Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Say What?

Downpour in the Garden

On August 8, Michael Bruce and I were featured in an article in the Courier Post about two gentlemen who had “cut out their lawns”. The article entitled “Shaggy Gardens” by Renee Winkler (goodluck getting to website) is a term quoted from a conversation between the author and me, that describes part of my philosophy on gardening: Gardens look best when they are not manicured and have a leftover shaggy look. The article although flattering in nature did not mention much about why two plant professionals, a renowned florist and a landscape architect, might have chosen this approach. Having drinks with my friend Elena, she complained about missing context. Her mind, that of a lawyer, immediately went to the crux of the matter on what was missing from this article. The history of lawns and the statistics of lawncare: pesticide overuse, acreage allocation, energy utilized to maintain.

I understand why a local newspapers might not want to deal with hard facts instead of feel good stories: decline in circulation, apathetic public, etc, etc. I am not a professional writer, nor am I making a statement on the writers and editors of this article, but it makes you wonder why bother writing a meaningful story and then place it on the Saturday paper if you can’t give your writing public something more than fluff and pictures?

Lawns in America are the democratic response to a European leftover practice employed by farmers and nobles alike that started in the Middle Ages. The word lawn is an old English and Dutch derivative place name where animals went to graze. These naturally occurring Lawns were maintained by grazing animals (horses, sheep, cattle or other livestock) and were made up of multiple species of plants and grasses (like meadows). Nobles enlarged their domains by bringing the lawns close to their houses for the natural landscape effect and using animals as lawnmowers! With the invention of the push lawnmower in the early 1800’s the expanse of lawns grew from what was traditionally kept by animals and an army of serfs with scythes.

The lawnmower evolved from a mechanized blade to steam, to the gasoline powered engine to the electric quieter motors and some of the solar mowers we have today. Americans did not believe in serfs and we are an industrial power so our thinking brought about a multitude of practices that eventually included: a cheap lawnmower for everyone, specialized lawn seeds for specific applications, fertilizers to make these deficient lawns grown and herbicides to kill anything other than the few select grasses in lawn mixtures to thrive.

Statistics vary but I will give you a few that I have found. For some further insight check out:,content=381 . Regardless which statistics are correct, the numbers are impressive. Americans spend 40 billion dollars on lawncare and as the population ages more money will be spent.

  • 80% of all U.S. households have private lawns
  • Average American lawn is between 1/5 -1/3 acre
  • In the U.S, alone, it is estimated that there are more than 31 million acres of grass (An area equal to the New England states. Over 80% of this grass is found in residential lawns.)

Similarly, pesticides and fertilizers are a major concern to our environment and have been the panacea to the American Lawn. Concerns over the runoff of these chemicals from our lawns into our water worry many. Studies have been done linking algal blooms with too many fertilizers. Often, we turn a blind eye to many things we don’t want to understand or hear. Yet there are many concerned parents that are wondering the wisdom of bringing in a specialist lawn care provider with a chemical soup that is quickly applied to the benefit of having a rich green lawn so their children can go romping in it minutes later. As a child growing up in Cuba, we kids would wait for the moskito fog truck to come by so we could play soldiers in the mist! Wonder the chemical makeup of the fog and what effects it has left? It is no wonder that Canadian provinces and many European governments are banning the use of chemicals applications to lawns.

Finally, lawns cannot grow everywhere without major rainfall or irrigation. If you are lucky enough to live in a place where a lawn can exist naturally enjoy it while you can. With tightening water restrictions due to drought, population growth or other limitations we shall see the price of water continue to rise to levels not imagined.

I wanted to make a point about the Courier Post article that simplified my reasons for not having a lawn. I have not dealt with the time it takes for upkeep or that it is just a lawn and not more. Please note that I am not on a personal vendetta against lawns. They have a place, if a limited one. I recognize that golfers in wet Scotland invented a scenic sport around it; children, dogs, picnics and lovers need it for fun and frolic. I simply choose not to be a slave to one.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. We have very little left of the green fastness we found when we moved to Furball Cottage in 1984. It was a struggle with neighbors trying to explain my reasons. My best argument came from the book "Noah's Garden" that explains that a lawn reduces the IQ of the earth because of its unrelenting need of attention by humans. The little bit of green we have left cannot be called grass as it's mostly clover that the rabbits munch on, leaving my precious plants alone, and where grown ups can roll over and do IT again!!! (smile)