Lawn order: Who needs it?

We have no lawn. Instead, we have a permaculture garden in front of our house and are planning another one in the side yard, and we have a vegetable garden in back.

Of all the accoutrements of a modern lifestyle that we do without (cable TV, air conditioning, debt, air travel), having a lawn is the only one that I have truly never missed (well, maybe I’ve never missed debt either). Lawns are big consumers of harmful pesticides, the fumes from power mowers contain the same carcinogens as cigarette smoke, and they make too much noise. I don’t see what the up side of having a lawn is.

The Centers for Disease Control examined 9,282 people and found they all had traces of pesticides in their blood and urine. Of the 30 pesticides used on lawns, 19 have been linked to cancer, 13 to birth defects and 21 to reproductive problems. The fumes from a power mower contain benzopyrenes, carbon monoxide, methane and nitrous oxides. And because the person using one is very close to the engine, it’s hard to avoid these chemicals.

Author Michael Pollan writes that one purpose of having a lawn is “to provide a suitably grand stage for the proud display of one’s own house.” Mowing the lawn has become an expression of middle-class values, or even “a kind of sacrament,” he writes in “Second Nature.” Lawnmowing is the opposite of gardening, because you’re trying to subdue nature rather than work with it, and conveys the message that “with the help of petrochemicals and technology, we can bend nature to our will,” Pollan writes.

Many people desire “that dense springy supergreen and weed-free carpet, that platonic ideal of a lawn featured in the Chemlawn commercial and magazine spreads, the kitschy sitcom yards, the sublime links and pristine diamonds.” Lawns can even be seen as “a form of television,” Pollan writes.

Betsy says that although she too is happy to have gardens instead of a lawn, she has some appreciation for the aesthetic of cleared greenswards setting off the beds of flowers and shrubs.  “My father was a dedicated lawn mower, for most of his life with a push mower, and I could see what satisfaction he got from grooming his grassy expanses,” she says. “Of course, his lawn was never treated with chemicals and was a happy mix of grass, clover, creeping thyme and the universal greening power of crabgrass.”  Betsy has given up growing lawns for many reasons, including the belief that the monoculture nature of many lawns is less good for the earth than a diverse polyculture of useful plants.

After all this negativity, I feel I should end this post with a humorous story. This is from Leo Rosten’s “The Joys of Yiddish”:

Old Mr. Gluck had finally moved into the suburbs. On a trip to New York, he met a friend who bombarded him with questions. “How do you like it? Living in the country, so far from everyone!” “At first I had some problems,” said Gluck. “I thought I never would be able to stand it! Then I listened to my neighbors and got a paramour. From then on, everything has been fine!” “A paramour! You? Gluck, how could you do such a terrible thing? What does your wife think?” “My wife?” frowned Gluck. “Why should she care how I mow the grass?”




4 thoughts on “Lawn order: Who needs it?

  1. You could have done even better by having a lawn as pasturage for your goats. The goats would have kept it neat, and you wouldn’t have sued any pesticides. But the biggest advantage would have been roast goat, and the hides would also be useful.

    Yes, goats are even better than push-powered mowers.

  2. With goats, you need a small corral and a stable. Personally, I dislike lawns and am glad to see when new neighbors, who cut into the forest to build homes, opt for natural plantings rather than lawn seed. What I hate are the trucks called TRUE GREEN. True poison would be more like it. How anyone can opt for toxic chemicals is beyond me. My hope is for more and more municipalities to ban the use of pesticides on town property. It is happening around New England, but slowly.

  3. Nicely done, Nick! I’ve been ranting about lawn mowing on my weblog for years. I wrote the most recent essay about a month ago, and posted it yesterday. I think lawns are wrong-headed for many of the reasons you list, to which I add a few. But I agree with Betsy and I use a push mower. ‘Second Nature’ was the first Michael Pollan book I read, and I have been a fan of his ever since.

  4. Pingback: A simple living index | Adventures in the good life

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