The lawn goodbye: How one couple gave up grass and embraced a boulevard garden with a difference
Updated: Mar 26
Someone says "boulevard garden" and what comes to mind? A strip of bright blooms and greenery between the sidewalk and the road, of course.
But Jacqueline McKernan and Michael Nekic don't have a sidewalk because they live in Applewood Acres, where the lawns flow right down into the ditches and to the road. So Jacqueline's and Michael's boulevard garden is a circle on the lawn.
"It's 100 square feet, Michael says, and at least eight feet across," says Jacqueline, better known to friends and family as JP. "Michael made it a perfect circle using string and a stake, and it sits about a foot from where the ditch starts to slope down, on city property."
JP and Michael's front yard "boulevard garden"
The couple moved into their home on Insley Road two-and-a-half years ago, but JP was no stranger to Applewood—she and her nine siblings grew up a few streets over. "We love this area, it's so much a part of us," she says. "In fact, many of us are migrating back. Michael lived not far away, too, in Cawthra/ Burnhamthorpe. When this house came up for sale, I knew we had to have it."
JP wasn't a complete stranger to gardening when they moved in. They'd cared for Michael's parents' large vegetable garden when they had gone home to Croatia for a visit, and as a teenager JP helped her mother in their family garden. "I loved that time, it was when we had our mother-daughter chats, although my mother would say I did most of the talking and she did most of the work!"
Because Applewood lots are so generous, JP and Michael knew they wanted a garden, but they had no specific plans. Last February she decided they had to make some.
"So I went to a meeting of the Cloverleaf Garden Club," she says. "I was definitely the youngest person there! But once I forgot that I was fascinated. Jeannie [McRight] was speaking and what she was saying had a profound effect on me. She talked about Blooming Boulevards and how important it was to have natural, native gardens, and how each of us can support diversity and the environment. She was so clear and straightforward with her message."
She went home to tell Michael they would be putting a garden in the front.
"'Okay, whatever...' he said. He had a lot of lawn pride and enjoyed the rituals of buying new seed and looking after the grass," says JP. "Once I dug up a stray plant that had seeded itself in the grass, and I left a hole. He was so upset! He blamed a squirrel and I let him think that because I didn't want to admit I'd done it. I confessed later..."
But Michael came around and in a few weeks they had signed up for a Blooming Boulevards garden. Michael measured out the front yard circle, and they dug out the grass. Fifty plants were delivered and placed in a designated plan. The garden looked sparse at first, but by the end of the summer had filled in with mounds of leafy plants, including anise hyssop, blazing star, smooth aster, foxglove, mountain mint, coreopsis, bee balm...and more.
The start of Michael and JP's pollinator garden with Blooming Boulevards
The couple is now talking about extending the front garden. Michael has decided he'd rather not spend so much time and effort on a lawn and he enjoys working in the garden. "It's time spent together, too," says JP.
But there's a story around the garden that goes beyond its not being exactly the right shape for a boulevard garden. It's planted on the spot there a tree was blown over in a storm when the previous owners lived there. The City removed the debris and made a note-to-self to plant a new tree. After JP and Michael had lived there a while a notice from the City appeared on their door: a new tree, a catalpa, would be planted in the same place.
"I didn't want a tree there, and certainly not a catalpa, and I phoned them—weekly I think—to say so," says JP. "I thought they heard me, but a couple of weeks after the garden went in a flat bed truck with a stump grinder on it drove up. 'We're here to remove the old stump,' the guy said.”
He tapped around with his spade, and found it, right in the middle of the new garden.
'Do you want us to dig up the stump?' he asked. I said No! No! No!”
'Okay, okay, just asking,' he said."
So Michael and JP decided to take him for a walk in the back garden so he'd understand their gardening philosophy. In that space, won over by their new front garden, they'd removed the grass and put in 100 native plants bought at Blooming Boulevards 's 2020 plant sale.
"I think he got the message, and I hope he spreads the word," says JP.