you want to invite.
3. Preparing the Planting Area:
As I see the crabgrass, tulsi (Indian basil) and other weeds peep through the cracks of
the pavers, I wonder what this space would have looked like before humans stamped
it with civilization, a forest of maples and oak, aspen, birch, and ash perhaps.
I revel in a world where we do not care if squash from Amritsar grows alongside the
eggplant from Japan. All this from seeds. My son says in an essay about
atoms, “Do you know something so big can happen because of something so
small?” Think of how you can stop the apocalypse in your local area. Start small.
d. Once you have purchased your plants or grown them from seed, you can drill holes into the cardboard and mulch and carefully find a home for your native flowers. They know the soil; they know the bees. Their roots grow deep so you will not need to water as much as you might flowers that do not grow locally naturally. You will not need fertilizer either.
So many years ago, when we lived in South Philadelphia, our backyard was all concrete and cinder block. I yearned for a green yard. My beloved heard, somehow. Now, it feels like the nature might overtake our standing home, butternut squash tendrils grabbing onto everything, creeping into our kitchen, and slowly meandering into our bedroom at night.
4. Sowing the Seeds
My grandparents’ garden is the one I will always hold in my imagination as the ultimate: papaya, mango, lychee, lemon trees, mothia (jasmine), roses that are fragrant because they grow close to the equator. You can even dry the petals and put them in your tea.
Maybe I can take my beloved there in my dreams. My grandparents are gone and so is their home. One day, my beloved says he will go to India and start farming. But I cannot go with him. My home is here, in this meadow in New York.
5. Maintaining the Wild
Mumma is hunched over the lawn in front of our house, the one my parents bought to achieve the American Dream, far away from our one-bedroom apartment in Yonkers. Now she is making her garden like the neighbors. Sitting on a stepstool she leans over to extirpate crab grass, a weed, foreign to her.
e. Sit back and watch your wildflowers grow. Observe the bees, heavy with their saddlebags, as they carry themselves across the new terrain. Maybe an apocalypse is just one kind of ending and a different way of living anew.