Lawns: Are They Still Worth It?


The Earth has accelerated its revolt against us, but we still tend to our lawns, the part of the planet we can control. Society shakes, resources dwindle, and lawns remain.

Lawn: Burnt in the air fryer in August, blond and lifeless. Lawn: Emerald green – no, alien Green – and keeps it that way through a frantic vigilance and an elaborate system of plumbing and potions, organic and otherwise, that defy ecology. for what? Having dominion over something in this chaos? (Lawn and order?) Putting a verdant veil on a world already sown? Feeling equal or superior to Ron across the street, whose lawn always looks like No. 18 at Pebble Beach?

We’ve been sweeping away our anxiety with these green cozy blankets for a long time. In 1870, around the time the first patent for a lawnmower appeared, Frank J. Scott wrote in a book titled “The Art of Small-Scale Beautification of Suburban Home Grounds” (Chapter XIII: Lawns ).

A 1937 New York Times headline read: “In order to ‘detonate’ homes and landscapes, a good lawn is essential.”

Around that time, during the Great Depression, the Mattai family in Cincinnati had no lawn. They have a yard and the yard is functional. This is for chicken and tomato plants. It’s not for grass. One of them, Matteis, named Vic, used the GI Act to get into graduate school and become a research scientist. He built his family in the Philadelphia suburb of Cinnaminson, New Jersey, paving a subdivision on Quick Farmland to accommodate Americans who were patching Aegis radar systems for the nearby RCA company. Everyone in the division has a lawn, courses. What is the American Dream of the 20th century without a quarter acre of Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue?

Vic has some symbolic vegetable plants on the land, but the yard is not for survival. Yards are for growing grass, and lawns are for mowing.

“He mows the lawn every Saturday,” said Vic’s daughter Edamarie Mattei. “That’s success: owning the lawn. Mow the lawn.”

It is now half a century later. Specifically, Friday, August 12, 2022. Landscape architect Mattei stands on a lawn in a tree-lined corner in Bethesda, Maryland.She is talking to the owner of the lawn about getting rid of it.

“It helps there is nothing,” MJ Veverka said of her lawn, which she watered, weeded and mowed for 31 years—for what? Lawns are static, nonfunctional, and boring. Last year, Veverka filled her backyard pool, The surrounding lawn was demolished and Mattei’s firm was hired to turn the space into an oasis of native plants, a “native national park” in the words of the grassroots movement for regenerating biodiversity. Veverka loves the backyard – it’s now A growing piece of horticultural art that is also a functional part of the surrounding ecosystem – she wanted to do the same in her front yard.

Step 1: Let you go, lawn.

Mattei used to spend more time educating clients about the benefits of clearing turf and growing locally; over the past two years, new clients, for whatever reason, have started coming to her with these ideas. Perhaps isolation magnifies the sameness of lawns. Perhaps, in this climate-conscious age, we’re thinking about the strict geometry of lawns, which Mattei describes as “ecological death” – a “monoculture” in a world that demands biodiversity.

For more than a century, from about the 1870s to the 1970s, Americans slowly fell in love with lawns. Lawn is a sign of taste, calm, power, privilege, order, discipline, especially after World War II.

Virginia Scott Jenkins writes in her book Lawn: A History of America’s Obsession: “On America’s front lawns, people use powered machinery and chemicals, tools of war, and Mother Nature is fighting for supremacy.”

Over the past 50 years, we have slowly lost our love for lawns. They started to signal waste, disregard, dissonance, homogenization, gentrification, zombie tide.

“Isn’t it a little decadent that millions of Americans apply millions of pounds of fertilizer and pour millions of gallons of water on the ground to grow something you can’t eat unless you’re a Jersey cow?” Columnist Alan Goodman wrote in the Boston Globe back in 1977. “Isn’t it any wonder they spend millions of gallons cutting it off?”

“I think we’re growing as a country,” Mattai said. “Throughout much of America’s history, we have seemed to have an infinite amount of land that we’ve continually drawn from and built on. I’ve seen a real shift from seeing land as a display of power or success to seeing land as a precious resource .”

She added: “When we are lawn people, we are one thing. When we are not lawn people, we are another.”

For the most part, we are still lawn people. What is the largest crop in the United States by area? Not corn or soybeans, but lawn. Unproductive, ornamental lawns: About 40 million acres of that, or 2 percent of the lower 48 states, according to multiple estimates cited by Garrick Gutman, program manager for NASA’s Land Cover/Land-Use Change Program.

Forty million acres: The entire state of Georgia cannot hold the entire lawn of the United States.We use 9 billion gallons of water for landscaping According to the Environmental Protection Agency, every day. At the same time, the American Southwest is experiencing a catastrophic drought. The past two decades have been the driest since 800 years. California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in October. In a water-hungry world, the lawn is a sneaky siphon.

We have “No Mow May” these days, where neighbors test each other’s tolerance for non-conformity. We have Twitter users sharing their before and after “lawn wars” photos that turn sickly green slabs into colorful kingdoms of billowing plants. We have a channel on Reddit called NoLawns and TikTok hashtags like #antilawn, which might lead you to a blasphemous anti-reverse sung by 27-year-old Nashville musician Mel Bryant Lawn Song.

“At the time, all my neighbors were obsessed with their lawns,” said Bryant, who wrote the song on Earth Day 2020. “Everyone keeps mowing every day. At any point you can hear the mower. It drives me crazy. I also have a neighbor who, I swear, split at 7:30pm on July 4th What are you doing, man? This one can wait.”

Bryant’s song went viral via TikTok’s #cottagecore hashtag, where it garnered tens of thousands of views, where young people promote their cozy, quaint, sustainable, back-to-nature ethos.

“Everyone has the perfect lawn,” Bryant said of her street in Nashville’s Rosebank area. “They seed the lawn. They have sprinklers and s—. I think it has something to do with the more old-school, baby boomer idea of ​​American life. And our lawns…” Well, Kobe made it crazy Get wild. “I do think it’s very intergenerational. I’ve definitely noticed over the last few years that a lot of people my age have started gardening and turned their lawns into gardens.”

Walt Whitman wrote of grass in 1855: “I suppose it must be a flag of my character, woven of hopeful green materials.”

The fictional Texas propane salesman Hank Hill said in 1997: “Look, some people raise flags to show they love our country. Well, my lawn is my flag.”

But lawns have become a liability — or in some cases, an asset, provided it is removed. California’s major water utilities pay customers $2 to $5 per square foot of live turf removed. Last year, Nevada banned certain types of lawns; instead, the state legislature banned the use of water from the Colorado River to feed certain types of “non-functional turf,” which consume as much as 12 billion gallons of water annually in southern Nevada ( more than 10% of the state’s usage) river). Law created a committee to differentiate between “functional” and “non-functional” turf; discussed how to classify “pet relief” areas and “golf course wedding turf.”

Before the law was passed, Sun City Anthem, an active adult community in Henderson, Nevada, had cleared nearly 40,000 square feet of grass, which nearly halved its water bill. Facilities Manager and Landscape Supervisor Larry Fossan replaced lawns with xeriscaping: native plants such as lantana, cactus, Mexican feather grass. Last year, Forsang saw in Nevada something he had never seen before: monarch butterflies, about 25 of which were migrating.

“There are flowers, there are colors, there are butterflies, there are hummingbirds,” Forsang said of life without lawns. “Different parts of the day you see different things. We have boulders so people can sit and be part of the landscape. When we have grass, people just walk into the building, but now they stop and go, ‘Oh ” and “ah.” Landscaping is interactive. It should be a part of your life.”

Of course, lawns are part of your life. You throw a football at them, you have a picnic on them, you lean on them and hang out.some years ago Dave Marciniak politely defended lawns on his Landscape Company’s blog: “Why the anti-turf movement annoys me a little bit.” Turf has a purpose, he writes. It is soft and durable, suitable for leisure and entertainment. It provides visual relief to the eyes and contrast for landscaping.

Marciniak welcomes changing landscape tastes, but points out They are slowly changing.

“Although Americans like to call themselves rugged people, there are still a lot of people looking around to see what other people are doing,” said Marciniak, lives in Culpeper, VA. If you want to keep people off the lawn, we have to show them that it can be beautiful and it can be desirable. Perhaps, most importantly: “It will make the neighbors jealous.” “

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