Lawn Love, Part Two

Some garden writers seem to have an obsession with lawns.  Michael Pollan’s erroneous but extremely influential 1991 op/ed in The New York Times kicked off a two decade landscape architect parlor game.  However, the debate over the ecological and environmental value of lawns is much older.  Front or back worse?  Side lawn okay?  Organic lawn possible?  Fuel consumed by lawn mowers morally defensible?  Water sprinklers, same thing?

After more than 30 years, the anti-lawn/pro-lawn controversy rages on.  While I have no skin in this game, I do have opinions after a long career in horticulture.  Since lawns and gardens are a bit like love and marriage, it is hard for someone in the gardening industry to stay off the grass, so to speak.

Recently, I had a pleasant email exchange with an enthusiast in the “anti-lawn” movement.  It reminded me not only of my post (‘Lawn Love’) from 2009, but also of how these arguments can light up American horticulture from the inside.  Gardening in the US is not “one thing”, as it is in, say, the UK, Italy, France or Japan.  Our nation is monumentally diverse.  (Please read about my public attempt to redefine “American horticulture” at the blog ‘Virtual Horticulture’.)

An extremist (versus an enthusiast)  I have talked with works as a garden designer in LA.  He hates lawns:  the idea, history, science, beauty, value to communities in homes and parks, etc.  But this is somewhat understandable, from an ecological view, because he is from arid Los Angeles.  Naturally, he advocates zealously for alternatives to large lawns.  However, what is bizarre is that he hates all lawns, including those in non-southern California-type environments.  The passion of his misguided environmentalist extremism blinds him to the aesthetic values and sensual pleasures that lawns provide for millions of people across the US.  In fact, the beauty and utility of lawns “hide in plain sight”.  Lawns are pleasant and useful. Also, they appeal to both our pastoral and agricultural origins:  little patches of nature.  Similarly, gardens remind us of our roots in ancient civilization.  Yet, “anti-lawn” extremists talk about how nasty and environmentally damaging they are.  Imagine:  lawns are hurting the planet.  It’s like saying make-up is harmful to a woman’s health.

At least the anti-lawn debate shows that the US is a complex patchwork of widely diverse climates and microclimates.  Most lawns make gracefully contrasting companions for ornamental gardens and handsome frames or surroundings for vegetable plots in most areas of the country.  (I explain this in great detail in ‘Lawn Love’.) Yet, “anti-lawnism” reaches every corner of the nation like a virus in a horror movie.  Perhaps it’s a result of poor high school biology classes.

It seems obvious to most folks that if you are in an area that is bone-dry, you should not have a yard dominated by a water-dependent lawn.  It is both unattractive as well as unsustainable in energy and water crises.  The LA “extremist” is not an extremist if he is talking about LA and its surrounding areas.  But what business does he have getting in my Mid-Atlantic face?  I don’t disparage his groundcovers.  In fact, I sell some to him.  Why does he disrespect my lawn?

Some of the answers can be traced to the popularity of environmental extremism.  Few walk to work anymore; far more people drive.  Thus, pollution and dependence on fossil fuels.  Add man-made global warming and the result is a public outcry against the impact of the front lawn, in particular.   It is somewhat irrational, but life is not fair.  A family can drive a quarter mile to grocery shop, pay $4.00 for a single cup of flavored coffee, or pay $9.00 to see a movie that gives them grimacing indigestion, but rail against lawns.

Another part of the answer is the romance of the “New American garden” movement which began about 25 years ago, based on the landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme.  With his partner, James Van Sweden, they operated a very successful business, including estate gardens for Oprah Winfrey and many other notables.  They made great use of tall meadow grasses.  Most of their ideas derived from European public park design.  Their work is masterful and their gardens breathtakingly spectacular.  They are romantic, as in the Romantic era.  This is not a commonplace approach.  One doesn’t walk down the street whistling Beethoven.

But soon the food journalist Michael Pollan decided to take on the ubiquity—and in his mind, therefore, monotony—of the American lawn.  He is the best-selling college professor who excoriated my company in The New York Times Sunday Magazine for breeding, producing and selling hybrid sweet corn seeds.  Heirlooms had become the rage a few years earlier, due to Kent Whealy receiving the glamorous MacArthur genius grant, and well deserved too.  Now Pollan could safely criticize the hybridizers.

As I said in my previous post ‘Lawn Love’, Pollan criticizes lawn grasses as reflecting “the institution of democracy”.  This bothers him.  He wants our yards to reflect only our personal tastes.  However, what is wrong with democracy?  Don’t towns base their politics on this institution?  What other institutions would he prefer?  Or is it more just a “liberation movement” within the gardening industry?  If so, I’m all for it.  But freedom means freedom of choice, as reflected in our catalogues, and those of many others in the industry.  On lawns, as on hybrid seeds, Pollan comes across as a tyro.

For example, one finds little discussion of choice or of freedom in Pollan’s writing—food or gardening—and that is what makes him extremely popular.  He is “the authority”.  Despite their better natures, people increasingly prefer authority.  He tells people what to do, and he told the Clintons they should tear out the White House lawn and replace it with a wild meadow.  Thank goodness the National Parks System “runs” the White House and they, as well as the Clintons, wisely ignored him.  But The New York Times loves him, as do many garden writers.  He is a good but uneven writer.  Try getting through the section of  Omnivore’s Dilemma where he shoots, cooks and eats a pig, or the other where he studies his emotional responses to the sensate activities of a chicken as he is slaughtering it.  Is it supposed to be funny?  Ironic?  Satirical? Whatever it is, it is certainly vague.  Perhaps it is “post modern”:  explicitly vague authority.

Then there is “the illogical group”.  These elitists say that meadows and prairie recreations should be situated in or near urban areas.  Huh?  Is it to teach “the townies” a lesson?  Some say also that lawns are ugly in small cities and suburban areas.  How can anyone say that a lawn is ugly?  That’s like saying a horse is ugly.  Such sweeping condemnations make no sense.  Educated critics should be specific and factual.  Yet, strangely, these folks think, in some cases, that lawns are okay in public parks.  But that is exactly the kind of high-traffic space where the inclusion of a meadow restoration would be educational as well as ecologically valuable.

(This entire brouhaha actually originates in a fairly low key movement to restore Midwestern prairie grasses back in the 60s and early 1970s.  The radical extremists came into the picture over 20 years later.  Aldo Leopold was the father of the prairie restoration movement.   A colleague of Frank Lloyd Wright, Jens Jensen was one of the first advocates of restoration landscape architecture.  However, he liked lawns too. The physicists at the Fermilab Accelerator facility recreated a native prairie near my childhood home in Illinois, probably as a hobby to relieve their stress, as well as their boredom with the corn and soybean fields.  They even started a buffalo herd.  It was exciting and had absolutely nothing to do with lawns.)

So, let’s summarize.  A lawn is frowned upon at your private property, where it can, with a garden bed here and there, make an ordinary house look gorgeous?  But it is okay in a public park, which is one of the few places where an appropriate ecological restoration of native grasses or meadow plants makes sense, because there’s adequate space?  And a farm estate?  Okay to have a lawn, because it looks beautiful.  But in a small city garden? Such a lawn looks ridiculous, according to some.

Next door to us the Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO) plant is in the start of  its third year of a “native meadow” restoration.  They tore out the lawn and planted what looks like hay.  Now it seems like an abandoned factory, like no one works there. “Out of Business”.  One sees the same types of growth—the same “anti-aesthetic”—in derelict urban areas.  Check out the rustbelt cities of the Eastern US:  mile after mile of empty factories and 1950s office buildings surrounded by weeds and grasses, mostly native but some exotic.  It looks awful.  The meadow in front of the PECO plant might look terrific in a few years, especially if they get some attractive looking meadow plants—say something blooming with color.  But here’s the problem:  the building was designed for a lawn.  The windows, doors, roof line—everything about it was created to fit onto a large, attractive and pleasant lawn.

Yet, it is not entirely an aesthetic issue.  Since a meadow “goes wild”, it is supposed to be cheaper and less harmful to the environment.  But eventually it will be mowed. How often?  What if it gets diseases?  How much will the tests and treatment cost?  And there are both “critter” problems as well as security risks.  A five foot tall meadow border casts a shadow along a building, providing cover for burglars.  How much will the new lighting fixtures cost?  Would you like this problem in your home?  Why not have lawns with garden beds?

Few in the blogoverse notice Julie Messervy or Sarah Susanka’s great work.  This is unfortunate.  “The illogical group” could learn a lot from this electrifying team of architect and garden designer.  They are like an updated version of Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens, who revolutionized English landscape architecture, garden design and domestic architecture in one fell swoop.  Messervy and Susanka could help new architects work out new designs, balancing the public’s alarm with lawns with the needs of home and business buildings .

The Romantic, Pollanesque group?  They are soldier-children.  It will probably lose steam over time as many “enthusiast” movements do.  Going overboard is not a good nautical strategy.  But there is still a huge base of support for the “anti-lawnists”.  I wish only that they would look around at what the consumers want.  They like—and want—both lawns and gardens.

Ironically, I have nothing to do with the lawn business.  I have never sold a grain of lawn grass.  I simply like lawns.  Friends have said it’s a bit odd that I “champion” them, when I sell garden seeds, ornamental grasses and perennial plants.  They say I am at cross purposes with myself.  However, I try to look at the “whole”.   Call me “Gaia Man”.  The anti-lawn movement concerns me because a nationwide rejection of lawns—even supported by well-meaning people—upsets a great tradition of home life: the perennial border, annual bed and vegetable garden surrounded by a lawn, or vice versa.  And I believe that deep rooted traditions should be preserved.

So I, too, try to be well meaning.  But ever since I reached adulthood, I have not appreciated extremists and extremism, such as environmentalists torching SUVs.  It is part of growing up.  The fight is for the objective and dispassionate truth, as Aristotle suggested.  It is not a personal fight.  Or, as William Carlos Williams said, “No truth but in things.”

We at Heronswood Nursery, Burpee and The Cook’s Garden provide our customers with choices.  Recently, I was disparaged online for comparing Heronswood to Jaguar (sexy and glamorous), Burpee to Ford (A to Z) and The Cook’s Garden to Volvo (safety).  But it’s not a bad analogy.  Everything you want for your garden in a wide range from Burpee; the exotic and strangely beautiful from Heronswood; the European and Asian accented gourmet greens, vegetable and herb rarities from The Cook’s Garden.

Championing the lawn?  No, I am just trying to help the traditional garden industry.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 19th, 2010 at 4:20 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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44 Responses to “Lawn Love, Part Two”

  1. deborah said:

    thank you for your wonderful posts–I so enjoy them. It is good to read well though out, well presented points of view.

    • George said:

      Thank you, Deborah.

  2. Kathy said:

    I am from Batavia, IL, and I love our “lawn” in Oregon, although we don’t mow it anywhere near as often as city people do. When I must patch an area, I put some buffalo grass seed in the mix, along with some mycorrhiza, to help the roots go deep and healthy.

    • George said:

      I hope you enjoyed the pictures of our research and display gardens in Kingston at the original ‘Lawn Love’. Thanks for posting.

  3. Jamie Shafer said:

    Thanks for your great lawn article. Personally I despise authoritarians of all kinds, and I sympathize with your feelings about those whom I will call lawn Nazis. I love lawns myself as a surrounding for my borders. Lawns are the only solution for a 4 acre property, and by the way those meadow grasses harbor Lyme disease ticks – if they are endemic in the meadow areas, as Lyme disease is bad here in Connecticut. I’ve had Lyme twice and a friend has had the same, as well as most of my older friends who have done property maintenance on their 1-2 acre properties. Mowed lawns are safer for children, dogs, cats, and people. Anyone who has gone through a 3 week course of antibiotics will agree that short lawns are better than meadow grass around a house.

    • George said:

      Thank you very much for a fascinating and enlightening post. Please write us again sometime.

  4. Karen said:

    Bravo on your “lawn” attitude. I am old enough to have grown up in Chicago (close to the city limits), where almost every neighborhood had “undeveloped” lots: translated to prairie growth. Eventually, by the early 60’s to the best of my recollection, “rules” were put into place re. the maximum height allowed on these empty lots – all in the name of safety! You are correct; 5′ of prairie grass is indeed somewhat intimidating, where certainly an person interested in evil-doing could hide without detection! And, every person that has a “lawn” is not environmentally evil! I love to garden, and have more perennials, shrubs, trees, etc. in my somewhat smallish lot than most others on my block all together. I do NOT “willy-nilly” water my lawn (I don’t for the flowers, either!). I do NOT use pesticides or other poisons carelessly! For a person to automatically judge everyone else is, in my opinion, at the very least “pompous” if not totally uneducated!

    • George said:

      Thank you for a fiery, passionate and corroborative response. Very heartening. I even wonder about the fire departments and ambulances encountering a once familiar building now surrounded by 5 ft. tall grasses. I grew up (to age 12) in Glen Ellyn. Were you in Oak Park or River Forest? Just curious. Thanks again.

  5. i agree with all you have said. most of the totalitarian “gardners” live in urban environments. they are also not nearly knowledgable enough about landscapes, landscape arcitecture and hostory. everything has become political and some think they know everything and we should believe them because they know what is right and good. thanks for some corrective facts.

    • George said:

      You are welcome, Elizabeth. I believe, as I said, most folks are well meaning and good hearted. Unfortunately, they are sometimes misled. Thanks much for posting.

  6. Stephen Gale said:

    a friend gave me a copy of Pollan’s book ” Botany of Desire ” it was moderately intereting until I reached the chapter on marajuana. Then I realized that Pollan, is something of a pothead; in trying to justify his cultivation and use of that plant. I had a hard time taking the rest of the book, or this author very seriously. Another Berkeley intellectual with an agenda and a personal ax to grind……..SGale

    • George said:

      Thank you, Stephen. I think he is an “OK” writer at best. ‘Botany of Desire’ was a bit of a rewrite of several books popular 50 to 75 years earlier, collated and then given a contemporary twist. I did not care for it. However, I am a special case. Many non-gardeners loved it, and if he raised awareness of plants, good for him. I was actually offended by the amateur psychoanalyzing of Johnny Appleseed. But it’s a free country and the worst you can say about him is he is very successful. Bit of an intellectual version of Martha Stewart. “Good Thoughts”, that sort of thing. Thanks again.

  7. rick donahue said:

    spare me these publicity hounds who find an audience extoling the virtues of their misguided versions of what is right. should we stop cutting our hair and throw out the shavers? there is nothing better than the green green grass of home. there are few who can compose a lasting design from wild things. and, fleas and ticks thrive in the tall grasses, as do rodents and other pests including the humanoid rats.

    • George said:

      Couldn’t have said it any better, Rick. I’ve already gotten a phone call from an old friend about make-up and lipstick. And, yes, she is from California. Some radical anti-make-up groups have been dogging the cosmetic companies for over a decade. I had no idea. Seems like a terrible idea, but again, it’s a free country.

  8. Bravo! For your balanced opinion and savvy, well-intentioned article.
    Rick Bankhead, D.D.S.

    • George said:

      Thank you, Dr. Bankhead. After he got bone cancer, Sam Walton continued to fly his little plane from store to store. His adult children asked him worriedly what would he do if he suddenly became stricken while flying? “I’ll steer with my teeth”, he told them. Yours is a great profession. Thank you for posting.

  9. Joan said:

    Don’t forget the original purpose of lawns – to keep illness-bearing (mostly flying) insects away from the porches – front, side, and back. The insects flourish in the high meadow grasses and pose a threat to people when not kept at bay. Try running your prairie grasses right up against your porchrail and see what I mean. Lawns have their place, as do most other things on our little blue planet.

    • George said:

      Pitch-perfect, Joan. Thank you very much. Please post again.

  10. Denise said:

    I too, am at odds with the subject of lawns. They are a part of the American landscape; but at quite a cost. As for me, I do have a lawn which I NEVER water. I live in the Great Pacific Northwest, where the rain is more than ample in the spring and fall, and in the summer, I mow the grass high and let it go dormant. This year, in a truly abnormal ‘global warming/red flag’ year, it never dried out. “C’est la vie”…

    • George said:

      You live in the “lucky lawn” area of the nation, Denise. Like the UK, you do not need a sprinkler, and you have ideal lawn grass cultivars for your area. As I said in the 2009 ‘Lawn Love’, the rest of the US is catching up in native cultivar developments. Nevertheless, the so-called exotic species are well adapted. It is a non-issue, in my view, except in the arid southwest.

  11. Carolyn said:

    Well thought out and well written. Yes we should all have a choice in what kind of lawn, meadow, and garden we want. Too much extremism is too much.

    • George said:

      Thanks, Carolyn. Please post again.

  12. Christine Burbank said:

    Oh, George, George, George, (I can call you George can’t I? We’re all egalitarians as far as Gardening goes aren’t we?)

    Well, where do I begin? Let’s see. “Like a woman’s makeup”? Recently it has been established that not only some ingredients in makeup, but nail enamels and removers, as well as shampoos, rinses, hair coloring and other cosmetic preparations – even deodorants – have a cumulative effect that can compromise health. So the benign nature of your comparison goes begging. Nowhere do you address, after your seemingly grudge comments about Michael Pollan, that the run-off of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides can affect aquifers. Nor do you address the topical dangers of such compounds – one reason that most athletic fields (especialy those at schools, but even professional football stadiums) that are subject to heavy use are now (UGH!) Astro Turf, because agents like Milorganite – which the White Flower Farm stopped recommending for bulb booster about 10 years ago – were found to be toxic.

    I owned a Cocker Spaniel who contracted a blood disease called thrombocytopoedia – for which she required 5 milligrams of prednisone per day from the time she was 11 months old, until she died at 12 – that the vet suspected was caused by exposure to the ingredients in 2-4-D, a relative of agent orange found in most “weed-n-feed” products. So, while I agree with you that lawns are lovely places to stroll in one’s yard, and upon which children can play and run through the sprinkler and have all kinds of occupation, and while lawns provide the nicest boundarties for perennial and shrubbery beds, the ways in which they are maintained, as compared with the ways in which they were grown 75 years ago, is huge.

    I remember the annual load of rotted manure that was spread on our expanse of lawn beneath a small pear orchard when I was a child in the 50s. It made the yard somewhat unpleasant for couple of weeks, but there was never a greener lawn in the neighborhood. When the dandelions bloomed, we were sent out with a jackknife to score them out, along with the plantains and other broadleaf weeds that might have taken root. As soon as the crabgrass germinated in the summer, we were sent out to do the same thing, and paid a penny a plant for our efforts, which didn’t amount to all that much time, and gave us great pride when we were done, to see a weedless greensward.
    I am not an “organic nut.” I freely do each spring what my father and grandfather did with all the beds – and vegetables, too – and apply a good dose of 10-10-10! In all my years of gardening, I have composted anything I could (largely for the reason that I don’t have a dunping ground for refuse and refuse to “bag” leaves.) (I still can smell the Autumn curbside fires of my childhood.) I have never had my soil tested, nor can I remember ever having seen my forbears do the same. In the last 30 years I have never sent one ounce of organis material to a landfill. And my beds are so friable that you can plunge your fist to the elbow without a trowel.

    I suspect that that the origin of the common man’s lawn aesthetic (aside from the urge to mimic the nobility) stemmed from the sight – which I have seen among pastures for various livestock in Europe and here in New England – of the beautiful contrast of shorn grasses, continually refreshed, by the right proportion of animal to acreage, underscoring the native cedars and winterberry and viburnum or whatever happened to gain purchase in the land accorded to the animals. Anyone taking a “leafpeeper” tour right now in Vermont can see this dynamic still in operation.

    People need to learn about soil and the effects of their actions on the system. If they want a lawn, they need to learn to be less picky about the way it looks in August. (After this year’s drought in Connecticut, many folks learned that despite their “lawn service,” if they did not have an automatic sprinket system, they were going to have to settle for beige for a while.)

    My single protestation is against the “lawn ribbons” that front nearly every residential neighborhood. Those uninterrupted, homogenized stripes of lawn that border the sidewalks or streets of nearly all American suburbs. This does not exist at my place. As soon as I acquired my property, I began an earnest campaign of enclosing my property line with a mixed shrub border to provide privacy and a frame for my beds and lawns. Viburnum, Enkianthus, dwarf evergreens, cornus, Azalea, etc. As small as the “gardens” are in England – even in the city – this is a characteristic you will see there as well. Some are postage-stamp gorgeous, some are slovenly, but each property owner is demarcated and most have an acute pride of place. Not so here. In most neighborhoods, you can hardly tell where one property stops and another begins.

    So, do more to tell folks how thay can integrate their lawns with weighty, substantial shrub and perennial plantings (thus reducing the need to fertilize and mow.)

    And Lay off Mr. Pollan. He’s doing his best to keep us eating around the perimeter of the supermarket.

    Christine Burbank
    Proud grower of two National Conservancy Open Day Gardens: Jardin des Brabant ( a very small place, 3/4 acre, my personal garden of 35 years, the most dramatic feature of which is a 33 year old 90 foot metasequoia,) in Meriden Connecticut, and Washington Hill Garden, a much bigger and sunlit place on 7 acres (which my “new” husband and I planted beginning in 2004) in Barkhamsted, Connecticut.

    I enjoy your newsletter. Thanks for all your diligent work.

    Christine Burbank (Doyle)

    • George said:

      Thank you for the informative and passionate response.

      I did not mean to come off as supporting the incorrect treatment of lawns. I hope you do not think I am cranky. I apologize if you feel that way. My “grudge” with Mr. Pollan is true. He lied about my company. Writers should not do that. He never answered my letters and The New York Times finally had to answer for him by giving me an op/ed—which I didn’t ask for—in the March 21, 1993 Sunday New York Times, in which I balance the debate a bit in favor of science rather than sensationalism.

      As for women’s make-up, it is news to me. Lead? I doubt it. Titanium? Maybe in the tiniest of a trace? I don’t know. I was making a figure of speech. Do you honestly think that things like make-up, deodorant and lipstick are bad for your health? What peer-reviewed science is behind this?

      And, finally, I am for debate, not against it. When someone can convince me—with scientific proof—that lawns, of all things, are damaging to the environment or ecosystem, I shall drop to my knees and bow my head to the 6 foot grasses replacing all of the nation’s lawns. And I sell the 6 foot grasses!

      As for the words “White Flower Farm”, we tend to laugh at product and price comparisons with our company. Laugh out loud, in fact. There is no contest. Our bulbs are bigger, healthier and less expensive. Please do not try to suggest that White Flower Farm is somehow morally superior. Their fake spokesman is evidence enough to the contrary.
      I’m very sorry for your dog. As a dog lover and owner of two, this bit of news breaks my heart. Shame on “most weed and feed products” if they are, indeed, the culprit.
      I enjoyed your blog very much, especially the aesthetic discussion. Also, I agree to an extent on the “lawn ribbon” issue. It is a hot subject in Los Angeles, particularly in Pasadena. You should check it out. On the other hand, I honestly know of no “slovenly” lawns.

      As for Mr. Pollan, please let me say that I love him as a brother. If only he would stop engaging in extremist talk against hybrid seeds, I would love him as a friend. The supermarket perimeter thing was useful, I guess. However, I go right for the fish and fruit. Everything else is in my yard. What’s everyone’s obsession with food all about? Anyone who eats bread regularly after age 40 is just asking to become overweight. In fact, food is for cell maintenance, not growth, after about 20, as I understand it. So, yeah, he’s all right. But he should leave lawns alone. It’s not like he is some great writer, like Bacon or Spinoza. He’s a food journalist. “Prove it or not”, that is their quest, but also their responsibility. If he is a tough teacher of investigative journalism—old school style—I embrace him. If he is teaching yuppies how to eat, I embrace him gently. Thanks for the excellent post.

  13. Shane said:

    I find your statement below rather ironic considering most make-up IS harmful to a woman’s health especially with all the synthetic chemicals they contain.

    “Imagine: lawns are hurting the planet. It’s like saying make-up is harmful to a woman’s health.”

    • George said:

      Dear Shane, Thanks. Please help me understand this movement against “most make-up”. I could use a link. It sounds very “California”. I know that a couple of actresses supposedly died of poisoning from hair dye in the 1950s. But lipstick, blush and things like that? Please advise. Thanks again.

  14. Pam Gustaveson said:

    You forgot one thing. There’s nothing nicer than walking barefoot on a nice lawn…

    • George said:

      You bet, Pam. I should do it more often. I, for one, am not a big fan of it for some reason, but most of my friends are on hot, sunny days. I tend to look at my lawn from a distance and feel a deep sense of satisfaction that such a thing of beauty is in my midst. The green color—no matter the shade—is eternally beautiful. I’ll remember it in the afterlife. Thanks for the very nice thought. Please post again.

  15. Brent Lilly said:

    It is time that we get on board with mosses in leu of grass lawns. Many mosses can withstand extremes in temperatures and drought and remain deep green and rather like fine pile carpet. Maintenance is easy, as it just requires weeding now and then, and an occasional dose of an acid-based mixture. There are many other advantages to moss-lawns, or better known as moss gardens.

    • George said:

      Thanks, Brent. This is a very interesting idea. Please post again.

  16. Renee said:

    Interesting post, thanks for writing it! Manicured lawns don’t make sense in the desert Southwest, or other places with limited water supplies. A small lawn can enhance most properties in other areas of the country, though. Lawns do support human use, but don’t do much for most birds and butterflies. The ideal would be a smallish lawn (preferably *not* fertilized and sprayed 5 times a year), surrounded by shelter belts of trees, shrubs, and perennials.

    • George said:

      Thank you for a thoughtful post. I wonder sometimes whether children enjoy lawns as much as they did in the old days—the 60s and 70s. We used to lounge, play, flirt, etc. on them often. The swamps and woods were more interesting pre-puberty, but around 12-15, lawns became a social zone, along with garages where neighborhood dances were held. But “lawn parties” became a big event in high school years. I think I went to one or two a year, since I worked summers and was so tired all the time. But, throughout childhood, my friends and I would skateboard by girls in yards in other neighborhoods hanging strings of lamps and setting up tables on the lawn.

      Now, with Halo and Facebook and all the other hellish forms of the cathode ray tube, “telereality” has perhaps replaced reality, as it used to be a mere 40 years ago. If I see kids hanging out around town, I’m kind of surprised. If I see teen-age lawn parties, I’m pleasantly taken aback, like I’ve glimpsed into a magical theater. When I see a group of boys playing in a swamp, I think I must be dreaming.

      So, perhaps, the lawn has lost some of its function as the original “outdoor room”. Maybe if no one plays on it, it becomes “out of sight, out of mind” and easy to dismiss for reasons of cost. As I said in another “response-response”, people spend money on things they value. If playing Madden, watching Netflix or just generally sleeping off the stresses of contemporary life is what we do at home as a society, so be it. Our children will imitate us. I just hate to imagine how long it will take for these same folks to become gardeners. Thanks again.

  17. To The Voice:well said and quite a lot of history.State of Texas is curating the gardens of Arthur and Marie Berger for NRHP,whose noted style of Texas Chiaroscuro depended on lawns with deeply shaded trees filtering the bright,bright sun.Even on brightly lit,full moon nights,the mandalas are visible carpeting the lawn.Another reason to edge the tall native prairie grass with cultivated, dramatic beds surrounded with lush green under our feet,the scent brings me back to a past where claiming the land for oneself created a dialog with
    the wild,just steps away.

    • George said:

      Thanks, Patricia. Hope all is well. Very interesting response. I found myself gazing at my lawn midday last weekend. It was a dramatic, cloud filled sky. Lo and behold, I began to see, from time to time, the actual silhouettes of the low hanging, quickly passing cumulus as they were outlined on the grass and adjacent meadow. It was like watching a huge film. Sometimes I had to concentrate to pick up the actual cloud forms. The heavier and denser weren’t always the clearest—sunlight through vapor is surprisingly dynamic. Of course one can enjoy this at sea much of the time, but not “Chiaroscuro” as you say. It was an enthralling experience. Somewhat like the Berger’s explorations. You would love A.E. Bye’s landscapes. I love your post. Thanks again.

  18. Leanna K Anthonsen said:

    Dear Mr. Ball,
    Thank you for the insightful article on the argument for and against lawns. It will help me organize my own thinking and discussion on this topic since it really has become an issue within our industry.
    I happen to be one of those individuals that have over time done away with a large percentage of my lawn in favor of trees, perennials and other ornamentals, but I believe that this action is a strictly personal choice not to be foisted off lightly on someone else. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” People need to know that it is important that they design their outdoor spaces to please themselves. Insisting that someone appropriate that space as you see fit is comparable to stepping into their home and demanding that they purchase a particular style of furniture and you will tell them how to arrange it.

    Sincerely, Leanna k Anthonsen

    • George said:

      Very well stated, if you allow me to say so. Thank you and please post again.

  19. You go, voice of reason! Love your blogs, love lawns and you forgot to mention…so do all children! Twiddling your toes in a nice weedfree lawn is one of the most exhilirating experiences of childhood. A big patch of meadowlands is nearly inaccessible to children due to its denseness. Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be nice to have some wandering strips of meadow between large expanses of lawn just so children could explore them without getting lost???

    That brings up another reason for the love of lawns…security for those who play, lounge or twiddle their toes on them.

    Thx, Deb

    • George said:

      Thank you very much, Deborah. I was referring to that same kind of thing in another recent exchange. However, boys generally love swamps, and the less accessible the better. This was, however, before puberty. We practically lived in them. As for children getting lost, it’s funny—they tend to know where they are if they are left alone long enough to get a sense of their surroundings. I do not think children are given enough time and space to just wander and be by themselves or in pairs or trios. It seems they’re being chauffeured from pillar to post. Just my opinion. Thanks, especially for the toe-twiddling images. “Everyone dreams of being a child again.” (The old Mexican village elder in ‘The Wild Bunch’.)

  20. allison camm said:

    Thank you so much for your writings. I too believe as you do in ‘Choices’ it is the American way, and we need to preserve this wonderful wisdom, especially now when it is being so challenged. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your understanding of this, our founding fathers would be proud, please keep expressing it! A True Amrican Patriot

    • George said:

      Thank you, Allison. Freedom is a tough thing for people to handle. The great German philosopher Immanuel Kant called it “the terror of autonomy”. He was the first to focus on the existential angst that accompanies true liberty. Camus—my favorite philosopher—based much of his writing on this notion. The Bible says that for every good there is an evil; that “choice” is exactly the challenge of temptation. So freedom is at the essence of good versus evil. Thank God we enjoy unfettered freedom in this country. Without it, there would be no human progress. However, it took many wars to get here. Much blood has been shed, throughout the world, for the single idea of freedom. Thanks again for your kind compliment.

  21. Hull said:

    Funny, I was thinking along the same lines

    • George said:

      Thanks, Hull. Maybe you were thinking along similar “lawns” too? Please post again.

  22. Tiger Lily said:

    I always read your blogs. Thanks for the balanced article on lawns. The point is to think about what you are planting—whatever it is.

    • George said:

      Thank you very much, Tiger. Back in the late 70s or early 80s, the many decorative bushes and shrubs in Grant Park between Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago had to be torn out. Some had been there since the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. They were perfect hideouts for rapists, molesters and muggers. An epidemic of violent crimes against women broke out. They replaced the bushes and shrubs with lawns and added more lighting and reduced the crimes to near nothing. So, lawns create “space”, sight lines, and add a sense of literal security. So, context is meaning. “Lawn and Order”, you might say. Thanks again.

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