Wildlife Research, Monitoring & Mentoring

Becoming a Natural Neighbor: Converting Lawn to Meadow


In an earlier blog post, we discussed the detrimental impacts of manicured lawns and the value of re-evaluating how much lawn space you actually need. One Natural Neighbor decided to act on this suggestion and began the quest of converting unused lawn space into a pocket meadow.

Back in April, we visited with Sam Low and two other Harthaven residents. While walking their properties, we explored the existing plant communities and sources of water and cover. Walking up to Sam’s home, you could see a beautiful view of Farm Pond. As we got closer to his lawn, we discovered a pleasant surprise. The lawn area closest to the water was predominantly Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica)!

Pennsylvania sedge is a lawn alternative that many people have been looking for. This drought-tolerant native is adapted to the island’s natural soil profiles and only grows up to ankle height, reducing the need for fertilizers, additional watering, and even regular mowing.  Unfortunately, obtaining a Pennsylvania sedge lawn is not as simple as broadcasting seed on bare soil. This plant spreads through rhizomes and does not readily germinate when seeded. So when I saw Sam’s undisturbed sedge lawn, I was in awe. I told him he was one of the luckiest people in the neighborhood in that his journey to reduce lawn space and increase native flower diversity would be easier than most.


Sam’s yard in April at initial visit compared to his yard in June

Unlike turf grass, sedges are clump-forming, which offers space to interplant with native perennials. In June, Sam participated in our native plant sale and purchased one of our plant kits consisting of “wild type” plugs from Polly Hill Arboretum.  Sam created an intentional design with his plantings and a thoughtfully placed pathway. By letting the sedge areas go unmown, he discovered other native perennials coming up on their own.

Asters, Goldenrod, and Asclepias plants that naturally came up in Sam’s yard

Sometimes we need a visual depiction of change, and Sam’s yard is a great model for what a lawn can become. Sam is curious and always looking to understand the deeper meaning of things, making him the perfect individual to connect with others and share his experiences. Sam’s backyard shifts are having impacts beyond the boundaries of his neighborhood: he has also agreed to participate in the Woodwell Climate Science Center’s island-wide carbon project.  The Woodwell Climate Science Center team is in the process of resampling vegetation plots in natural lands across the Island, which were initially sampled by Glenn Motzkin in 2000.  The new study includes residential landscapes, as less is known about the diverse structure and biodiversity of the residential areas that now occupy large portions of Martha’s Vineyard, and the United States.

Pat Farrar and Julia Charest conducting yard studies for the Woodwell Climate Science Center

Sam joins twenty-six other members of the Natural Neighbors community in this study to better understand the ecological possibilities and impacts of residential properties. This will allow the Woodwell Climate Science Center to compare the biodiversity and carbon storage in the Vineyard’s residential areas with that in the Vineyard’s forests, shrublands, and grasslands. This was a natural collaboration opportunity as BiodiversityWorks is always seeking to contribute to larger studies so that the island and its biodiversity are included in broader ecological studies.

<a href="https://biodiversityworksmv.org/author/angela/" target="_self">Angela Luckey</a>

Angela Luckey


Angela was the Natural Neighbors program director from May 2021 to November 2022. She grew up on Martha’s Vineyard and lives in West Tisbury. Angela has a B.S. from UMass in Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences and an M.S. from American Public University in Environmental Management and Policy.

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