The Aesthetics of Lawn Weeds

As soon as I see the cheerful yellow faces of dandelions in my lawns, I go for the dandelion tool and mercilessly hoik them out. (And I don’t put them in the compost heap either. My heaps don’t heat up enough to kill seeds, and dandelions are quite capable of setting seeds even after they are uprooted and technically dead. Talk about zombie plants!) Even though I know that the dandelions will probably regrow from the root, I find this to be a worthwhile exercise because removing them immediately improves the look of the lawn.

Certain weeds just don’t look good in lawns. I speak from a lengthy experience with weeds, some self-inflicted, others not, in vegetable gardens, perennial beds and lawns. For some weeds (or “weedy plants” at least) I have a good deal of tolerance, to the detriment of the garden. Wall lettuce (Lactuca muralis), for example, is a handsome and elegant plant, with its jagged, red-tinted leaves and tiny yellow flowers. I was quite happy to see it here some years ago. But it seeds abundantly and the seeds drift on the breezes, so now I see altogether too much of it and am not so happy.

But back to lawns. I am not a lawn purist, and do not mind if certain other plants infiltrate my grass, as long as they aren’t gross and coarse, like dandelions, both the spring-blooming variety (Taraxacum) and another type that blooms in late summer and has somewhat leathery leaves. It may be hairy cat’s ear or possibly hawkbit. In both cases, the flat rosettes of leaves do not blend into lawn grass, and the flowers are too large and vulgar.

To live successfully in lawns, weeds must be short-growing and small-foliaged.  The English daisy, Bellis perennis, is a good example. Its little white and yellow flowers, sometimes pink-tinted around the edges, are charming. Even buttercups are almost OK. Needless to say, I have neither of these excellent subjects in my lawn. I have dandelions, bindweed and mallows. The latter are a new addition and I haven’t made up my mind as yet whether I need to do battle with them. Their foliage isn’t particularly coarse, but if  there are too many of them they become visually dominant. For a lawn to look like a lawn, rather than a weed patch, grass must dominate. And since the area where the mallows have popped up is already on the borderline of respectability, adjustments may be in order.

A plant I would be delighted to see in my lawns is one whose name is unknown to me. I don’t even know what its foliage looks like, but the flowers are pale blue and tiny, like a mist over the grass. I suspect it to be Glechoma hederacea, otherwise known as ground-ivy or creeping Charlie. Definitely a weed, but an elegant, lawn-enhancing one.

Then there’s moss. Moss in the lawn is supposed to be bad news, but I don’t mind it.  Since much of my garden is overhung by maples, there is a fair bit of moss around, on the stone paths and in the lawns. I tell myself that it gives an air of venerable age to the garden, and don’t bother trying to “correct” the situation by racing about with sacks of lime (to paraphrase Henry Mitchell, who was not a fan of lawns).

My worst lawn weed is field bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, which occupies a slowly spreading area on the boulevard right in front of my place. It’s a sneaky thing, lurking inconspicuously in the lawn until the really dry weather comes in July. Then the grass turns brown (because I don’t water the boulevard) and the bindweed blooms — blinding white, dollar-size flowers that scream “Weedy lawn, weedy lawn!” to everyone that passes by. I have tried painting it with herbicides to no avail. My current solution (now that the municipality has banned pesticides for “cosmetic” purposes) is to go out in the gloaming and pull up the blooming plants, an operation every bit as futile as that of Sisyphus with his rock.