Love Your Lawn

January 6, 2009 | By | Comments (13)

Okay, I’ve had it. For years, I’ve stood wimpily by as so-called “experts” and “opinion makers” like those on Garden Rant launch assault after vicious assault on one of our most sacred and treasured institutions — the family lawn. I can stand by no longer.

photo: Brian Bender faithfully guards a national treasure — the White House lawn.

To these sanctimonious pontificators, the lawn is an evil, horrible, awful thing, responsible for ecological ruin, stress-related illness, and the baffling ascendance of Sarah Palin. Only by downsizing the lawn or (preferably) eliminating it altogether, they decree, can we sinners be restored to righteousness.

What a load of composted cow manure.

Those bloggers, sloggers, and pettifoggers who so vehemently condemn the lawn would do well to contemplate the alternative. It wasn’t so long ago that houses were surrounded by “swept yards,” composed of lovely 100% dirt. When it rained, the yard turned into 100% mud, which was soon tracked through 100% of the house. But lawns put an end to the quagmire. Green grass cleaned up more towns than Wyatt Earp or Pine-Sol.

“But we’re not living in the nineteenth century anymore,” say the lawn-haters. “Lawns today are bad. They require too much water.” Did you ever notice that most people saying this have in-ground swimming pools and bathtubs that fit four? Besides, where I live in the Southeast, it rains so much I can often go an entire year without watering my Bermuda grass. One year, I stepped off my deck and fell into a kelp forest.

“Lawns are bad for the environment,” insist the lawn-haters. “All that lawn fertilizer winds up in our groundwater.”

“Hey,” I reply, “ever visit a dairy farm? Those mounds you step in aren’t all anthills.”

“But lawns are a monoculture,” sneer the lawn-haters, “a mass planting of a single species susceptible to diseases and insects.”

“You know what’s great about a monoculture?” I counter. “You can care for it all in the same way. It’s like Southwest Airlines flying nothing but 737’s.”

Then the lawn-haters get mad. “Lawns are high-maintenance!” they bellow, expecting me to cringe at their reckless use of the M-word.

“Oh really,” I respond, “you mean like those mulched, “natural” areas people stick out in front of their houses? The mulch decomposes, so you have to keep spreading it. If you don’t, you get more weeds than Ozzie Osborne still has brain cells (that doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is). The fact is, it takes much less time to maintain 1,500 square-feet of lawn than it does to maintain 1,500 square-feet of annuals, perennials, bulbs, vegetables, herbs, fruits, or Dr. Phil’s ego.”

Give Me Grass or Give Me Death!

“So what if your lawn takes a little work?” I ask. “In case you haven’t noticed, most Americans move slower than continental drift. We’re overweight, diabetic, out-of-shape beanbags. But mowing the lawn is good exercise — a lot more exercise, may I add, than snipping a sprig of lavender or staring blankly at your mulch.”

“Lawns are ultra-American,” I conclude. “How can you claim to be ‘green’ when you bash the greenest symbol of freedom America has ever produced — the cherished lawn? Look above at my son, Brian, proudly having his picture made in front of the White House. What’s that gorgeous expanse behind him? Gravel? Mulch? Chaparral? The Frozen Tundra of Green Bay’s Lambeau Field? Nope. It’s the White House lawn. A place where kings, diplomats, Presidents, and dictators can mingle with the common man under the watchful eyes of the Secret Service. To stand there is to feel true kinship with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, FDR, JFK, and the Scott’s fertilizer people. It’s thrilling.”

But the lawn-haters will not be swayed. Which is why, dear Grumpians, if you believe as I do, your must let your voices be heard. Tell Garden Rant — tell the whole world — that it may no longer besmirch your loved one.

Stand by your lawn.


  1. Grumpy Garden (His Magnificence)

    We have here the kind of response the Grump always enjoys — a diatribe, a manifesto, a condemnation, an indictment, a recitation of unthinking dogma, and a personal attack! What further proof do we need that I am now and always have been right?
    So, Noda (or should I say Yoda?), what country are you from? Doesn’t sound like the U.S., as you excoriate our “superficiality,” “insecurity,” “hollow feelings of American pride,” and lack of “significant culture.” I’m betting you’re from Remulac, a town in France. Say hello to Beldar and Primat the next time you’re home for a visit.
    BTW, if you cared to exercise your obviously superior intellect while analyzing what I wrote before, you’d realize that nowhere did I suggest we replace true natural areas, like the forests of the Great Lakes, with lawns. I simply stated that maintaining unbroken lawns in suburbia requires less maintenance than do lawns dotted with stupid, mulched, “natural” areas that only exist because the builder wanted to save on sod. Such “natural” areas inevitably fill up with weeds and trash and look like crap. Oops! Once again, the Grump has commiited the unpardonable sin of Political Incorrectness (aka Accidentally Blurting Out the Truth). My bad, Kemo Sabe.
    But hey, this has been fun. Thanks for your input.

    December 2, 2009 at 10:12 am
  2. Nodazoonigad

    Steve, take it easy. What’s the difference that lawn=America? Its rather embarassing in fact, you don’t think, having that as the only glue holding this huge place together? Of course, it doesn’t really; not in my mind, nor in that of countless other natives, because the modern country is still very young and without much significant culture. ITS JUST FOREIGN GRASS-of course you’re foreign too, so only in this way does it make sense. Even if it did, look at the facts: as the human population expands, mother nature takes more and more of a beating. I suppose you also . Just remember, all things are connected and just because you have the ability to surround yourself with artificiality doesn’t detach you from the natural order of things; what’s more it does not, unfortunately, make you exempt from being a mere animal. Firstly, let me suggest you something: stop allowing yourself to be exposed to the media-it has apparently brainwashed you; not only does it make you sound like an imbecile when incorporated into your writing, it is an utterly transparent phenomenon that is ultimately worthless. But I suppose it fits with your hollow feelings of national pride, since it is also truly American. Secondly, I believe you claim that “natural areas” require more maintenance than lawns? This makes no sense, in fact, it is the opposite of nature. You think the magnificent forests and tremendous biodiversity of the great lakes region, for example, was dependent on human intervention for survival? Au contraire: The People depended on nature. All in all, you do not see the big picture: this is American superficiality at worst and insecurity at best. I pity you for not realizing what you’re missing out on, but, alas, since you are part of the problem, I could almost care less.

    November 30, 2009 at 4:42 pm
  3. Grumpy Gardener

    “A Brick in Every Toilet!” Now that’s a cause we can all rally behind!

    February 14, 2009 at 9:07 am
  4. Steve

    Terrific post, Grumpy! Lawns are a mixture, in the end. Most people who complain about having to mow them, actually have to mow them, so I have some sympathy. Just the same, complaining about water usage may be among the least effective arguments for doing away with lawns. A look at “water-challenged” cities shows that more efficient toilets and shower heads would do as much as cutting down lawn-watering. It’s why my next run for President will be on the “A Brick In Every Toilet” campaign.

    February 12, 2009 at 3:24 pm
  5. Grumpy Gardener

    Glad you love your lawn, Dave. You’re a good and compassionate American. I tried using corn gluten on my lawn once, but it did a very poor job of suppressing weeds. Actually, one of the better ways to reduce weeds is raise your cutting height. Tall grass shading the lawn surface keeps many weed seeds from germinating. Taller grass also needs less watering and fertilizing. Last summer, I decided to mow my Bermuda at 3 inches — about twice as tall as the Extension Service recommends. I didn’t have to water once, even in dry periods, and I had fewer weeds.

    January 9, 2009 at 12:07 pm
  6. Dave

    I like our lawn. I like when it greens up in the spring. I like the fact that my kids can run around and get exercise. I even like mowing it! Of course I guess I use the equivalent carbon of 20 cars or something when I mow. I makes me wonder why they don’t have electric riding mowers out yet for sale. I’m slowly reducing the amount of lawn area to mow because I like planting other plants but I’ll always have some grass to cut. As for care people can use corn gluten to fertilize the lawn and as a pre-emergent weed suppressant and sifted compost on the lawn eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizers. There are options to solve most problems out there!

    January 9, 2009 at 8:50 am
  7. Grumpy Gardener

    Setting the world straight is what the Grump does. Booyah!

    January 8, 2009 at 10:15 pm
  8. Helen @ Gardening With Confidence

    Do feel better? Sure got a lot off you chest. Liberating isn’t it?

    January 8, 2009 at 7:59 pm
  9. Grumpy Gardener

    “Cerebralepicure”? Does that mean you have a discerning mind? Then let’s discuss some of the points I made (some serious, some tongue-in-cheek) and some other stuff.
    1. This has nothing to do with lawns, but Southwest Airlines is the most efficient U.S. carrier. One big reason is that it doesn’t use the bloated hub-and-spoke routing system. Another is because it flies only 737s, its pilots must be certified to fly only one type of jet and its mechanics service only one type of jet. This is why it has the lowest cost per passenger mile.
    2. The lawn may be a monoculture, but it’s a miniscule blip compared with the gigantic monocultures created by agriculture and forestry. The plague of pine bark beetles currently infesting the Southeast directly results from planting thousands of acres of pure yellow pine for timber and pulp mills. Can’t blame the beetles for showing up — we planted the feast and then rang the dinner bell.
    3. Contrary to what readers might think, the Grump is not a shill for the lawn care industry. If it were up to me, we’d place a moratorium on all those in-ground sprinklers systems that water the lawn at 4 AM every morning even when it’s already raining. When you have to drag hoses, you use less water. The debacle of Metro Atlanta is proof of this. They’re busy trying to steal everybody else’s water because during their orgy of home and mall building (before the crash), they never stopped to consider how tens of thousands of automatic sprinkler systems coming on every day would affect a limited water supply.
    4. Nutrients from lawn fertilizers do pollute water. However, the amount of nitrogen they contribute pales beside the amount that comes from agricultural fertilizers and manure. So maybe we ought to do away with farms. I tell people to use only slow-release fertilizer on lawns about twice a year. And I think “winterizer” fertilizer applied to warm-season grass in fall is a ridiculous waste of time, money, and resources.
    5. I believe in a “scorched-earth” policy when it comes to loathsome squirrels, but not the lawn. I do not support automatic applications of insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides before a pest has even surfaced. I have never used a lawn service and never will. I use a mulching mower and have never taken away a single bag of clippings. Over the years, mulched clippings and leaves have formed a layer of good soil over compacted clay generously left by the builder.
    6. Just because people have lawns doesn’t make them unenlightened bohemians. Lawns have benefits. They cool the air on a hot summer day. They trap air pollution and dust. They control erosion. They feel good beneath your feet. They give children safe places to play. And some of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever visited include lawns as integral design elements. I think Danny and Allsion would agree with that.
    FINALLY, Cameron, Brian’s vigilance is unwavering. The White House lawn is hallowed ground. Plow it up for a vegetable garden and the Grump is going to insist that we graze cattle and sheep out there. Pigs are next.

    January 7, 2009 at 12:07 pm
  10. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden)

    Brian Bender better stay posted. There’s a petition for Barack Obama to turn the South Lawn into a garden:

    January 7, 2009 at 10:33 am
  11. Allison

    Well, said! I have always loved front and back lawns. They remind me of happy childhood times when I ran barefoot through prickly grass in sincere play. Everything that looks beautiful will take some maintenance–lawns are certainly worth the work.
    Having a front and back lawn was important to me in deciding on my home–it adds to the beauty of the property and to the natural surroundings of my life.
    Thanks, Steve!

    January 7, 2009 at 10:24 am
  12. Danny Staple

    I am a Brit. And we love lawns here. We rarely need to water them apart from really dry summers – we get plenty of rain.
    Lawns can be landscaped, planted with a few trees, clovers etc thus breaking the monoculture. Probably my only annoyance with lawns is the mass of Crane flies that they can kick up here. When I go to a park (I live in London, we have great parks!), as well as some wooded areas, flower gardens, ponds and paths, I expect green grassy expanses.
    I suspect there is simply a balance between growing lawn, growing fancy flowers, growing wild flowers and growing food (my personal favourite). Prescribing or proscribing are both probably just a bad idea in general.

    January 6, 2009 at 5:12 pm
  13. cerebralepicure

    What’s American? The willingness to find the strength to be self-critical, to change, and the willingness to not stick our heads in the ground and cling desperately to modes of living that had a time and place and now should yield to new ideas.
    Obviously when it rains year-round, the water needs of a lawn are not a strong argument against one. It is appropriate to recognize that different weather patterns should impact our lifestyles. That said, even the east coast can be plagued by hot, dry summers during which water restrictions have to be enforced.
    There are a variety of arguments, however, less weather-related, that you so are so quick to dismiss without acknowledgment. I won’t delve into the list of problems with monocultures (in your yard or in a farmer’s field). I might however point out that it would be highly inefficient for any airline to not have a variety of plane sizes to suit variable demand.
    But enough of trading gripe for gripe…in the end, it’s a moot point. Neither your arguments nor my counters will send ripples across the nation. It will always come down to local ordinances restricting water use as appropriate, and individuals’ decisions on how to invest their time and energy. If industrial agriculture is somehow dealt a fatal blow by disease or transportation costs–as many believe could easily happen–growing food will be come a more attractive option, and one which will result in far greater health benefits than can be gained from a weekly stroll behind a gas-powered mower.
    By the way…any organic gardeners I know would love to get their hands on some composted cow manure. So long as the cows were grass-fed without antibiotics 🙂

    January 6, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s