Grass, Man — Not Even Once: Why Lawns Are The Worst (and some clever alternatives)

I’m not a fan of lawns, myself. As the child of cash-strapped, rebellious, creative types, proper yard maintenance was never a priority. Lawn care was done once a week, only for as long as the summer required, and preferably by myself or my brother. (At $10 per lawn every week over the summer, we almost didn’t mind. Almost.) It must have annoyed some of our neighbors, who religiously fertilized their yards and had had their sprinkler set on a timer.

“I hate that they have to do that now, of all times,” my mother said once, annoyed that a state of severe drought had been declared and the sprinklers were still going off like clockwork. “It could turn out that water is being stolen from my children.”

I already hadn’t cared much about lawns and gardens. Much to my sainted grandmother’s chagrin, I’ve always been a lousy gardener. I lack the patience and care for it, as well as the desire. Also, the chemicals involved have made my allergies act up from an early age. Also, as delicious as it looked, mother would never let me roll around and play in my grandparent’s expertly manicured lawn, and for good reason. If I ever rebelled against her (what are you gonna do?), my skin would itch for days. That’s Miracle Gro, for you.

But it was that comment, that summer during the drought, that had me wondering if people with nice lawns were bad people. Not on purpose, of course, but in the same way as people who fanatically back a political party. They aren’t bad, they aren’t trying to be bad, it’s just the way things were always supposed to be. Even if it means poisoning the environment and depriving children of water.

And so, I was kind of surprised and relieved to find that I’m not alone in being over lawns and lawn care. There’s a small movement of young people ditching the whole “lawn culture” thing, and for a few fair reasons. Here’s a few of them, taken in part from this charming article right here.

It’s a total first world problem.

If you were asked to guess what America’s most grown crop is, you might guess tomatoes, or potatoes, or lettuce — something McDonald’s uses a lot of. It would actually be turf for our front lawns. In the old days, it served a purpose: to provide a food source for newly imported European animals, who had no pastures for grazing in the new world. It’s not surprising that British seeds (and British weeds) quickly took over the eastern seaboard, or that Spanish strains of grass (and Spanish weeds) took over the western seaboard. Grass changed the look of the Americas drastically, and rapidly, for the main purpose of feeding livestock.

Not anymore, of course. Today, grass is pretty much limited to a single use: making your dad’s tube socks and khaki shorts look more posh from atop his brand new, state of the art riding mower. Lawns require an insane amount of resources. Water, fertilizer, pesticides, mowers, weed-wackers, gas for the mowers and weed-wackers, and occasional extra, hired help to maintain it all. Lawns serve primarily as a status symbol, but one that many neighborhoods insist meet strict guidelines at all times.

Lawns connect us in a weird way. They infringe on each other, and so bind our homes together. The appearance of one directly reflects on its neighbors, and can say a lot about the people it belongs to with a glance.

It sounds so American… But the French and British invented it.

Ditch that high-tech riding mower, and toss that fertilizer in the nearest irrigation pond, because our ancient enemies across the sea started the whole thing.

Well, actually, their kings and wealthy elites started it. King Louis, Versailles, and all that… Which I guess makes it even worse.

Immaculately kept lawns were becoming the big style shortly after the American revolution. A huge change from traditionally enclosed gardens, lawns were a chance to show off how much money one had to waste on useless but awesome-looking nonsense. (They had already ruined fashion, so nature seemed like a logical next step.) It did not help that our first presidents were some of the first to see this budding trend, and immediately set about recreating it here at home.

George, how could you???
Thomas, not you, too!

Over time, these vast, sweeping lawns shrunk down into the perfectly uniform patches of sod we know today — a big selling point for 20th century blue-collar workers, who could now enjoy the thrills of lawn care, so long held hostage by the biggest of the big wigs.

Lawns have become so American, we’ve taken them around the world, to every country we’ve ever had a base in. We don’t know how to live without them. But if you think about it, maybe that’s just what the French and British wanted. Really, there’s nothing less American than your pristine, weed-free lawn.

It ruins the environment. In more ways than you think.

If you combined all American lawns into a single landmass, it would be roughly the size of Texas. That is… A staggering amount of our country, which was once filled with indigenous plants, which once supported indigenous wildlife, which once made up vast and unique ecosystems all across the continent. It would have been something to behold.

Now its all just empty, boring lawns of the same few seeds, which sustains nothing but our own egos and the approval of a nosy HOA.

Chemicals and water usage aside, lawns do our world a sad disservice. Casting away the natural diversity of our planet for the sake of an empty flex is sad enough, but there’s plenty more that this loss implies. Short, weak roots don’t hold the soil together as well as deeper, native roots, and erosion occurs. Without a diversity of trees, shrubs, and weeds to soak up groundwater, you get more flooding, and increasingly softer soil, and your home starts to sink like Swamp Castle. Lack of trees and flowers means lack of pollinators like birds, butterflies, and bees, which means less nature over all — including your lawn.

Add to that the chemical soup in the water table, and it looks more like Swamp Castle than the American dream.

And, of course, there’s a bunch of dads in the corner scoffing things like, “So what’s your plan, kiddo? Get rid of the grass? Just, like, have no grass in the yard?” “Yeah, bald yards. As bald as my head!” “Hello, lawn, I’m dad!”

’Cause, you know, dads be like that, sometimes. And, for that very reason, here are some of the awesome alternatives you could have that would save you time, money, and planet.

Clover

Pros: needs no watering, no mowing, no fertilizer, attracts pollinators, doesn’t die if your dog pees on it, and increases your chances of finding a four-leafed clover.

Cons: stains your clothes slightly more than regular grass…?

Also, if dad still needs his lawn care fix, its easy to sow a half-grass, half-clover lawn than can take heavier traffic but still needs a little TLC. Literally, best of all the worlds.

Besides, just look at it!

*heavy breathing* *so luscious* *must roll in it*

Moss

No mowing? Check. Little watering? Check. Super high oxygen output? Check. Buy the sod for pretty cheap, or propagate a local strain that will probably take to your yard better? Check.

Fairy bait? Oooooh, double-check.

Why have plain, boring grass, when you can pretend you live in the Shire?

Tress. Just… Trees.

I have no research for this one, but rather a lot of personal experience. One of my favorite parts about having big trees in my childhood backyard was growing up and not having to mow a much of it. Between a row of impressive oaks, a few towering pines, and my hatred of raking, we never got a ton of sunlight on large parts of the yard. With several years worth of leaves piled up, whatever grass did manage to grow was sparse and sad.

Long story short: if you don’t want to mow grass, grow a jungle instead. Problem solved!

Try mowing around these bad boys!

Raised gardens

Lawns are all about silently screaming, “LOOK AT ME I’M SO SUPER PROUD TO BE AMERICAN RIGHT NOW”. What better way to uphold the American tradition of gratuitous loudness, while subverting it at the same time, by turning that waste of space into a highly useful garden of delicious, organic fruits and vegetables?

There is still a very European distinction between lawn care and gardening. Lawns are something you keep to show off, to make a statement about your sameness to the people around you; but gardens have always been a more private affair. Enclosed in the backyard, the garden is a true reflection of the people who tend it. People tend a garden because they want to. They tend a lawn because they have to

So why not both??? It might just be the most American thing you can do. It would practically be unpatriotic not to. Check out the link above for legal advice, however — yes, you read that right. Lawns are so entrenched in American hearts, some areas may have actual local laws or ordinances against growing more than grass in your front yard.

They don’t work for this yard. This yard works for them.

I, personally, am a big fan of the clover solution. Mainly because we have a horrendous bee shortage where I am, and a massive, protected swatch of clover would be a huge help. No reason not to combine solutions, either. Clover plus raised beds = all the bees. Moss plus tons of trees = match made in heaven. You have choices!

So save the environment. And your wallet. And your dad’s back. Ditch that lawn and do something neat, instead.

Together, we can end this.

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Emily Rose

Emily Rose

Just sitting here, making waves… #ramblingrose