Lawns are just SO Out


"What’s the point of having a big old lawn anyway," asked Monica Jackson, 36.  "I hate mowing and being outside with all those bugs and weeds."  Thus are small lawns now viewed as an asset, part of a "low-maintenance lifestyle" being marketed by realtors, I learned in today’s Washington Post.

America’s obsession with the lawn apparently began as people came out of the Depression and wanted to show their wealth with gentry-emulating lawns, but now this status symbol has become a "burdensome chore."  And an acknowledgement of the sorry state of the American landscape, such as it is, is exactly in line with what’s called New Urbanism and its star principle – smart growth.  Its star community – Seaside, Florida – is practically lawnless.

Notice how well this segues from Michele’s article today about the Ecopolis?  I say yes, let people who don’t care about land not have any; they’re happier in tall boxes, anyway.  But let’s the rest of us put our land to better use than just lawn and hard surfaces.  Personally, I’m a big proponent of stuffing the space with gorgeous, healthy plants with hundreds of different names.  Gardening matters, ya know.


  1. I spent the day drinking up the brilliant green of my lawn after a week of rain. I lived too many years in the desert not to love a lawn.

    I believe the history of the American lawn predates the Depression. According to Michael Pollan, anyway, you can blame Frank J. Scott and his 1870 book The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds for turning the front yards of suburbia into a collective landscape. The intent was to create a visual “commons”–one yard blending into the other. To enclose your front yard with a fence and a cottage style garden was disparaged as “undemocratic” and “unchristian” and “unneighborly”.

  2. The worst thing about lawns is the sound of the machines that mow them. As a result, I use a completely ineffectual reel mower. It doesn’t cut the grass, but it is building up my arm muscles.

  3. Word. A lot of people put a great deal of time, money and worry into their lawns, usually in climates where turfgrass doesn’t belong. And for what? A big, featurless expanse of green boring. The street I grew up on soured me to lawns forever. The homeowners in that neighborhood shunned my household for our creative native grass landscaping. And what did they use their lawns for? Nothing. Don’t walk on it! Those diagonal parallel tracks from the mower are just right. Don’t let your children roll around it it, it’s just been sprayed. Ick. It’s an obsessive practice of control, diametrically opposed to the gardener’s philosophy of viviculture.

  4. I’ll stop short of saying I hate lawns, because I know many people enjoy them… but personally, I too would rather have diverse spaces of trees and plants as opposed to great swaths of water-gulping lawns. If I’m going to have a patch of grass, I want that grass to be growing free and tall, well above my head, complete with wildflowers! 😉

  5. This is strange. “What’s the point of having a big old lawn anyway,” asked Monica Jackson, 36. “I hate mowing and being outside with all those bugs and weeds.” So are we supposed to be glad that while Monica is not going to plant, or care for a lawn, she will instead stay inside and run the air conditioner all day? Even more crazy is why they even bothered to put in the little 14” lawn. The picture from the article shows a power lawn mower that is getting ready to cut that piece of “insanity.”

    I can’t stand the new subdivisions going in around the lower foothills. Each has its piece of lawn out front, two or three trees, and sprinkling of shrubs. These new subdivisions are almost creepy in their “sameness.” Besides, why put the lawn in front? If it’s for kids it should be in the back yard.

    Lawns are used way to much by residents and landscape contractors who just don’t have the imagination to do anything else. These new subdivisions would be better served if they would quit putting a lawn in front of every house, and concentrated on trying to create a somewhat unique landscape for each home, so as to create some sort of individuality.

    I have a lawn at the garden center which I love. Frisbee, softball, garden workshops, picnics, and other fun times are had on the lawn. Worried about the power mower spewing smoke in the air? Get a people powered one. Chemicals and synthetic fertilizers got you down? Use E.B. Stone Organic fertilizer, and just quit using chemicals. Yes, you might have to go out and get down on your hands and knees, amongst those “bugs and weeds”, to pull some crabgrass, but that’s what gardening is about.
    Here in California, where you have to irrigate in the summer, you can plant a low water using ‘fescue’ lawn. You might use less water than is evaporating from the swimming pool out back.

    Lawns are not bad, the misuse of lawns is, as well as the insistence that they be made perfect by people who don’t want to put the time in to keep them that way. Hence the use of lawn care companies who only come to the house once a week, and rely on chemicals to control weeds and disease. My lawn has a healthy dose of clover and a few other weeds sprinkled in. They don’t bother me, and really doesn’t detract from the appearance.

  6. Sorry Susan but I had to bite. Is grass not a plant? Is a manicured lawn not a gardening achievement?

    It’s like all the gardening wanna-be’s have it out for lawn because they can’t yet push a button and have it on tap.

    I’m a big fan of lawns because I have kids who love to kick a football or play cricket (British Empire nonsense sport).

    Maintaining a lawn is a skill just as much as growing exhibition dahlia’s. If you don’t want one then pour concrete.

  7. I recently dug up the lawn in front of my house and replaced it with a vegetable garden. I’ve had a lot of comments from people about it, mostly positive, but by far the most common thing I hear from people is that they would be afraid to do it because somebody might come along and steal their vegetables, or vandalize their plants. It’s really strange because this is a very safe, low crime neighborhood. Sadly, too many people view that space out in front of their house as a kind of moat protecting them from that big bad evil world that lies just beyond.

  8. Wow, that is a fascinating observation. The lawn as a moat protecting people from their neighbors, from the unnamed threats lurking just outside. I think you’re on to something.

    We live in a time of relative peace and low crime, but we are all so afraid all the time, aren’t we? I can’t remember the last time I heard a parent say, “Kids, go outside and play.” Like–get out of here–go run around the neighborhood. Just doesn’t happen anymore! We lock ourselves and our cars up tight and we run inside.

    I get people picking flowers out of my front yard, but I grow the kind of free-flowing, abundant flowers that aren’t bothered by a snip now and then. Took me a while to make that attitude adjustment, but I got there.

  9. Interesting re: plant stealing…

    There has been a lot of reports on plants being stolen in the DC area. And I do mean, established plants in the ground. There have been cases where those fly-by-night peeps from the suburbs coming into the city and get all these plants from front yards, so that they can sell the plants on the black market. Crazy!

    My sense is, if they are that desperate, come have my plants. At least I know I am contribute to others’ happiness. But then I might be among the few who share hold this philosophy. 😉

  10. Hah! Okay this post is a bit dated but I totally agree with you! My mom started her “no lawn garden” 2 years ago and most neighbours didn’t comment very nicely – it was common sense to have a lawn! Now, when I look into other peoples gardens as I go for a walk I see more and more “all beautiful plants”-gardens with a nice mulching on the soil. Great post!

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