We live in an area of Minnesota that was once a prairie. Now it's mostly a sea of genetically-modified corn and soybeans, most of which is either going to become fuel for cars or cows. Our street is lined with trees, but where there is no shade, the ground here still favors those prairie plants.
Since we moved in, we've slowly replaced our lawn. There's nothing wrong with a lawn, but how one chooses to take care of it can be harmful to the environment and members of your household, not to mention take a lot of time, money and other resources.
We cut our lawn. That's all, to the dismay of some of our neighbors. We cut it with an electric mower once a week or once every other week, and we set the mower as high off of the ground as it goes. We don't fertilize or treat the weeds, which makes for quite a field of dandelions and creeping charlie. One of our neighbors, who spends much time fertilizing, pesticiding, and mowing the grass to an inch high or so, also ends up doing a lot of watering (which I think is because he's cutting his grass too short). All this adds up to too much time spent caring for a yard, which in reality is a part of nature and should be able to care for itself. So we're getting rid of our lawn.
Our first step was to allow our neighbor's raspberry patch to extend itself into our yard. This was the best thing we ever did. Now, for free and without any effort, we eat the most delicious organic raspberries I've ever had each year. I spend more time picking raspberries this time of year than doing any sort of yardwork. We also planted fruit trees in our backyard. Our yard is small, so we chose dwarf varieties. We now have a plum tree, a cherry tree and 2 apple trees. We've recently planted some grape vines at the bottom of a trellis that sits between our living room window and our neighbor's. We had a vegetable garden for a few years, but we realized that our CSA was providing us with plenty of food and we didn't want to spend this summer weeding, so no more veggie garden. For those who love to garden, though, there's nothing like heading to the backyard to grab your dinner ingredients.
We've begun removing our front lawn too, starting with a small section and planning to add to it each year. We put in a variety of beautiful, perennial plants, like daisies, speedwell, black eyed susans, and bee balm. We also moved some mint plants we had in our garden into this area. Herbs and medicinal plants don't have to be in a vegetable garden- they can be interspersed throughout your yard or flower beds. We've got birdfeeders on the east side of our house, and each year we get a beautiful sunflower forest below them. We did pay for the perennials we put in this year ($30) but the rest are volunteers or free divisions given to us by neighbors. They will come back year after year, and provide us with our own divisions to replant in a new lawn replacement area, or share with our neighbors. And the joy is that they take care of themselves- plants that easily grow in (or are native to) your area won't need watering or fertilizer.
Our hope is that someday we'll have a beautiful yard full of perennials and food-bearing plants and we'll be able to sell our lawnmower, quietly enjoying the fruits of our yard.