by Claire Lane
Lawn, lawn, everywhere a lawn. In Carmel yards and community common spaces, turf grass, relentlessly fertilized and trimmed to perfection, is a point of pride and passion for many homeowners. But when these expanses of turf grass go unused, they end up being ecologically sterile sinks of time, money and resources that could be better utilized elsewhere. Bob Hosler, a retired landscape architect and resident of Plum Creek Farms in Carmel, saw some of these underutilized patches of grass around his community’s ponds and decided to take action. Bob not only initiated tree plantings in these areas but turned the entire process into an educational experience for 30 young men.
Bob aspired to naturalize the Plum Creek Farms pond areas with trees to limit the amount of mowing and maintenance. Before enlisting the help of Boy Scout Troop 132 in planting the trees, Bob led three educational sessions teaching the young men about proper tree planting and care. On an April weekend last spring, he led Troop 132 and several resident volunteers in planting nearly 500 tree saplings around two Plum Creek Farms ponds. These trees, as they mature and develop, will provide valuable wildlife habitat and incredible recreational opportunities in an area that was previously unused and maintenance intensive.
Bob’s realization that these areas have much more to offer may be a new idea in our manicured world, but the many benefits of converting unused turf grass spaces may lead us to think otherwise. Reforestation, natural plantings, wetlands and outdoor classrooms can provide spaces for passive recreation and learning. A close to home evening walk through a forest or prairie trail provides relaxation, health benefits and the opportunity to connect with family members. Viewing wildlife or learning about tree or flower species can serve as a valuable and long-lasting educational experience.
In addition to these intrinsic benefits, plantings like Bob’s have a variety of economic benefits. Plum Creek Farms will see reductions in maintenance costs for these areas immediately and likely significant savings over the coming years. As these forest stands mature, they will help manage stormwater by holding rain in their canopies with each leaf acting as a plane for evaporation of water back into the air instead of running into nearby detention ponds. Research has shown that communities with urban forest canopies have higher property values, less crime and a greater camaraderie between residents as well.
Tree plantings and beyond, there are many ways to turn a sterile or problematic landscape into an enjoyable, educational and ecologically beneficial addition to your community or personal property. Whether you are a master gardener or landscape novice, technical and financial assistance is available through the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District to help you identify options and get started. The next time you are out in your yard or neighborhood, think outside the box, or even better, outside the turf grass!