Pat Kenschaft: How I Became a Gardener


When we moved into our current home in the summer of 1975, my husband suffered terribly from allergies, so it was clear I would have to maintain the property.  A decade earlier I had seen a woman mowing a lawn for the first time, so I was liberated enough to undertake this new activity.

I asked a neighbor what was involved in caring for a lawn.  “It depends how good you want it to be,” was his quick answer.

“Just slightly better than the worse lawn in the neighborhood.”

“Then mow it.”

There was an old, heavy push mower in the garage, and I used it faithfully when needed.  When it broke, we bought a new mower, which was MUCH lighter and easier.

In November, 1977, I contracted myasthenia gravis.  The following spring I attempted to get some exercise by walking down the street.  After a half a block, I had to lie down on a neighbor’s lawn to get enough strength to walk home.

My 12-year-0old daughter suggested I garden.  That would provide exercise and when I needed to lie down, it would be in my own back yard, “which is safer, Mother.”

I followed her advice and found I enjoyed gardening.  Within a few years my endurance improved amazingly.  Soon I was raising almost all the family’s vegetables with no poisons, commercial fertilizers, or power machinery, gardening a half hour a day.  I loved it!

Eventually I began to bike the three miles up hill to Montclair State, where I worked, each morning.  Evenings were a breeze downhill. Biking is still my typical form of transportation at age 72.

After my children left home, I decided to see if I could make the rest of the property look nice without any poisons, commercial fertilizers, or power machinery.

In August, 1987, I filled a garden cart with weeds from the front yard each evening after dinner.  Twenty carts were filled with weeds from my 20′ x 45′ yard!  Then I scattered “Lawns Alive” from “Gardens Alive.”  I did not fertilize, dig or aerate the lawn.

Last year when I was outside, a passer-by told me I had the best lawn in the neighborhood and asked what I do for it.

“Never water the lawn!” was my first response.  If you do, the roots don’t go down as deep.  When droughts come, my lawn stays pretty longer than others, and when the rains come, it turns greener faster.  Not watering is the easiest step toward a nice lawn in NJ.

“Mow high” is the other standard advice and I follow it.  That gives the lawn room to breathe and nourish itself.  Allowing the clippings to fall where they like fertilizes the soil.

When some spot looks suboptimal, I don’t ask it questions.  I hand-scatter compost over it.  It always perks up.  I continue to dig weeds out by hand.  It doesn’t take more than a half hour a year, no more than six sessions at five minutes each.  There aren’t many weeds.

I love working in my garden and on my property.  In our 70’s, both my husband and I have remarkably good health.  The MG is incurable, but I live happily with it.  The vegetables and fruit are delicious, and we get many compliments on our lawn and flowers.  I give many flowers away.  One doesn’t need any poisons to live a great gardening life!

To learn more, read my gardening webpage, most easily found via a Google search on “Pat Kenschaft.”  Or ask to join my gardening/environmental email list by emailing [email protected]u.  Or read past gardening emails at You may also want to check out the website of the Cornucopia Network of New Jersey at

This article was originally published on

Photo by cimorenegal via flickr


  1. Great article, Pat! One question, though: What does “mow high” mean? Does that mean mow when the grass is high?

    You are lucky that you do not have a lot of weeds, we do! It takes me a lot longer than a half hour a year to weed everything, front and back. And they come back. One thing I learned is to not throw weeds (especially weeds with seeds, like dandelions) into the compost heap. If you then spread the compost in your garden, you’ll have the same problem. We cart those off to the town.

  2. I set my mower on the lowest setting…I want to be able to skip a week or two before I have to do it again!

  3. so interesting about not watering the lawn – my husband is a lawn watering fanatic so i’m not sure if i will be able to change his ways.

  4. Not having enough sun for a healthy lawn, and being opposed to weedkillers and pesticides, I started cultivating moss a few years ago. Every couple of years, I weed more grass out, and let the moss take over. I have about a 10′-0″ x 15′-0″ solid patch now in a very small yard. It’s not zero maintenance — it requires weeding to keep it really pristine, but weeds are very easy to spot in moss. The biggest problem is robins — it’s easier for them to flip the moss up than dig through grass for worms. And the kid’s grown up and moved on — not sure how moss would have tolerated the ripping of little feet.

    My front yard is a contest between vinca, ivy and pachysandra. Not exactly manicured, but evergreen and mow-free, and a habitat for little ring-neck snakes, which are kind of cute.

  5. Kit, I started trying to remove some grass from one side of my walk and replace with pachysandra. I took it from the stuff that grew over on my side of the fence from a next-door neighbor. It took off and I have a nice patch but I’m nowhere near the point of having it replace the grass completely. You’ve inspired me and I will continue this summer. Little by little I might get at least one side taken care of.

  6. I’ve put some patches of ajuga in my lawn. The dark green low lying leaves and the purplish blue flowers give a nice contrast to the grass and the overhanging vinca vines and ferns.

  7. Walleroo: How I Became a Gardener

    It all started back in the 1990s, when I came to Montclair after patenting my technique of removing brain tumors without damaging the surrounding tissue. I decided I was going to have a gorgeous lawn without poisons, commercial fertilizer or power machinery. I planted the grass seed by hand. When a patch looked awful, I make the dog do his business on that spot. Worked like a charm.

    Then I started to get really busy. Neurosurgeons began using my technique. I was being called upon to give lectures the world over, to ever larger throngs of doctors and medical students eager to acquire the skills needed to slice and dice the cerebral cortex, to dig deep into the amygdala, to locate tiny structures in the brain stem. They wanted to know how to shape the pipe cleaners to reach the right spots, and how to thread dental floss through the corpus callosum so as to maximum the cleansing effect. In short, I got really busy. The weeds, meanwhile, did not rest.

    So I did what any self respecting green gardener would do, I hired a Green Landscaper who promised to do whatever it took to make my lawn beautiful without use of any poison, commercial fertilizer or power machinery. And my lawn looked great–until the economic collapse of 2008.

    The mortgage crisis led to a housing crisis which led to an employment crisis, which led to many people losing their jobs. This, for medical reasons that are too complicated to go into here, led to a drop in the type of tumors for which my technique was suited. My income plummeted, and I could no longer afford the Green Landscaper’s bills.

    I began doing the weeding on my own. Each day I spent 5 minutes with a soup spoon digging out weeds, but I developed tendonitis in my wrist, and when, one fateful day, a particularly tough dandelion grabbed the spoon and wouldn’t give it back, I gave up. I put on a wig and a pair of sunglasses, went down to American Hardware and acquired thirty plastic bottles of Roundup. That night, at the moment of maximum darkness, I dressed in black and sprayed.

  8. W…..Let me guess. You wound up with a dead lawn which you proceeded to pave over and now rent parking spaces to your neighbors for extra income?

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