Lawns have been growing faster than I can ever remember. Mine seems to need twice-a-week cutting, although it's not getting that much. If you're just about at the tooth-grinding, mower-kicking stage, consider the following words from the Fruitarian Network of Washington, D.C.: * Mowing wastes billions of gallons of fuel. * Mowing removes air-purifying greenery. * If you did not mow your lawn, it would become a meadow, and then a thicket and then a forest not to mention keeping your neighbors from ever speaking to you again. * Mowing causes 55,000 accidents each year, many costing fingers, toes and hands. * Unmowed areas provide a green buffer of noise prevention, protect the water table by storing water and help prevent erosion. * Unmowed areas provide shade in the summer and heat in the winter. * Unmowed areas become wildlife habitat. TIPTOEING THROUGH THE TULIPS: Garden paths are as important in a flower or vegetable garden as are the culture of the plants themselves. If nothing else, the increasing interest in French-intensive gardening proves this. The idea behind this method of gardening is that deeply spaded beds are created and never walked on, which allows the gardener to crowd plants in; they will send out horizontal, rather than vertical roots. Stepping around plants to harvest fruit or prune or pick flowers packs down the soil and defeats the purpose. Many gardeners who are experimenting with intensive methods build raised beds, which act as a psychological deterrent to walking among the plants.
Marked paths do the same. A wide path down the middle of the garden is a must. It should be wide enough to allow you to push a wheelbarrow or garden cart, and turn it around when necessary. I would recommend allowing at least three feet for this, and preferably four.
Auxiliary paths around beds should be around two feet wide. If your garden is relatively small and you can afford it, the best way to describe your paths is by laying down a handsome mulch, fairly heavily, to prevent weed growth. Pine-bark mulch, or sawdust (readily available from lumber mills for free) are excellent. Mulch should be heavy, because it is unlikely that traffic on the paths will be heavy enough to prevent grass or weeds from coming up.
You can use new sawdust in these areas because it won't directly affect the plants until next year, when you may want to change the configuration of your garden and make new paths. By then the sawdust will be composted.
Grass clippings, which tend to mat when used around plants, are excellent for the same reason when used as a path mulch. Later, you can add leaves. Putting down a layer of newspaper before adding mulch is effective. But don't lay down paper unless you can cover it over right away, or it will blow all over your garden. I don't recommend plastic mulch for paths because it gets awfully hot in the summer and doesn't support traffic too well.
If you want to get really fancy, you can put down sod, but keep in mind that you'll have to mow it. Also, if you're considering doing this, line the edges of the path with metal strips that will prevent grass from spreading into beds. To add a professional look, consider lining paths with landscape ties.
With enough well-thought-out paths in your flower or vegetable garden, you can not only leave the plants alone to grow in peace, but get to them a lot ore easily when you're ready to pick or prune. VIVID VEGGIES: The prettiest gardens I have seen are those that combine flowers and vegetables. If you want a border around your flowers, consider planting lettuce, which comes in a number of different colors and textures. Put in heat-resistant varieties that won't bolt (go to seed) in the summer.
For a handsome backdrop to marigolds and zinnias, put in zucchini or summer squash, which grow tall and full. On a wall or trellis where you planned to train an annual vine, such as moonflower or morning glory, think about pole beans. The most attractive of the beans are the purple-podded varieties, available through some nurseries and most catalogues. The flower is a vivid purple and the bean itself is easy to find against the green foliage. It cooks up green, and tastes marvelous. Tall-growing broccoli will provide shade for shade-loving impatiens. Strawberries make a handsome ground cover. Nasturtiums grown around many vegetables help deter plant-chomping bugs. SENSITIVE SEEDLINGS: Many of you will buy all your seedlings at one time, which makes plenty of sense, but won't have time to get them in right away. No problem, just keep them in a area that doesn't get brutal sun, and water them frequently. A nice cool shower every morning is ideal, for about 20 minutes with a light sprinkler. If you can't spray them that often, every few days immerse them in water. CORRECTION: Last week some of the type in the garden column was moved around and landed where it shouldn't have, which may have misled some readers. Here is how it should have read: DAHLIAS: Dwarf varieties, which do very nicely in borders, can be planted fairly close together, about six inches, and treated much like annual flowers, even though they are perennials. CABBAGE CULTURE: All members of the cabbage family (brassicas) can be side-dressed now with mulch, preferably manurey straw or hay. Spread the mulch loosely and then bring it up around the seedling, leaving only top leaves exposed. If necessary, water seedlings before doing this. Side-dressing increases the plant's root system and makes it stronger when it is ready to bear heavy florets of broccoli or, as with the cabbage itself, begins to head. Even Brussels sprouts, which bear fruit along the stem, will benefit from side-dressing now. BEAN BONANZA: Plant beans about four inches deep. To get them started earlier, soak the seeds for a few hours or overnight (but no more) in water before you put them in the ground.