Lawns and lawn mowers in the news



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Susan Harris

Susan’s a garden writer, teacher and activist in the Washington, D.C. area. Co-founder of GardenRant, she also wrote for national gardening magazines and independent garden centers before retiring in 2014. Now she has time for these projects:

  • Founding and now managing the pro-science educational nonprofit GOOD GARDENING VIDEOS that finds and promotes the best videos on YouTube for teaching people to garden.
  • Creating and managing DC GARDENS, the nonprofit campaign to promote the public gardens of the Washington, D.C. area, and gardening by locals.
  • Creating and editing the community website GREENBELT ONLINE to serve her adopted hometown of Greenbelt, Maryland (a “New Deal Utopia” founded in 1937).
  • Also in Greenbelt, MD, writing the e-newsletter and serving on the Board of Directors for the cooperatively-owned music and arts venue and restaurant called the NEW DEAL CAFE.

Contact Susan via email or by leaving a comment here.

Photo by Stephen Brown.


  1. We got ours Susan, the one with the drawing. It was weird to see it there on the table after all the publicity. But I have not yet seen the lawn article. I am surprised Alan did not point it out–he is always making me feel guilty about NYer articles I need to read, as I sit plurking and browsing bulb catalogs.

  2. I have a suggestion for those troubled by the need to mow acres of grass. Sweet delicious lamb….

    Apparently a couple of councils in the UK have replaced their park mowers with rare breed sheep.

  3. I was inspired a few years ago by the book “Getting Your Lawn of Grass”. The stats quoted there were a real eye-opener to me. We’ve been removing the lawn one new bed at a time and replacing it with well-mulched drought tolerant plants. I just did a post today about the more established bed that I never water.

  4. I got my New Yorker today. Apparantly the mailing label had been torn off but someone had handwritten our address on the front. Very odd.

    I can’t wait to rip up my grass in the front this fall!

  5. Gasp! No! I haven’t received my “New Yorker” and I’ve been wondering where it is! Political moles in the P.O.?

  6. Susan, I was wondering the same thing when I read the Post article. To be honest, in my opinion the Post has been on the decline in the gardening arena for a while – well the whole home/garden thing actually. And since they cut the 3/4 weekly science page down to 1/2 page, who would be surprised by their NOT reporting on anything smacking of environment. They get accused of being so far left, that maybe they think reporting on anything related to the environment would be the last straw. Or maybe they think nobody cares. I’m off to read the New Yorker piece – thanks for linking to it.

  7. Yeah!!! I was looking at Buffalo and Blue Grama grass seeds and plugs in a catalog just this morning!

    I’ve ripped out 90+% of the bluegrass in our 1 acre yard… I just have to figure out how to deal with what’s left:)

    The neighbor mows twice a week:(

    I like Pollan’s comment about lawns…

    The average American landscape is NOT there to grow and bloom… it’s there to remain absolutely the same at all times! Might as well be made out of plastic…

  8. Seeing the photo of the green and yellow riding mower reminded me of something that happened over the weekend.

    My neighbor has a quarter acre lot behind our property that he mows, normally using a self-propelled gas mower. As I drank my coffee and read my blogs, I noticed a vibration coming through the poured concrete floor of our basement, and figured that it was a large truck of some sort making a delivery in the neighborhood. 15 minutes later, I go upstairs and look out the back window to see someone on a JD riding mower, mowing the neighbor’s lawn. 30 minutes after I finish reading the paper, he’s still back there, mowing away. 20 minutes later, I’m dressed and making some breakfast, and he’s STILL mowing. Altogether it took the riding mower almost twice as long to mow the same area that my neighbor can mow with a push mower.

    I can’t imagine that the riding mower has better fuel efficiency than the push mower, and it’s hard to believe that a riding mower can cause vibrations comparable to a large delivery truck. Behemoth indeed.

    For the record, he doesn’t water or fertilize the vegetation on his lot, and mowing it a few times a year so the kids and dogs can play is probably less maintenance on an annual basis than he’d have if he had shrubs to prune or leaves to rake.

    I agree that lawn as the standard residential lot aesthetic is quickly becoming passe, thank heavens, but not everyone who has lawn to maintain is guilty of over fertilizing or wasting water.

  9. Curious indeed. Extremely faulty / near-sighted reporting there. I have this neighbor across the street whose lawn is somehow VERY green this time of year–FAR greener than ones around him. He mows twice a week, whether it needs it or not, and looks about to pass out in the 95 degree heat the whole time. Anyway, not to say I’m better than he is (I am, actually, at least in this), but I sure want to stuff his mailbox to show him what his phosphorous and 45 minutes (um, 650 miles of car driving) are doing to us. Anyway, same story, different place.

    But really, let’s look at this democratic history of the suburb as social promenade / parkspace thing. It’s pretty grounded in our psyche; it’s pretty puritan. Funny thing is, not one of my neighbors talks to me–in fact, they run and close their garage doors (I am not a talky person, I’m solitary). Wonder what it is. The grass ain’t working.

  10. The New Yorker article covered a lot of turf. ( he heh).
    This sentence got my attention ” A lawn may be pleasing to look at, or provide the children with a place to play, or offer the dog room to relieve himself, but it has no productive value. The only work it does is cultural”.
    Offers no cultural value ?
    I think differently.
    Consider your down town park, your commons, your neighborhood playground.
    Social value.

    Consider the various options and who is going to choose the various options if the residential and commercial lawn is not made available.

    Joe Homeowner who holds no interest in gardening may choose to concrete over his lawn because it is a ‘no maintenance ‘ alternative.

    Jane Homeowner who has an interest in gardening may choose a groundcover. But will she choose a ground cover that is more or less beneficial than a turf lawn ?

    Townships, City’s and Commercial property owners may also choose concrete, asphalt, fake grass or some other kind of paver or plant for their parks but where are the kids going to play , the bums going to sleep, social groups going to BBQ and the picnic’ers going to have their Sunday lunch ?

    Careful what you wish for.

  11. I got the notorious New Yorker late, also! I was going to call them about it, then it turned up in my (rural) mailbox, no other mail, on Saturday. Hmmm. I greatly enjoyed the lawn article–it was, in its own way, more incendiary than the cover–or it would be if the lawn people were ever to read it, that is.
    I adore your website! I’m an instant fan…

  12. Michelle touched on common and public areas that we all enjoy as a community. Lawns have their place in our society and we should not be so quick to judge our neighbors who have them. Not everyone is heavy handed with the fertilizers and water. I believe in educating the public about proper feeding and care of lawns, not forbidding lawn installations.
    People appreciate options and many will opt for a garden over a lawn because they do not want the water expense or the extra work anyway.
    Every Sunday, hundreds of neighbors spread their blankets on the lawn at the free “Concerts in the Park in my area.Imagine a cemetary without a green lawn to soften the look of concrete and metal tombstones!(I saw cemeteries like this on my recent trip to Maui, and boy was it depressing looking)
    Lawns are beautiful and that beauty comes at a cost. Everyone should be able to decide with their pocketbooks and conscience.

  13. I’m with Michelle on the comment about the “productive value” of lawns. I’m not lawn maven, but in addition to the social value of lawns (in the right proportion), those little blades of grass also provide environmental services in the form of carbon exchange, storm water management, and even carbon sequestration on some scale.

    Believe me, I’m singing with the “less lawn” choir, but I cannot whistle the “no productive value” tune as I prance upon my newly sheet-mulched, under 4″ of hardwood bark former lawn. But because I’ve replaced that lawn with a garden of greater productive value, I can munch a cucumber while doing so. Still, the dog is pissed off and scowls at me rather than rolling around in bliss on her back. I’m rethinking a tiny patch of at least a bit of carex pansa.

  14. I like my grass. Right now, ALL our extra money is going into the business- my little plot of grass is where we sit and watch fireflies (much cheaper than teak). It surrounds my meager food crops, preventing erosion in the rows. And most importantly, it provides a way to get the pickup between the street and the back door. For anyone else blessed with a 102 year old House of Perpetual Crisis- you understand the value of this.

    I had a virulently anti-lawn phase. Then I thought about how much we use ours. We’re in our early 30s, which means all our friends have little kids. The lawn is a safe place to send them, the weiner dogs, or adults craving a round of croquet. As our trees grow up, my little plot of grass wending between them will get a little more magical, especially seen from the house. And for me- an extremely driven workaholic- my back lawn gives me a place to fulfill my New Year’s resolution and lay on my back and watch the clouds every now and again.

    As to inputs? I cut it with a reel mower every 4-5 days. Starting this fall, I’ll do an annual topdress of compost, overseed, and do a couple of compost tea apps every year. I consider that pretty reasonable, given everything I get out of the lawn. For me, lawn is a “functional ornamental”- if such a thing can exist!

  15. That Obama-cover issue of the New Yorker arrived on time at my house, although the Turf War issue has not. Thanks for pointing out that it’s available online.

    I don’t have a logical segue for this next comment, but I needed an excuse to post a link to something I recently rediscovered. I love it and want to share it with Garden Rant readers who will probably remember it. It’s James Thurber’s The Last Flower, available at (you can turn off the accompanying sound -– the piece is dramatic enough on its own).

    Incidentally, I’m that person on my knees, pulling & digging out ground ivy and false strawberry from the backyard, while enduring the noise of a mammoth monster mower being used by a lawn service guy mowing a tiny apartment lawn across the alley. It would be funny if it were not so obnoxious.

  16. One altenative to lawns on some public spaces is community gardens. I’m about to post on about a community garden I just visited in Greenfield (MA) that is celebrating its 9th anniversary. Organic vegetables, flowers, permaculture, kids gardens, and welcome for new immigrants, food for the food pantry grown communally, and a spot of beauty for people who walk there and vist with friends while enjoying the view. My notorious NYer arrived a week late and I figure several people got to read it along the way.

  17. As a garden writer, with lawns as a specialty, I don’t see much evidence that there is any “movement” away from lawns in the U.S. unfortunately.

    I agree with all the reasons we should minimize the size of our lawn, stop using gasoline engines and stop using all that fertilizer and pesticide.

    Here in Southeastern Michigan (read Detroit) the garden centers are reporting no decrease in sales of quick acting nitrogen fertilizer, crabgrass killer, grub killer, and the 4 step program.

    If you want real insanity, where I live in the boonies 50 miles north of Detroit, I have to drive 5 miles to get the morning paper. In that drive I pass at last ten homes with 3 to 5 acres of mowed lawn. I don’t know why they do this, but it is clear that they like it. The local Farm Store sells two riding mowers to every walk behind mower.

    If there is a trend toward reducing lawns in this country I am not seeing it, and that is too bad.

  18. Much as I wish everyone would reduce their lawn down to the area they really use (whether for croquet, frisbee, or just “laying out”:), I’m sure that I’ll continue to see an overwhelming abundance of perfect, manicured lawns during MY lifespan.

    But at least (I think) we’re seeing the start of a trend.

    It wasn’t long ago that those “lawn people” were able to force everyone to comply to THEIR fantasy landscapes (and this is still the case in many areas, unfortunately).

    The “weed laws” mentioned a few days ago are an example of that. Weed laws have often been a pretext to enforce rigid conformity. Strange that the native vegetation actually became illegal, while an alien weed became the required norm…

    It wasn’t enough that the “lawn people” had a “perfect lawn”… everyone else had to have one too… Apparently the “feeling” of a perfect expanse of grass is ruined by the sight of anything else:)

    My neighbors are “perfect lawn folks”… They probably don’t like the looks of my place.

    But then, I don’t care for the looks of theirs:) The entire wooded half of their back yard could be given to Mayapples, Trillium, and Bluebells… and still leave a sunlit lawn for ball-throwing, etc.

    But that’s not going to happen! It happened in my yard, tho:)

  19. Still no “New Yorker.” A drag. Charlottesville, Virginia was recently listed on one of those annual puerile lists about great places to live…guess they forgot to monitor public servant honesty….

  20. Thought that since I hyperventilated above a couple of times I should say that my New Yorker finally came today–weird delay.

  21. Duh. The Obama issue IS the Turf War issue.
    Nevermind. (Sometimes I get behind in reading the New Yorkers.)

  22. Hmmm, wish I had seen a pic of this Obama cartoon….

    Though I’m not a big fan of lawns and mowing, I too see them as having their place as others have mentioned … though preferably on smaller scale

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