The Dirt

Lawn Problems: Is the Lawn Passé?

Next to invasive plants, lawns have become the most hated thing in gardening. The evidence usually offered against lawns makes sense: They take up too much water, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, all things we need to use as little of as possible if we want to keep the planet healthy.

Not everybody needs a lawn. Susan Harris doesn’t, and in her article, “When You’ve Grown Beyond Your Grass” (Fine Gardening #132, March/April 2010), she shows you what she has planted instead. Her options are safe—to users and the environment—and low maintenance: perfect choices for those who don’t want grass.

Susan acknowledges that lawns have their place—like at my house. I have a lawn and would not be without it. Where would my kids play? Gravel and mulch are not suitable for soccer or tag. Grass is the perfect place for my wife to spread out a blanket to eat grapes and Popsicles with the kids while they watch me struggle with some gardening chore (which often results in much giggling on their part).

The only water my lawn gets is provided by the clouds. The only feeding it gets is if I spill compost intended for my garden plants (this happens a lot). My lawn never gets herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides—mainly because I don’t care whether weeds, bad bugs, or evil fungi are present. Because the function of my lawn is to be walked on, run on, fallen on, or sat on, I don’t give it much thought.

I do have a lawn mower, however, which causes air pollution. But my lawn usually only gets mowed when it is up to my ankles. So is my lawn part of the problem? A little (thanks to the mower), but it isn’t the real problem. It is up to me how many resources and chemicals my lawn requires. So, perhaps, the true problem is with the people who maintain lawns in a fashion that is unhealthy for the environment and the expectations we place on them (lawns and their maintainers). If most people didn’t think that only a lawn on which Tiger Woods could sink a 40-foot-long putt was acceptable, then we might not have this obsession that results in constant mowing and using all that water and those herbicides and pesticides.

I’m not a golfer, and I don’t put much stock in keeping up with the Joneses (which, I think, bothers them). But I’m reminded of why I have my lawn whenever I see my kids running—and inevitably falling—all over the place. I will have to work on finding an alternative to my gas mower—sheep, perhaps. But I am happy knowing that my lawn is safe for my kids to play on and allows me time to play, too.

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