Lawn Love


Spectacular Japanese Fountain Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’), indeed, but it would be so much less without the Bent Grass (Agrostis stolonifera), an Asian native beloved in the Pacific Northwest and considered a weed in the Atlantic Northeast.  Photograph taken at Heronswood’s original test and display gardens in Kingston.

 

Get rid of your lawn?  Plant it with flowers and vegetables?  I’m for that!  But not at the expense of my Brother Lawn.  Rather, I wish to add to his beauty, as well as his many years of service.  Thus, “In Defense of Lawns”.

In a New York Times Op/Ed Classic from 1991 and reprinted last month to demonstrate its relevance and timeliness, the best-selling food and environment writer Michael Pollan says:

“We Americans have traditionally looked on our front lawns as nothing less than an institution of democracy.  Beginning in the 19th century, at the urging of such landscape designer-reformers as Frederick Law Olmsted and Andrew Jackson Downing, we took down our old-world walls and hedges (which they had declared to be “selfish” and “undemocratic”) and spread an uninterrupted green carpet of turf grass across our yards, down our streets, along our highways and, by and by, across the entire continent.”

Really?

My guess is most folks have never heard of Olmsted and Downing or, if so, only in passing.  Pollan’s provenance of lawns is news to 99.9% of Americans.  I doubt highly that anyone conceives of his lawn as the “institution of democracy”.  People take pride in their lawns because they are handsome and functional, providing places for children to play, athletic fields, a buffer between the house and the street, a fire break in the western half of the country and a place you can accidentally drop a plate of BBQ ribs or spill a glass of wine without care.  Lawns are fun and look pretty—I believe that is how they are “looked on”.  Their elegance and beauty stir our imaginations rather than politicize our identities.

Pollan continues:

“The democratic symbolism of the lawn may be appealing, but it carries an absurd and, today, unsupportable environmental price tag.  In our quest for the perfect lawn, we waste vast quantities of water and energy, human as well as petrochemical . . .

But the deeper problem with the American lawn, and the reason I believe the White House lawn must go, is less chemical than metaphysical.  The lawn is a symbol of everything that’s wrong with our relationship to the land.  Lawns require pampering because we ask them to thrive where they do not belong.”

No kidding?

As I say, I don’t believe that Americans are aware that their lawns and playing fields constitute an “institution of democracy”. Their conception of their lawns is not stuck in the 1950s, when the apparently traumatic incident took place that Pollan describes in which his “free spirit” father, after being pressured by his neighbors to cut his lawn, mowed only his initials into the two foot high grass.

Over the past 40 years, awareness of the effects of air and water pollution on the quality of our lives has grown.  In response to this, local, state and federal governments have set guidelines and passed laws to limit or ban many pollutants.  For example, phosphates have largely been eliminated from lawn fertilizers.  In addition, Americans have long ago come to appreciate water as a limited (and increasingly expensive) resource—something the rest of the world has never forgotten.  Many alternatives to the “traditional lawn” have sprouted up over the past 30 years.  They involve the use of native species that require less input of time (mowing), chemicals (fertilizers and herbicides, both organic and non-organic) and irrigation.  Currently, there are many alternatives to the so-called “traditional lawn” that are diverse as well as regionally adapted.

Perhaps, over the last 10 years, Pollan and others such as the late Sarah Stein helped to raise folks’ awareness of these alternatives.  However, political correctness doesn’t earn anyone, in my book, the right to tear up the White House lawn.

But what, after all, is this “traditional lawn”?

Pollan continues:

“Turf grasses are not native to America, yet we have insisted on spreading them from the Chesapeake watershed to the deserts of California without the slightest regard for local geography.”

This is a straw man as well as untrue.  The non-native species that are used in lawns aren’t invasive ones that hitched a ride in a cargo container a couple of decades ago, as he implies by lumping them in with controversial or truly destructive invasive species.

For example, we use Perennial Rye and Meadow Fescue at Fordhook.  They originated mainly in Northern Europe and are almost perfect for our Atlantic maritime area, fifty miles inland.  This classic mixture can be found in domestic usage from 30° N latitude at high elevations to 62° N—an extraordinary range.

Another example is Kentucky bluegrass, the quintessential turf grass. It is native to most of Europe, Northern Asia and the mountains of North Africa.  The climates of these regions are similar to the cool humid parts of the U.S. where Kentucky bluegrass has been extensively planted.  It is particularly well suited to many parts of North America.  The early European colonists brought all these grasses to this country over 200 years ago where they’ve become thoroughly adapted.  Such a horticultural success should be celebrated rather than scorned.  What other “foreigners” should we stop growing?  Lettuce?  Carrots?  Beets?  Melons?  Send the cow and the horse packing?  “Back to Eurasia with you!”

Furthermore, there is also the issue of cool- vs. warm-season grasses:

Cool-season grasses are those that develop most rapidly during spring and early summer when cool nights follow warm days.  They are dormant during the hottest parts of summer and begin to grow again in late summer and early fall.  These grasses include timothy, orchard grass, and brome grass—all introduced species—as well as native species such as Canada wild rye, redtop, and June grass.  They do well in the northeast and Midwest but poorly in hotter, drier climates. 

Warm-season grasses are “bunch grasses” that develop most rapidly during summer when warm nights follow hot days.  They include native prairie species such as big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass, and switch grass.

Pollan would have us believe that the lawns grown in Connecticut are the same as those grown in southern California.  He tells us that all lawn grasses are homologous across the country.  This is both false and misleading.

The untrue part of  Pollan’s invasive statement is that he fails to mention a large number of lawn and turf or sod grasses that are, in fact, native.  Buffalo grass is one of these (Buchloe dactyloides).  Researchers have developed many cultivars at the University of Nebraska that are suitable for golf courses and home lawns throughout the U.S.  A warm-season grass, it grows well and even forms sod from Alberta, Canada, to northern Mexico.  Furthermore, it is drought-resistant, thus conservative in its use of water.

It’s clear that Pollan doesn’t like lawns, to say the least.  This accounts for his not looking at them very closely.  They differ quite a bit, as do roadside forests of deciduous trees.  In any case, if he doesn’t enjoy lawns and the chores involved with their maintenance, he’s free to live in an apartment, to replace his lawn with a flower,
vegetable or perennial garden.  (Please do!)

However, in other places in his books and essays, Pollan repeatedly suggests that lawns represent a dysfunctional relationship between humankind and nature, and symbolize environmental neglect or, worse, destruction.  Again, this is untrue.

For example, lawns do a good job of sequestering carbon.  A well-kept lawn is not only a pleasure, but also an excellent “carbon sink”.  The photosynthetic process—sunlight turning carbon dioxide into sugar, cellulose and other plant constituents—fixes or “sinks” carbon into grasses, lawns, gardens and the soils that support them.  If anything, a lawn is an ecological flag—even more so, ironically, than a vegetable garden.  A lawn resists soil degradation much better than a veggie patch, which gets torn up each year, decomposing and thus releasing the plant carbons from the soil by exposing roots and debris to microbes.  No more carbon sink—the carbon goes back into the atmosphere.*

While an annual flower or vegetable garden fixes less carbon than the lawn, it is also true that a recreation of a prairie grass meadow, with big and little blue-stems, coneflowers and other long-lived native perennial plants, will fix either more or the equal of a typical well-maintained lawn.  So, certainly, a meadow is as good as a lawn for the environment—maybe even better.  But to suggest that lawns are bad for the environment is nonsense.

Indeed, recent research suggests that lawns are not merely carbon sinks but also “pollen traps”.  This is yet another advantage of a lawn over a backyard prairie.**  In his article, “The Pollen-trapping Power Of A Lawn”, T.L. Ogren states that an average, well-kept lawn removes “far more pollen than it will ever produce itself” as well as “hundreds of millions” of grains from surrounding trees and shrubs, by snaring them in its brushy surface.  Then, after rains and lawn sprinklings, the pollen is pushed down into the lawn even further, making it almost impossible to dry out and become air-borne again.
 
The most obvious problem with home prairie grasslands is, to me, critters—from mice, squirrels and chipmunks to skunks and snakes. And how will you know a trespasser isn’t an opossum or raccoon?  There’s also the issue of insects.  I, for one, love them.  However, I prefer them in the wild or the vegetable and flower garden—not on my porch.  For example, wasps and yellow jackets commonly nest in meadow soils.  Ridding a recreated tall grass meadow of them would be, literally, a pain in the neck.

One example of the prejudice against wild grasses: As I was recovering from being nudged awake, one of several times, during the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, I noticed a reference in the story to the “grasses”—being tall species—of China’s “wild west”.  They symbolized the rude, crude and uncivilized.  Not so absurd, then, that the Chinese adore lawn and turf grasses and reckon that they represent the finer things in life.

The chord “Crouching” touches is probably universal.  Meadow or pasture grass, whence our lawn species originate, is one of the first “biophilic” organisms (to use Edward O. Wilson’s term)—the first life forms we lived with.  No pasture, no cattle.  No cattle, no meat, milk, leather, etc.  Little wonder green grass is associated with heaven in religious art, as in “Sheep May Safely Graze” by J. S. Bach.  Trace your pets, too, back to meadow grass, man’s first best friend.  Indeed, it was likely a key factor in domesticating us.  It certainly makes sense:  Poacae, the universal grass family, was found where we were.

Also, there’s the aesthetic interest.  While I adore the reclaimed farms and restored prairies of my native Midwest, I’ve become attached to lawns, especially large ones. The landscape architect Arthur Edwin Bye was the Rembrandt of the sweeping lawn. Once you see this type of beauty, you never forget it.

Finally, much as I love gardens, fields of crops and formal city parks, I’m most fond of golf courses.  In my childhood they were mysterious—even a bit scary.  They came as close to a dragon’s lair as I wanted to get.  But now I adore them.  Each is unique and some are dazzling.  All do at least a fair job of revealing the essence of the surrounding landscape or cityscape.  And, except for those requiring carts, you always get a good walk.  Some in the Southwest are dreamily beautiful, like something out of a Star Trek scene.  Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe is a perfect example, and public to boot.

Perhaps, as his father was stuck in the 1950s, Pollan is a bit lost in a 1970s view of chemical lawns.  Pity, because he’s an effective spokesman when he is not making erroneous statements in his Romantic, quasi-Wendell Berry mode.  I rather wish he’d adopt a Wallace Beery mode and tumble around with his kids on the White House lawn. 

 

*Specifically, tillage decreases soil organic carbon levels over time.  Lawns of long standing, like that at the White House, are highly productive and are effective sinks of atmospheric carbon.  That is atmospheric carbon (CO2) is incorporated into the roots and leaves of grasses.  In a study of golf courses (see Argon. J. 94:930-935), where the oldest was 45 yr old and the newest 1.5 yr old, non linear regression analysis of compiled historic data demonstrated that total C sequestration continued for up to 31 yr in fairways and 45 yr in putting greens.  The most rapid increase occurred during the first 25 to 30 yr after turf grass establishment, at average rates approaching 0.9 and 1.0 t ha-1  yr-1 for fairways and putting greens, respectively.  Note that the most actively managed areas (putting greens) sequester the most carbon.

**Thomas Leo Ogren is the author of Allergy-Free Gardening.  He can be reached at his website,

 


Lawn As Margin (Fordhook Farm)

 


Lawn As Partner (Fordhook Farm)

 

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 at 10:03 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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56 Responses to “Lawn Love”

  1. Eloise said:

    I look at lawn as “white space,” and consider how the shape of every landscape bed I dig affects the shape of the remaining lawn.

    I am not in favor of totally eliminating lawns composed of cool season grasses, but do favor minimizing the areas they occupy in a home landscape.

    Also, I believe that trying to grow cool season grasses in the heat of the summer makes no sense, particularly as our summers get hotter and hotter as a result of global warming.

    Global warming has affected not only how I look at growing lawn, but also the choice of plants I incorporate into my landscape, favoring xeric species over those requiring more regular watering. Bunch grasses make way more sense, and add more drama to the landscape than cool season grasses ever will.

    Perhaps as global warming escalates, our concept of “lawn” will evolve into a more practical choice of plant material.

  2. George said:

    Dear Eloise – Thanks for your interesting post. My large lawn is a challenge as a “white space” concept, but I appreciate the idea. My sculpture collection breaks the voids up nicely. But most folks think I live on a golf course. It’s actually quite a magical place. Come see it sometime if you’re ever near Bucks County. Just call Burpee to make an appointment at extension 1401, ask for Peggy. Thanks again.

  3. Pat said:

    Pollan has done a tremendous service in elevating the public’s awareness of the environmental cost of many of our practices. What Pollan alludes to, if you haven’t read any of his books, is the amount of watering most homeowners do to keep their lawns green and healthy as well as the pollution caused by gas-powered mowers, trimmers, and blowers. No doubt, a green lawn is beautiful, but at what cost? There are other alternatives. The low-maintenance grasses you mention are one of them. Don’t try to discredit his good work on such a trivial point.

  4. George said:

    Dear Pat – Thanks for posting your comments. Tearing up the White House lawn—as well as advocating that homeowners do the same—is hardly a trivial point, if that’s the only one (out of the many) in my article that you object to. But thanks for pointing out the water conservation efforts I recommended. As I said in the article, Pollan and Stein, as well as others, probably helped raise awareness. But discussing lawns in terms of absurdity and metaphysics seems silly. What’s next—the detached single-family home? Why not live in European-style apartment buildings? The sermonizing about lawns is what I find a bit absurd. Thanks again for your comments.

  5. jeffbinnc said:

    An articulate and thoughtful post. But I think you strongly exaggerate, for the sake of your own argument, that the “many alternatives to the traditional lawn” have become widespread. Where I live and travel to, especially this time of year, Saturday mornings are filled with the din of lawn mowers, weed eaters, and blowers as homeowners and landscape crews mow, blow, and hack back acres and acres of green carpet lawns, punctuated by meatball-shaped shrubs, while an armada of pick-ups and ChemLawn trucks careen through neighborhood streets stopping to spread chemicals to and fro. Topping it all of is an evening-to-the-following-day extravaganza of timed sprinkler showers, sending rivers of wasted H2O across driveways and sidewalks into the gutters. And all for what? Purely an aesthetic (since after all, “sequestering carbon” is about as popular with lawn enthusiasts as Olmsted is). No, I’m in agreement with Eloise, above, reduce the “lawn area” to the “white space” of your landscape, unless there is something strictly functional you have to have lawn for.

  6. George said:

    Dear Jeff – Thanks for the post. I didn’t mean to suggest alternatives to traditional lawns were widespread, rather that they are widely available, which is true and not at all exaggerated. What may be a wee bit fanciful is your scenario of Hell’s Crossing or wherever you reside. I simply do not believe you, especially the bit about “rivers” of water. As I said to someone else, call a cop. These people will never abjure as a result of Pollan’s “magical journalism”. Believe me, I rather agree with some of his arguments—it’s the ripping out the White House lawn that bothers me. Lawns bring happiness and pleasure to many people. Why attack them?

  7. Ruth Morton said:

    I am annoyed every week by the large tractor mowers that roar up and down the little suburban front lawns, stirring up a cloud of dust and gas fumes in my neighborhood, followed by edgers and blowers roaring up and down the street for hours. What a waste of gasoline and money when a garden of shrubs and perennials can be so much more satisfying and attractive all season.

  8. George said:

    Dear Ruth – What did you say? I can’t hear you! Speak louder!

    Seriously, thanks very much for your post. I’m truly sorry that you suffer so. You should organize an anti-noise ordinance on your block. Also, I for one very much appreciate your suggestion of shrubs and perennials. Native grasses, too. They might “catch on” if enough people grow them, but there should always be a nice spot of lawn, in my view. Thanks again.

  9. Lydia said:

    Lawn has its purpose in the landscape. I agree lawn is great for children and provides contrast to herbaceous plantings in beds and borders and for parks and some public places.

    Generally though, I think Americans have too much lawn in areas that could be better landscaped, like some parks and businesses. People choose to over fertilize and water the lawn thus obsorbing too many resources. I choose to grow some lawn for my children and accept an imperfect, organic lawn with weeds in it.

    The majority of what I grow in my landscape is mostly native trees, shrubs, and perennials. I also include non native, non invasive plants that work well in my landscape. Lawn’s place comes second to what I grow that has greater benefits to the environment or provides food for our family like a vegetable garden, orchard or plants to promote healthy pollinator and wildlife populations.

    Check out most yards and you can take a visual measurement of the amount of lawn compared to diverse plantings and edible gardening which benefits wildlife and people alike.

    Lawn, in itself, is not bad for the environment. I think people just need to find the right balance to use it as one component in the larger landscape.

  10. George said:

    Dear Lydia – Thanks for the excellent post. Indeed, businesses should try to “vary the line” as Bernard Berenson said of great art. It is, as you say, a question of balance. You bring up many cogent points and I appreciate it. Thanks again.

  11. Meredith said:

    Actually, I agree with Pollan. The subduing of the wilderness is at this point so ingrained in American thought that, most likely, we don’t always look at our lawns as related to the spread of U.S. democracy across the nation, but they most certainly are. Whether we ponder this on a daily basis looking at our lawns or not it inconsequential, the truth is that without the purposeful construction of a grass covered lawn, yards across the country would be filled with native species, not zoysia, bermuda, or centipede grass.

    Now, I am in total support of throwing in a few wild or ornamental grasses in there. In fact, my entire side yard is bordered by the *lawn* not by *flowers* in borders! :)

  12. George said:

    Dear Meredith – Thanks, I disagree, though, that we have “subdued the wilderness”. Seems there’s a lot more of it than us. When I used to do business in Europe, I’d get them to visit me back and they’d freak out over the wilderness we have. Maybe we’ll end up clustering even closer together and, eventually, living only in apartments in cities or townhouses like all over Europe. Hardly anyone lives in a house there. You’re considered extraordinarily wealthy if you live in a house, except in the U.K.

    By the way, buffalo grass, as well as several native warm season grasses, make excellent small lawns, should you ever want one.

    Thanks again.

  13. Herlene said:

    Thank you, thank you for this wonderful article. Now I have some ammunition using your article for support of why I love my lawn. It’s big, takes little care, except for mowing which is fine because I have a rider, and it makes me feel good for all the family usages.

  14. George said:

    Dear Herlene – First of all, I love your name—never heard it before. I love it even more after reading your post. Thanks much and be well.

  15. j stann said:

    I suggest that you read carefully Douglas Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press) if you want to appreciate more fully the effect of turf grass lawns in the U.S. Then you may reconsider your position on Mr. Pollen’s views.

  16. George said:

    Dear J stann – Thanks for the tip. I need something perhaps to mediate my views of Pollan.

  17. Please don’t forget croquet!

  18. George said:

    Dear Mary – Back at you! Many thanks.

  19. John said:

    As a landscape designer in the San Francisco Bay Area, I regularly counsel my clientele to kill their lawns. No turf in our Mediterranean climate is NOT artificial (none that the average homeowner wants in their front yard, anyhow). Buffalo grass, as virtuous as it may be, doesn’t satisfy our craving for that year-round slab of green.

    Your pro-lawn bias (by the way, I grew up loving golf courses, too) is as removed from reality as you accuse Pollan of being. I challenge you to find a fairway that’s anything close to carbon-neutral: how much petrol is spent mowing those “carbon sinks” or producing the nitrogen fertilizer they demand? We are in a drought here: tell me again how watering your lawn doesn’t hurt my environment? Reducing the White House lawn would tell me my President cares about me; I’m not sure why it is threatening to you.

    Pollan is right, and you acknowledge it even as you attack him: the modern turf grasses you and I call “lawn” are not native here, a fact some of us confront more than others. The sooner you stop pretending that these artificial lawns don’t have environmental consequences, the better off we’ll all be.

  20. George said:

    Dear John – Thanks for your post. Let’s go backwards: I don’t pretend lawns don’t have environmental consequences; I indeed pointed out they were mostly non-native, but I didn’t, like Pollan, suggest they are invasive or call them destructive; he called for the removal—not “reduction”—of the White House lawn; it doesn’t threaten me in the least, nor did I suggest it did; the environmental impact of lawns is that they use water—not as much as touted—and they require much nitrogen fertilizer in the first year or two for a lifetime of 30 to 40 years, after that the requirements drop off substantially; I didn’t say a fairway or putting green was carbon neutral, but an effective carbon sink. And Obama lives in a climate that lawns adore; he hardly has to water. Mowing is overdone because many people are ignorant to the fact that they needn’t mow so often. The gas my rider mower uses is meager in comparison to, say, a bunch of teenagers going out for yogurt in their folks’ SUV or riding back and forth a ½ mile to school.

    Buffalo grass: if your customers don’t like it, I’m sorry. It’s a lovely turf grass. Finally, you ignore the rest of my points, you baby grass killer, you. Seriously, I find it odd that the cool Mediterranean climate in the Bay Area doesn’t support any well-adapted grasses. Very odd. Cheers, and I hope your business picks up.

  21. TC said:

    I live in the northeast and have a mostly perennial rye lawn. It’s almost three acres. Mowing is a chore I don’t particularly enjoy, however, I do enjoy chipping around my backyard in hopes I’ll eventually shoot a respectable round of golf on one of the many local courses here in western PA. Unfortunately, I don’t have a golf course lawn, but a chipping course lawn works for me. (I’m a huge fan of Michael Pollan too, do you suppose he golfs?)

  22. George said:

    Hello TC – Been awhile—hope all is well. Three acres is not unlike my lawn. After a couple of acres they become a matter of degree, chore-wise. I actually enjoy mowing; it’s like a simple but interesting exercise that takes my mind off my daily cares and worries. And the smell is quite wonderful. I’m a bit neutral on Pollan. Most of his writing bores me, but he is flawless—never makes a mistake. It’s his editors that miss the occasional error. It’s like he’s too good which usually ends up being dull. I like a more raggedy, edgy style. Just personal taste. No—I’m almost certain he doesn’t golf. Too bad, it might help his outlook. Did you know Augusta used to be a nursery? Thanks again.

  23. VW said:

    The sustainability movement is great; I agree that we should continually look for ways to be better stewards of this beautiful earth. But I love lawn, too! And I will definitely have some in my landscape. Thanks for an informative article to help me feel better about my secret sod attraction.

  24. George said:

    Dear VW – What’s with all the great names today? And all from folks who agree with me. My first car was a VW, a ’69 used convertible Karmann Ghia, white with a black cloth top. I drove it all over the US from ’72 to ’74. That must be related to our secret love of sod. That, and my being from the Midwest—home of sod houses.

  25. Diane said:

    I work organically, have for years, even the lawn. An old farmer taught me how. I love my lawn but agree that we seem to make too big a deal of it! I lived in Colorado for a while and remember someone telling me that in Telluride ‘they’ heat their lawns in the winter so they’ll stay green…HA and we wonder why this country is in such a mess!

  26. George said:

    Dear Diane – Thanks so much. Someone “heated” their lawn? Are you sure you weren’t dreaming? Anyway, not so mysterious I suppose. I know folks who heat their driveways so they don’t have to shovel. Besides, this country isn’t in a mess, in my view. You want a mess, you go to Mexico. They have 3-4 lb. rats. Thanks again.

  27. mpd said:

    Lawns are a chord in my memory from childhood that I can enjoy frequently or anywhere. The pungent smell of grass being cut recreates Peace and Plenty and the sound of sprinklers rattling around is one of the most sublime experiences I have ever encountered. Coolness in the heat,tenderness on bare feet. Who among us can afford to give that away?

  28. George said:

    Dear Mpd – Thanks much. Couldn’t have said it better in a million years. Please post again.

  29. Lucy said:

    could someone please tell me a good alternative to lawn grass? We have a lot of shade in the Seattle area and in this particular area grass does not grow. I am open to anything plant-wise to try in shade (not part-shade). thank you.

  30. George said:

    Dear Lucy – In our Kingston shade we were okay with Agrostis stolonifera, as seen in the top photo. Else, try any of our deep shade groundcovers at either Heronswood or Burpee. Thanks.

  31. Cindy said:

    A beautiful lawn with well-planned border plants is a pleasure to look at, and, take care of. It doesn’t have to be large. For those of us who are compulsive, its something which can be quite pleasing. All you have to do is look to know the difference between somebody who cares and somebody who isn’t interested. I would rather tinker with my garden than go to the gym. There is a place for well-thought out lawns, and there is a place for the argument of no lawns. A nice yard requires thinking and learning and caring.
    I understand the point of Pollan’s ideas about lawns, but I only have this one life to live, and I wish to live it in a way that pleases me. I was trying to think what I would have if not a lawn, where the current one is, and I like the lawn there. Anything else would take too much energy to care for and the property would not look as nice.
    From the lawn at night, I can talk to friends and watch the stars, and listen to the night noises. There is something about flopping down in the grass, eye-to-eye with the ants, and just resting from the activities of the rest of the world. We are intelligent beings. We designed lawns. I imagine we will handle the evolution of lawns, too.

  32. George said:

    Dear Cindy – Thanks for your exquisite post. Please post again when the spirit moves you.

  33. Carol said:

    I am enjoying your blogs. I also enjoy the responses, pros and cons. We all share a little in common. What a better place to live when we can be a little different from our neighbors. A nice green lawn in between gardens, used as a path and just wide enough to mow is the compromise I enjoy.

  34. George said:

    Dear Carol – Thanks for your wise and thoughtful post. Please post again.

  35. You make some intelligent and completely self-serving statements in support of your personal taste. I agree that Pollan’s POV might seem a bit severe for some, but your rationale for lawns is narrow and shortsighted. A agree with other comments regarding the reality of lawn care. Either you live in a bubble somewhere on this planet, or you have not fully observed the state of the lawn care industry.

    You speak of carbon sequestration without mentioning all the carbon that’s spewed into the atmosphere as a direct cause of lawns. The petroleum consumption from mowing and other power tools is just the beginning. The fertilizer industry is primarily petrochemical-based (very few have adopted the natural lawn care model, since Scott’s and the rest of the mega corporations pretty much own the airwaves and print media) and the embodied energy that goes into extracting, processing and shipping lawn care projects couldn’t possibly be neutralized by the carbon sequestration.

    And let’s also conveniently overlook the Round-up and other similar chemicals that are applied by inexperienced home gardeners and “plant janitors” (gardener is too lofty a word for most of them).

    As a landscape architect working predominantly in small-scale residential projects, I am not 100% anti-lawn. If, and only if, it serves a recreational purpose, have your lawn but assure that it’s cared for in the most environmentally sound manner – then murder it after the kids get drivers licenses.

    It sounds like your only real argument is you like the way it looks. Is that really enough to justify its ubiquity and harmful effects?

  36. George said:

    Dear Billy – Thanks for your post. I have a 6 acre lawn, which may seem like a “bubble” to you, but it’s one of the loves of my life. I often mow it myself or get a farmhand to do it, or a service when we’re too busy. I use no “power tools” or blowers or all these other things that “roar” and everyone complains about. Your other comments are just rude, in my view. I addressed fertilizers in another post. If people around you don’t use organics, maybe you should call a cop. Also, you say you’re “not 100% anti-lawn”. Then you suggest “murdering” lawns. Which is it?

    Then you finish by saying I’m “harming” the environment by liking my lawn’s appearance? Go back and read my blog over again, please.

    Thanks again.

  37. Joseph Thompson said:

    I’m new to reading your blog. Just wanted to say that I’ve enjoyed it so far.

    Regarding this piece: as a landscape architect I’ve gone back and forth in my opinion regarding lawns. I’ve come around to looking at them as simply useful in the landscape. They provide a cool, soft, durable surface to walk, sit, lounge, and perhaps most importantly play ball on.

  38. George said:

    Dear Joseph – You might like A.E. Bye’s work. I had the chance to spend a couple days with him in 1991, when he was still very active. Brilliant. Thanks for posting.

  39. Donna said:

    I like lawn — the lawn I had when I was a kid, that is. My father mowed it once a week and we applied no fertilizer or pesticide and it did fine. I played on it and enjoyed it.

    Now I live in a townhouse community. A landscaping firm has workers come around once a week on huge heavy machines. They mow and they spray, spray, spray. After a rain (and this can be EVERY WEEK until June) they leave big gouges from the machines in the turf. Half of my once-grassy lawn is a mud pit. You can’t talk to the workers; they don’t speak English. You can talk to the management, but they don’t care: they have to get this neighborhood done and go on to the next one.

    I’m in favor of getting rid of every bit of lawn we can spare in our community. Less erosion, less noise, less mowing cost to our HOA, healthier surroundings for me, and a healthier stream and Chesapeake Bay.

    When the days of knowledgeable and caring groundskeepers return, I’ll love lawns again.

  40. George said:

    Dear Donna – Your post is a testimony to the wisdom of your father. The days may soon return, so please don’t despair. Give the HOA heck about the gouges, by the way. No excuse for such sloppiness. Thanks so much.

  41. JoanA said:

    I concur with j stann in suggesting you read Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home”; it’s a lucid, surprisingly easy read, full of really cool pictures. English Ivy and Multiflora Rose were also introduced to the dismay of many people today and to the disappearance of native plants that they overwhelm. Japanese beetles are ubiquitous in much of the eastern part of the US; the grubs feed on grass roots. I’m not advocating getting rid of grass but I suggest that people look into minimizing its footprint.

  42. George said:

    Dear Joan A – Sorry I’m so late replying—on 3 week vacation. You and J Stann’s suggestion to read Tallamy has sunk in. But if his writing is like Pollan’s, it wil be ignored. I tried Botany Desire: couldn’t make it even half-way. (I think he has ADD. Just goes on and on about stuff no one cares about.) But thanks for the tip.

  43. Eileen said:

    Yes, I wish my yard could stay like that all year round but in the summer time you can not use that water all that you need.But hope it will happen thx Eileen

  44. George said:

    Dear Eileen – Lawns are frugal drinkers after a few months and especially from late spring on. Thanks.

  45. Brandon said:

    I’ve had a lot of people tell me lawns are bad. I felt that way myself for a while. This article made me start to think differently.

    Trivial point, I know. However, I actually liked Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Once you get past the special effects, it is actually a good story about the need for mentors. Very tragic.

  46. George said:

    Dear Brandon – Thanks very much for the tip. I’ll try Hidden Dragon one more time. I like Kurosawa a lot, especially The Seven Samurai.

  47. Katie said:

    I haven’t seen the discussion of the lawn as an agent of carbon sequestration anywhere else. So thanks for that.

    I gained a new appreciation of grass as a groundcover trying to organically garden my large (.75 acre) lot adjacent to a poorly managed forest preserve. I could not keep up with the weeds, try as I might! Grass outperformed all of the many (sometimes very expensive) groundcover materials I tried.

  48. George said:

    Dear Katie – Isn’t it amazing how neat grass is? I marvel at it also. That’s what I love about golf—all the extraordinary grass.

  49. Sharyn said:

    I love your lawn love article… and I side with you… SAve the Lawn ! (Pray for rain)

  50. George said:

    Dear Sharyn – Thank you so much.

  51. Carolyn Hannan said:

    I read Pollan’s books and I don’t think he mentions any grazers. These animals would “mow” the meadow and fertilize it. When we maintain lawns, we subsitute for the grazers. Lawns are at least as good as meadows.

  52. George said:

    Dear Carolyn – Hear, hear. Thanks much.

  53. Nancy Swedelius said:

    I loved your piece about lawns, as I am debating whether or not to try and save my own lawn from the moss invasion. The lawn is 30 years old,bumpy and a pain to mow with the springy moss in it. I love looking down the yard over 400 feet of well manicured grass and flower beds and , Yes, I do feel democratic! Life, liberty and the pursuit of grass! I have made up my mind. The lawn STAYES!

  54. George said:

    Dear Nancy – Thanks very much for the feedback. It is odd; lots of people called and emailed me personally, asking why I—a garden professional—defend lawns. It’s because I love them, that’s all. These critics—most of them ill-informed—cannot resist advocating for their elimination. I just don’t get it.

  55. eliz.anderson said:

    IT has cost me a lot of backbreaking work since our big storm of 9-14-2009 to get the fallen tree damage repaired,but where would we play cornhole, horseshoes,watch the toddlers learn to walk without skining their knees, have a place for our family picnics,eat lots of chicken and sit and just rest?I need my lawn just like I need sunshine.

  56. George said:

    Dear Elizabeth – Beautifully stated. Thanks very much.

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