The Grass is Greener

Did I see you at the Lawn and Garden Center last Saturday? No? Gee, it seemed that everyone else was there buying lawn spreaders, lawn mowers, and lawn trimmers, and piling those flatbed carts with bags of lawn fertilizer and weed and slug killer.

Last Saturday was a truly gorgeous day—warm with lots of sunshine, a day like we haven’t seen for several months here in the rainy Northwest.

But instead of hiking, biking or basking in the sun, we all were standing in line waiting to plunk down our contribution to the $30 billion dollars Americans are estimated to spend each year on lawn care.

Thirty billion is an astronomical, incomprehensible number to me, especially when I think of spending it on lawns. We spend six times more on our lawns than we spend to fund our libraries.

The idea of a lush manicured lawn has always fascinated me—not the actual lawn, but the idea of lawn in American culture.

Why did we reject such notions of privilege and class as titles and royalty, yet retain the image of the manor surrounded by a verdant lawn?

In days of yore the lords’ lawns were cropped and fertilized by sheep. Now we spend countless hours of human labor to do the job once done by dumb animals, who produced wool as well as maintaining the required expanse of lawn.

When we lived in upstate New York our farm house was surrounded by three acres of lawn, which took five hours to mow on the riding mower.

It was blessed relief when we moved to Holland, where we lived in a row house with no lawn, just a small, private garden in the back.

We sat on our patio or walked the brick path that meandered through the flower beds from our patio to the gate. No mower to maintain; no lawn food to buy; no hours spent in riding trance-like in diminishing circles.

Liberation from lawns!

But in the United States the expanse of green lawn is still the norm. Maybe it is time to get rid of our Manor House fixation and develop a new environment-friendly paradigm that doesn’t cost $30 billion annually to maintain.

My sister, who lives in Los Angeles, decided maintaining a lawn was a waste of time, money and water. She dug up her lawn and replaced it with native plants and stone.

Starting a flower garden or doing some other creative landscaping will involve some initial costs, but once the plants are established, maintenance expenses should lessen. And if you plan wisely, so should your work.

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