Ministry Of Controversy

The Power of Naming

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In my last column, I admitted I prefer my own garden to Garden Shows, though it does depend on how far under the snow my garden is buried at the time the shows are happening.

Symposia, on the other hand, are special treats. I invariably find them valuable, especially when the speakers are chosen to reinforce each other’s themes. I walk away from these day-long (or multi-day) events with pages of notes and a mind full of ideas, and often a crucial new awareness about gardening or life.

Unlike Garden Shows, which exist partly to sell us stuff, symposia exist to transfer concepts. This is what delights me about them. I am not opposed to shopping, but my capacity for concepts is practically infinite, whereas my capacity for stuff is limited (by space and money, at the very least). So I can walk around a symposium absorbing concepts with great abandon, while I have to keep my guard up against absorbing too much stuff at a Garden Show.

I came away from a recent ReThinking Idaho Landscapes symposium with a new appreciation for what visual creatures we humans are, and how one image, or one observed moment, can instantly reconfigure our thinking.

Thanks to Julia Rundberg for capturing this moment from a recent presentation on Hellstrip Gardening. I hope my book and talks on the topic will help this trend to spread.

This is really my aim when I give a talk. I try to choose powerful images that will convey new concepts. But though an image is worth a thousand words, I’ve found the words stick better if I can also find (or make up) names for those concepts.  Just a word (perhaps a short phrase) is like a suitcase, complete with handle, that can be handed off. The name is the key, reminding people of what’s inside the suitcase.

For instance, one concept I am trying to spread is the “freedom lawn.” These chemical-free lawns in which a person mows whatever grows have steadily become the norm in Canada (Quebec banned cosmetic use of pesticides for lawns in 2003, Ontario and New Brunswick in 2009, Alberta and Prince Edward Island in 2010, Nova Scotia in 2011, Newfoundland & Labrador in 2012, and Manitoba’s ban takes effect this year), and they are coming back into favor in the USA as well.

Freedom lawns allow diversity to sprout in mowed areas, along with some pollinator habitat and a longer season of green (with perhaps more seasonal changes such as flowers and fall color). They also free us from the cost and ecological consequences of using lawn chemicals.

Once people have a name for this concept, it seems more able to grow into a full-fledged, legitimate option in their minds. It may not be something they choose to do, or feel they CAN choose due to neighborhood pressures or other concerns (or their own aesthetic tastes), but it does become something they can evaluate and consider and discuss, now that it has been named. And that makes it easier to keep the option open to choose it in the future.

I’m also hoping that the power of naming will help to ignite a change in how we landscape our hellstrips. These fragments of land between sidewalk and street are called by different names in different parts of the world, in different states and cities of the US. Perhaps a discussion about them using one unifying name (easy to remember, too!) will help people to find more solutions and to share them with one another.

What do you think? Does naming help you to think about and discuss a new concept?


Posted by

Evelyn Hadden
on March 6, 2015 at 12:05 pm, in the category Lawn Reform, What’s Happening.


  1. Ev, I love this article. You are so right about the name capturing attention and simplifying intention into something concrete and doable! I relate to “Freedom Lawns” in that I relate with and aspire to freedom in all its forms! This helps my mind wrap around the concept perfectly. Thanks for your knowledge and wisdom.

  2. At our current house, I intentionally sowed some clovers years back. Didn’t see much at first, but it’s starting to spread. The color is amazing just after it’s mowed. It will grow where other things can’t. And, ( could be my imagination ) it seems that the lawn as a whole is healthier. Even where there isn’t much/any clover.

  3. No questioning the power of a good catch phrase but, frankly, “freedom lawns” is just too generic and jingoistic to get my vote. The “Freedom Fries” fiasco was foolish enough. Can’t we do better? How about “living lawns” or “kid safe lawns” or “carefree lawns” or “chem-free lawns” or “guilt free lawns” or maybe even “cost free lawns” to hook in the crotchety but thrifty old codger whose anthem is “Get off my lawn!”

  4. I had to look up “freedom fries” — that fiasco had escaped my mind. Carefree lawns is a lovely and evocative phrase, though of course there is still the mowing to do. Living lawns has promise as well. Tell me, Joe, are you in marketing?

  5. Oh, I love “freedom lawn” and had never related it to the silly Freedom Fries connotation. Freedom from what? With lawn we know it means freedom from dosing our lawns with pesticides and excess fertilizer. Hand-weeding, too. Mowing still a problem.
    Which reminds me, I had a great chat today with the guy behind Pearl’s Premium. BLog post to come. Susan

  6. Great news. I almost mentioned Pearl’s Premium and the other mixes now available, but this was already fairly long-winded… looking forward to your post!

  7. Great post, Evelyn! I do think naming is important, but not crazy about “freedom lawn” either, as noted by Joe above. How about “lazy lawn,” letting whatever decides to seed there (or what you seed) just do its thing? Should appeal to homeowners who don’t want to do a great deal of gardening “work.” Hope to see you back in my Minnesota “lazy lawn” garden sometime.

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