Please Keep Off the Grass!

“The augmentation of the complexity and intensity of the field of intelligent life.” –Ursula LeGuin

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

No, not that kind! And consider yourselves lucky I didn’t go with my first choice for a headline: Silence of the Lawns. Because I couldn’t figure out what lawns would be talking about in the first place. Anyhow, since we are now officially five days into Spring, I thought I would take a quick, unserious, barefoot romp through American’s favorite managed grass space: the lawn (which readers already know I hate; see here, here, and here).

When I was a teenager, I made money by mowing lawns in the neighborhood. The lawnmower was advanced in the sense that it had a grass-catcher, but otherwise hard metal body and hard rubber wheels, nothing safety-oriented at all. I’d fill it up with gasoline and oil if necessary, and drag it over to the customer’s property. All I really had to know was not to put my hands or my bare feet near the blades, and clean the electrode of the sparkplug if the mower wouldn’t start. That, and how to organize the cutting so I did the absolute minimum of work. (The key, I found, was to mentally organize the lawn into lanes, and never to turn the mower (which would have left unsightly curves to be handled with an extra cut). Instead, having pushed the mower to the end of one lane, I’d flip it into the next, and then drag the mower to the end of the next, repeating for the width of the lawn. (Naturally, I’d overlap the lanes, to avoid “mohawks” of uncut grass, necessitating another round of cutting.) I go into the detail just because I enjoyed the physical labor in the hot sun so much (not to mention the oceanic sound of the mower).

But look at those unsightly lanes. “Joy” should come from having done a better job (snarls the WASP in me).

Making money sounds entrepreneurial, except that I was terrible at pricing and undercharged badly. (Granted, I more than made back the cost of the gasoline, so the effort wasn’t entirely wasted.) As a result, I had a lot of customers, going up the alley down which I rode to school, then across the street, then up to next street, until it all ended when we moved to another college town.

All of which goes to show that mowing lawns involves social relationships, meaning that I have sympathy for this gentleman’s efforts:

(The identity of yard, which is property, with lawn, which is organic matter, is interesting.) Look for the helpers:

The 50 yard challenge sounds like a really fun and righteous thing for kids to do:

However, 50 yard (lawn) challenge does leave open the question of whether lawns should exist in the first place (at least as anything other than a substrate for helpers). Surely a garden (top) is better than a lawn (bottom)?

Well, that depends. For example, look at this handy chart, which shows real estate interests, “lawn care” interests, and property interests (“homeowners,” as we say) joining forces to create what I can only call the “Lawn Industrial Complex” (LIC):

Note that, for the LIC, a lawn is apparently a green colored plane. A lawn may be painted green:

A lawn may also be entirely artificial:

(This lawn looks pretty good until you look at the edges; see bottom left.) The LIC includes firms that provide these services, so clearly the ROI is positive. Of course, the LIC can also operate on a higher plane where real estate values aren’t a consideration; a “Square,” not a lawn (or yard), before a larger House:

Earth movers flattening the soil, yard men laying out sod rolls, sod rollers flattening… A pre-coronation spectacle whose horror is unseen, because even the LIC knows that sod rollers ruin the soil. Wouldn’t a garden have been more beautiful? More fun? A better symbol for what a nation should be?

Much as it pains me to admit it, not everybody wants to escape the LIC. Gardening is work! Some do:

Some do, and form clubs with others that do:

(Note the “Wildlife Habitat” sign, which indicates some form of institutional, even official, support.)

Some do, on the scale of cities. For example, from Texas Monthly:

Lewisville, at first glance, is a typical Texas suburb. Wedged in the northwest corner of the Dallas metroplex, the 113,000-person city encompasses a little triangle bordered by a six-lane state toll road and an interstate highway…. Until recently, almost every yard in sight was watered and trimmed to maintain a lush appearance. Like so many communities, Lewisville has been an ode to the American lawn: manicured and mowed green grass.

That reputation may be changing soon. In recent months, Lewisville has begun taking steps to transform the city from a sprawling suburb to a wildlife haven. Starting in 2019, city workers began ripping Bermuda grass out of the medians and replacing it with wildflowers. The city’s parks department hosts free workshops that help residents transform their lawns into monarch way stations. Last year, voters even approved a change to the city’s code that will allow native species to flourish on private lawns. It’s all part of a long-term vision to reimagine Lewisville’s natural spaces, and potentially the American lawn. A quarter acre at a time.

The whole article is worth a read, and very hopeful and encouraging. One example, a lovely Grandmother’s Garden from Cindy Derrick:

Of course, there’s the issue of scaling up. However, Lewisville, with a population of 113,000, isn’t a one stoplight town. Lewiston, ME (36,617), New Haven, CT (135,081), Providence, RI (189,692) all most likely have the resources for a similar “reimagination” away from lawns, and toward gardens (or, dare I say it, away from agriculture, and toward horticulture). More from Texas Monthly:

In 2013, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 198, which prevented HOAs from prohibiting drought-resistant landscaping. Neighborhood garden centers have begun stocking native plants in greater abundance. Native Plant Society of Texas memberships have proliferated throughout the state; the nonprofit now has 3,908 members, up from 1,771 in 2012.

Inglis attributes some of the increased enthusiasm around native plants to [A]extreme weather events, like 2021’s deep freeze, which many nonnative species didn’t survive. Education has also played a role.

There’s also growing recognition that native plants need not always look wild and unruly, nor do they have to be expensive.

“The more native plants you use, the better it’s going to be for habitat,” DeLong-Amaya said. “More and more, our culture is less connected with the natural world. Plants are the foundation of that.”

In the most eco-utopian vision of the native plant movement, there’s an idea that Texas could be rewilded, quarter acre by quarter acre. Studies have shown that urban areas can be an effective habitat for many species—sometimes more effective than rural, agricultural regions, which may have more open space but are filled with monoculture crops, such as cotton and corn, that host fewer species.

Still, it’s unlikely that we are going to restore a pristine native prairie ecosystem. For Texans untrained in horticulture or botany, it may not always even be evident what is supposed to be there and what isn’t. Pesticide use, habitat destruction, and climate change will continue to contribute to biodiversity loss. There is no magic bullet.

Gardening is on the rise, however, with [B]18 million Americans taking up the hobby for the first time in 2020, according to the National Gardening Survey. As more gardeners fill yards and apartment complexes with native plants, it’s possible cities could begin to create healthier wildlife corridors. Lewisville, one small change at a time, one yard at a time, may be undergoing that transformation. Derrick’s yard will be one piece of the puzzle.

(Interestingly, both climate change, at [A], and the pandemic, at [B] have had positive effects in relation to gardening. Displaying adaptability isn’t necessarily about buying weapons and canned goods.)

What would it take for two, three, many Lewisville? I return to the social relations in which the LIC is embedded and which it fosters. Like it or not, property values are important to property owners, and “garden spaces” are “managed” disproportionately by property owners (not renters). For them, the LIC offers a turnkey solution for that provides the green, flat surface that “the market” demands. To scale up, I think we need to remember that gardening is work, and not everyone wants to be a gardener. However, if gardens can be seen to enhance property values, many more people might want to have a garden, as opposed to being a gardener.[1] For them, there would need to be an equivalent turnkey solution for gardens. Because I wish to avoid the concept of a Gardening Industrial Complex — we have that already, in the form of “Home and Garden Shops” — we might call it a Gardener’s Extension Service (GES)[2].

The GES would create the infrastructure to hold Rodney Smith’s “50 yard challenge” but at the level of the garden. Yes, there would need to be training, presumably nationally accredited (let’s give our young people something worthwhile to do that Silicon Valley won’t eat). Yes, the training would need to include knowledge of local ecosystems (that’s good). Yes, the GES would be more expensive than the LIC (tax breaks). Yes, city code enforcement and HOAs would need to change (as in Lewisville). Yes, clubs would form, plant sales would be held, competitive leagues would form, plaques would be put up, tours would be held — everything that existing gardening clubs know how to do, and do well. Blue sky thinking, I know[3]. But I really think it would work. Readers?

[1] No doubt there are sufficiently persuasive studies to show that simply being in a garden has significant psychological, health, or even spiritual benefits.

[2] This being America, I envision the services provided by for-profit firms, with certification and training handled like or by the Agriculture Departments Cooperative Extension Service. Other possible organizaitions include The Grange.

[1] The GES would differ, institutionally and/or culturally, from permaculture, which proceeds by a form of apostolic succession. Brilliant technically and conceptually, permaculture has not scaled well. There is a permaculture center in Lewisville, but in Lewisville, North Carolina.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Democracy Working

    I am on the board of a small, grassroots (pun very intentional!) organization in southeastern PA that organizes and equips individuals, congregations, schools and communities to replace lawns and low-ecological-value landscaping with plantings that are biologically sound, economically viable and socially appropriate (cf

    “There’s also growing recognition that native plants need not always look wild and unruly, nor do they have to be expensive”

    ). Our vision is “a climate-resilient society that begins with people outside talking to each other while they put plants in the ground.”

    We have volunteers who assist with sheet-mulching and planting to acquire skills and knowledge; after installation our clients host a “Not a Lawn Party” to show off their new garden to their neighbors, with the intention of sparking more efforts to transform local ecosystems into ones that are more hospitable to insects, birds and other animal life. We had our first organizing meeting last February, and completed 4 garden projects last year; as of mid-March, 17 volunteers had given 42 hours of their time to ready yards for spring, and we have 10 prospective sites in the pipeline for 2023. There is a LOT of interest and engagement — we have over 60 folks signed up to be notified of volunteer opportunities!

    All this has come together in just one year with a 5-person volunteer Board plus one individual who is leading the outreach, garden consultations, designs and planting. She is compensated for her time via a combination of client fees and fundraising. She recently completed a permaculture certificate, but does not consider herself an expert or professional — just someone with a passion that she wants to pass on. I thought Lambert/NC readers might be interested in this structure whether or not you live in the area (Philadelphia suburbs). There’s a link on the website to subscribe to our newsletter if you’d like to receive updates!

    1. lambert strether

      Awesome. Two, three, many….

      However, I really think this effort needs to be on the scale of the co-operative extension service. If I may suggest it: Bug your representative, which I never thought to do, when in a similar situation.

  2. Carolinian

    Can’t tell you the last time I saw a kid mowing a lawn. They would be accused ot taking the bread out of the mouths of “lawn care specialists.”

    As for lawnology, I use a reel mower after finally growing tired of fiddling with small gas engines.. Plus the latter are noisy and bad for the environment. The old fashioned reel mower isn’t much work to use and does well but fails on weeds or anything long. These have to be dispatched with a weed wacker. Some DIY mowers in the neighborhood have electric mowers

    1. Lex

      The weed whips that use a cordless drill battery are a fantastic yard tool. Pretty quiet, light and starts every time.

      1. ambrit

        Call me old fashioned, but I try to pull the weeds up by the roots. [Try to get them before they set seeds.] That’ll, in the spring, account for a half a day’s work right there. The ultimate lesson here is that Nature never sleeps and also that the vanity of Terran humans is infinite.

    2. johnherbiehancock

      I’ve been considering buying an electric mower and hedger and just mowing my own damn lawn.

      $40/week for 9 months out of the year adds up.

      Of course the lawn crew that does it has 3 men & equipment that make it a really easy job. And they look like they need the money more than I do…

  3. Big River Bandido

    IIRC about a year or so ago here on NC there was a post about an NC reader in Davenport (pop. 100,000) who with the support of a city program was converting her lawn to host native plants. I have been noticing this trend more and more.

    Also, the new marina park on the city’s East End has been in construction in phases since Mr. BRB and I moved back here in late 2020. As new parts of the riverfront (formerly an industrial dystopia) are landscaped and the contours of the park appear for the first time, I am seeing lots of native species on my walks. I remember seeing lots of black eyed Susans last fall. The largest part of the landscaping was done last summer and I’m curious to see what crops up this year.

    Lambert: just *thinking* about being in a garden gives me a momentary health benefit.

  4. clarky90

    I have self seeded nasturiums spreading enthusiastically, in the front and back yards. They are wholly edible! The young, pea sized seeds can be pickled- like capers.

    “Pickled Nasturtium Buds 1 cup nasturtium buds/seeds (4½ ounces) 1 cup white wine vinegar ½ teaspoon pickling salt 2 teaspoons onion powder 2 teaspoons lemon juice (bottled or freshly … Store the pickled seeds in the refrigerator for several months.”

    A sea of green with lots of edible flowers.

    Also, “fennel” spreads like crazy, is beautiful, entirely edible and loved by seed eating birds….

    There you go….

    I let the birds bring new plants for me to peruse. I have new volunteers every season.

  5. NotTimothyGeithner

    I mowed for nearly a decade as a kid, and I learned that message dad always tried to teach me: anyone who says work builds character is a moron.

    1. barefoot charley

      At least it prepares you for making excuses to the boss. My father, Simon Legree, demanded that I rake the leaves. “But Dad!” I cried, “without the leaves protecting the lawn from winter snow and cold, the lawn may die!” “Interesting thesis,” he replied. “Let’s test it. Rake the leaves.” Sometimes I suspected no excuse was good enough.

  6. Mangelwurtzel

    Thanks, Lambert. Great post! I, too, grew up mowing lawns for pocket money (the worst ones were the fenced yards which were frequented by a family dog). It would be wonderful to see the lawn industry wither away to nothing, since it is barely more than an ecologically destructive make-work program, and be replaced by bountiful, overflowing, somewhat messily exuberant vegetable-flower-wildlife patches! I would say a small lawn might have a place, let’s say not bigger than one could mow with a hand-pushed reel mower, if the annual rainfall is enough to support such an endeavor without irrigation. Vast lawns do give people a sense of purpose, though. My neighbor mows his every four or five days throughout the summer, even after it turns brown and crisp, burning who knows how much gas. He is just doing what he thinks he ought to. I treat my lawn more like a hay meadow and mow it every few weeks or longer, although it helps to have a scythe or a sickle bar mower for long grass. The hay goes straight on my garden or to the goats as ‘fresh cut’. Luckily, I don’t have persnickety neighbors or homeowners associations trying to enforce a mowing ordinance:

  7. ambrit

    I must observe the conundrum in your third, and least ‘progressive’ lawn illustration that there is a moai in the lower right yard space. Do you have any idea how much labour goes into burying the bodies of those enigmatic heads? As the islanders all say; we know where the bodies are buried. Also, the contractor can be sued for not doing the job properly. Proper moai have a red sandstone topknot balanced upon their crania. None to be seen in your example.
    Oh, in all of your pictured yards, where is the bar-b-que pit?
    *Sighs wistfully* “Oh for the days when we had a community long pig bar-b-que after a hard days work moving an “ancestor” into place.”
    Stay safe! [It being Spring, it is time to renew the hex signs on the eaves of the house!]

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      re: hex signs
      jars of rusty nails, broken glass and urine from all who live there…buried under every doorway and gate and passage…last forever.
      no need to renew annually,lol.
      add a little graveyard dirt…and a few hot peppers…and yer golden.

      …and, since theyre buried, no uncomfortable explanations to the fundy neighbors, if such are extant and protruding.

      1. ambrit

        Re. the “protruding” fundy neighbours. One of the most outrageous “outrages” I ever experienced in public was on a “Hayride” for the kiddies around Halloween organized by a local fundy church. The rather well married lady who performed the “laying on of hands” on me during the ride was not the least bit apprehensive when I politely declined her “offer.” [Husband was pointedly not involved. Perhaps he had designs of his own.]
        Give me that Olde Tyme Religion!

  8. Amfortas the hippie

    i’m in the middle of a giant infrastructure frenzy, at the moment…cabin, extension to the wilderness bar, and finally covering the giant greenhouse frame over there, so i can have gobs of tomatoes in january.
    so, since i also now have a tractor, with a front end loader and a rototiller(all of this due to Wife’s surprise life insurance largess…otherwise this all would have taken a decade)….my mind has moved on to the next phase…which is landscaping.
    there will be no “Lawns”.
    only meadows…and edible forests, as much as i can manage.

    geese, historically, do almost all of my mowing(even when we lived in town,lol…free eggs and veggies mollified the neighbors to the goosenoise)
    but i keep a couple of DR Trimmers…one with a beaver blade…for the wild maximillian sunflowers and other woody weeds/shrubs that nobody likes to eat.
    eventually, when infrastructure is done, and i can settle….at long frelling last!…into a groove, i’ll hit the seedlings of such undesirables with the little tiller right about now.
    my place, ideally, will consist of large raised beds(a whole acre is planned)…each fenced with 8′ chicken wire…with grass and flower filled lanes(eg:Hobbiton) for the Falcon(golf cart).

  9. Revenant

    The lawn industrial complex, eh?

    I am helping a friend evaluate the options for the gardening business she has created. $2m in four years, turbocharged by the pandemic. What was very striking was that her highest margin service is maintenance at 60%+ (and she deliberately pays the highest wages to get the best people). All the exciting big planting projects are only half as profitable (but apparently her competitors quote double for the same jobs).

    So sadly more lawns it is, until she gets the maintenance work volume to the point where its high gross margin covers overheads on its own, and then push up prices on the projects to increase profits.

    To her credit, she prefers the planting projects!

    She has previously had an offer for the business from an international services conglomerate. Apparently their motive was simply to acquire her people because they cannot hire in her country fast enough. She is not pursuing it. However, despite the apparent solace of gardening all day, she is burnt out by the stress of running a business and teams of people….

    1. thousand points of green

      If she were to offer an “organic methods” lawn option for any lawn-owners interested, would any be interested?

      Still mowed by machine, but fertilized with rock and mineral powders, organic materials like seaweed meal/ fish meal/ etc. Corn gluten for weed control. etc.

  10. Amfortas the hippie

    the big greenhouse is what i’m most excited about.
    learned a lot with my first run, 20+ years ago…and in the staring and ruminating, since.
    charcoal retort(for soil amendment/persistent herbicide remedy) for heat, waterwalls(55 gallon drums i got for cheap that had that blow in insulation in them—not for potable water storage…indeed, ive considered adding pickling salt to these for better heat sink ability(salt water holds more heat)) and an 8′ diameter, 2′ high, about 700 gallon steel water trough, on these enormous blocks the local concrete guy makes with leftovers, with a selfmade firebox underneath, and a sheet of 3/4″ pig iron i got from the dump(!!) for a heat exchanger….

    i can go on and on…
    and i promise i will…hopefully with pics, if i can finally figger out how to send them in such quantity,lol….
    but i must first get past this damned construction phase…i’m exhausted…and not really suited for such work, these days.

    tractor is way cool, tho…i’m finally getting somewhat adept at it(eldest is far more better,lol)
    filling in the old gulley that aint connected to the drainage system from the mountain any more…freeing as much as an acre for meadows, blackberries, more trees, etc…removing excess cactus…and even, as much as time permits, messing with manure….learning how to move it without loss to facilitate eventual composting on a larger scale than before.
    …and helping build all this stuff…telephone poles are better with a tractor than with a collection of backs(and heads).

    …point is…no lawns….
    everything is headed towards use value/integration into nutrient flows/etc.
    my side of the place is, even now, a lush subtropical/arid jungle oasis…especially compared with mom’s part…which is a stickery desert trying in vain to remain a “lawn”.
    film at 11

      1. Amfortas the hippie

        dude i get my firewood from(the extra that i cant provide myself, that is) brought me some the last time he went to Queretero.
        i had forgotten i had asked him, and he shows up with 2 buckets of pads.
        dont know that theyre “Burbank”. but they’re whatever spineless variety the Mexican Campesinos grow for nopalitos.
        all of the local actual Mexicans(ie: greencard holders who winter in Mexico) grow those as a matter of course.(and, all their wives grow rather large kitchen gardens, with lots of tomatillos, and weird chiles and strange herbs, like epizote…i’ve shared seed with a few of them)
        right now is nopal season around here, and the native spiny Opuntia are putting out their new, more or less spineless, new pads.
        those still need to be passed through a flame to burn off the almost invisible, hairlike spines. wouldn’t want them in my throat,lol.
        good fried up with bacon and eggs.

  11. upstater

    We have plenty of fields, flower and vegetable gardens, an orchard of 16 apples and vineyard (concords and hybrid wine grapes). We also have mowed paths. But we DO have some lawn spaces. Here’s the thing, central NY is full of ticks and according to the SUNY college of environmental science and forestry, 90% carry Lyme and other nastiness (20 years ago there were NO ticks here). If we walk though the fields (grasses, goldenrod and milkweed) invariably we’ll pick up ticks, especially in spring and fall. The nymphs are smaller than a poppyseed. Lyme ain’t no picnic, even if you get doxycycline as soon as the bullseye appears. High fever, fatigue, etc. Our dog is now vaccinated, but he had Lyme as a puppy and was quite sick. He’s a tick magnet.

    On the positive side, we were in Arizona for a while and got rid of the grass in very short order. It wasn’t cool then.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      around here(NW Texas Hill Country), at least, possums take care of the ticks.
      you could likely reach out to the nearest towns animal control guy/gal to obtain a possum or 5.
      such folks capture possums all the time in the two towns nearest to me(townies freaking out about wildlife in their lawn)…although i protect my native possum population, so have had no need for imports.
      in fact, every winter for 8 years, we’ve had a family of possums living under the house.
      havent seen a tick in 25 years.

      (possums are also immune to rattlesnake venom, and eat the baby rattlers with aplomb)

    2. mrsyk

      We’re in SW Vermont. Same tick migration story as yours. I’ve had lyme. Don’t want a second dose. My wife got anaplasmosis. She ended up at the ER. We are into tick control. As Amfortas pointed out, possums are good. Chickens and other ground feeding birds eat them as well. Our mostly successful eradication was helped by chance. A family of Barred Owls moved in to the back forty, and between them and the cats, control the rodent population, in particular the white footed mice. (As I understand it, white footed mice are the major vector in the evolution of Lyme and other tick borne diseases.) If you can control that population around the house, you’re halfway there. Got cats? They’re good at this but they will bring the ticks indoors. Gotta treat them with a frontline type monthly treatment. Heat with wood? Keep the woodpile well away from the house. None of this is going to bring back the pleasure of walking through the local hayfields, but it can bring some sanity around the home.

    3. thousand points of green

      One wonders how people with covid immune disregulation will respond to Lyme Disease if/when they get it from a tick.

      Medical-epidemiological intersectionality . . . .

      Possums love to eat ticks, most especially the Lyme Tick. Are there plants you could plant to bear possum food all year round except for Tick Season, to get your population of possums up and then let them get real hungry just in time for tick season? Or maybe have possum feeding stations full of possum food except during tick season?

      1. ambrit

        The possums around here are master scavengers. They will sometimes come up on the porch, late at night, and finish off any pet food left in the bowls. Their main competition at that are the raccoons.

  12. mrsyk

    My lovely partner’s lovely mom will love this post. As do we. No lawns! We were just discussing this over a cup of tea. We’re putting the gun to the last of the legacy lawn this spring. Fruit trees and a second potato plot, thank you. there will still be some grass here and there, but since I don’t mow, and I dose it with Vermont clover seed, it’s slowly going native. We too are going to cobble a greenhouse together. With El Nino’s arrival we will probably be getting cool rainy summers. Also going to try strawberries in window boxes. Yahoo! The season of the optimist is upon us.

  13. JBird4049

    “A lawn may be painted green”

    I have heard of such, but what diseased imagination would do this and think it good. If you must profane reality, you might as well go full evil and put in astroturf. As someone who misses the yard he used to have when living in a house, seeing this makes me unhappy.

  14. tevhatch

    Burlington Ontario will pay for yards that use native plants and a double subsidy if you include swales to improve water retention/reduce flood surges.

  15. Samuel Conner

    I’ve actually been using lawns as a way of trying to induce people to start seeds — DIY lawn repair plugs in plug trays. The plugs are much more resilient than surface sown seed. It’s working a little, and I point out that the plug trays can be used to start other things, as well. Grow lawn plugs indoors over the Winter, and in late WInter plant the plugs and repurpose the trays for Spring veggies.

    It’s a bit contrary to the spirit of the post, but I’m hoping that inducing people to grow something, anything, can be a gateway to their discovery that growing things is a good use of time. Most of the people in my contacts network like their lawns, but some are open to growing other things, too — sort of meeting them where they are.

  16. LawnDart

    Lawns are a waste of time and money, not to mention environmental and ecological nightmares, and thoughtless products of capricious consumption and mindless conformity.

    These bovine, mouth-breathing apes who pollute good soil with pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and other chemical concoctions in an pitiful effort to stoke their ill-concieved, misplaced senses of pride are the principle vectors of the disease known as suburban sprawl.

    But friends, there is hope: all this s#!t is also killing their sperm-counts! Given time (with maybe some de-dollarization and an assist from global-warming), these lawns will be a thing, an historical aberration, that sparks the wonder of future generations, as in, “I wonder WTF they were thinking!?!”

  17. sharron2

    Our current home on 3.3 acres landscape design was put together by a permacuture oriented native plant focused designer about 20 years before we bought it. We have swales on our lower pasture that replenish our well water table. We have a wonderful assortment of Texas native trees, bushes, mustang grapes and native grasses. Our place is on a limestone outcropping with shallow soil, so not good for edible gardens unless you have pockets of imported soil. We mow about 2 or 3 times a year on our upper land where our house is and only ever few years in the bottom. The possums and racoons eat the left over cat food at night and we have no rats or snakes. Thankfully we live in an area where people don’t infringe on what their neighbors do with their yards. We are enjoying our bluebonnets and other wildflowers blooming now. Our local 1200 acre animal preserve and research facility is considering our place as a potential site to help reestablish Texas Horned Toads when they have extras to spare.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      sounds like we’re neighbors(texas style,lol).
      i haven’t seen a horny toad in 20 years.
      i’d love to help reestablish them like that.
      as for native plants, the nursury in Fredericksburg(“Friendly’s”, or something like) has a massive array of native plants, from groundcovers and grass, to shrubs and trees.
      they’re pretty hard core about natives, and are very knowledgeable.
      worth checking out if you need to fill a blank spot.

  18. Tom Pfotzer

    Lambert, this post is _so_ right-on in so many ways. May I recount just a few:

    – lawns are stupid. Taking us away from where we need to get
    – your proposed solutions accurately assess and _address_ the actual motivations of the people you seek to enlist
    – finger-wagging was hard to find, if it was in there at all
    – your proposed solution is a _generative_ model. It starts with a few, and it’s self-replicating
    – you’ve addressed the scale issue. The Cooperative Extension is a resource and an idea that not many people know about. The Extension – as is the ag schools the Extension extends, are dominated by Big Ag, but in the more urban and suburban settings, Big Ag’s influence is minimal. No relevancy. Those extension agents want to keep their jobs, btw. So what do they do instead of advancing Big Ag? Master gardeners. Be outlet for indigenous plant propagation. Etc. They’re receptive. They need a purpose!
    – the Lawn to Rewilding introduces a concept – fix the planet- that’s new to some and offers a do-it-by-yourself highly relevant solution. No top- down involvement necessary
    – the Cool Neighborhood that has Viable Biosphere social value will deliver the relationships we’ve been isolated away from. That in and of itself makes the idea “worth it”.


    To Amfortas: All good stuff! Glad to see you got the tractor. Opens up many vistas, and makes the scale you need to make it work possible. Also glad to hear about the greenhouse. Mine is one great source of joy and satisfaction. And it’s a black-hole of innovation, effort, stuff that never worked, and so forth. All the things an exploring and interested mind craves.

    Another thing: I am in the last thrashings of writing a Product Development guide. I would like you to review it. It talks about what it takes to prepare to innovate, to do the actual development, and lays out the elements of a life-long quest to acquire the skills, the materials, the tools, the mentality to Make Stuff.

    You’ll see, if you read it, that it makes _no_ mention of computers, or blinkin’ lights, etc. It’s about equipping yourself to be creative. When I get it done, I’ll post a link into the Water Cooler (if that’s OK, Lambert) and I hope you’ll give it a read.

    Same for all the rest of you creative types – esp. you, Lambert. Pls give it a look. 25 fun to read pages; you’ll be done before you finish your coffee. This doc may surprise you, given that all of you seem to think I’m an Engineer Neoliberal Lite who’s infested NC.


  19. Gregorio

    We hadn’t been up to ‘Murika for a while, and we stopped in to visit la prima de mi esposa in Sun City Az, where I had my first encounter with an artificial grass lawn. I have to admit that I was completely fooled, wondering where the water to irrigate all these beautifully manicured lawns was coming from, until I had the opportunity to inspect it closely. I was amazed at how real it looked, right down to having some brown blades interspersed with the green ones so it didn’t look too perfect, it was then that I realized that all those thousands of homes with the perfectly groomed yards, would be contributing massive amounts of plastic into the waste stream, sometime in the not too distant future, just to maintain the false illusion of green grass growing in a desert. I couldn’t help but think of it in the context of so many other aspects of life in el Norte.

  20. JustAnotherVolunteer

    The Willamette Valley here in Oregon prides itself on being the grass seed capital of the world and for decades that’s meant horrendous pollen seasons for most of us from the acres and acres of rye grass. Now things are slowly changing as drought and bee die off are both fueling shifts in the market. Lots of fields switching to clover seed production and speciality businesses built around “new” mixes that look like the native meadows that lawns replaced. I have a tiny patch of remaining lawn that I’m transitioning to white clover by over-seeding since I’m already a bee and butterfly gardener. Still a lot of demand from golf courses and sport fields so still a lot of grass seed being planted.

    These folk are NW specific but I would think that there would be native seed mix businesses for other regions. Now if they’d just make a shade mix without the forget-me-knots!

  21. Wukchumni

    We ditched our dichondra (not really-I like saying dichondra) about a decade ago and let it go like the locals, with wild grass and predominantly fiddleneck flowers which are about 3 feet tall on their way to 5 feet, all to be cut down to the quick with my trusty weed whacker come May or maybe June, by then it’ll die back with its roots on, only to come back to life in January.

    It looks like a butch haircut for 6 months of the year

  22. thousand points of green

    We had a lawn in Knoxville . . . 50 years ago. Our suburb didn’t have cul-de-sacs. Every house had a mainly-lawn front yard, but nobody watered or even sprinkled their lawn. Dad never used any chemicals or fertilizers on our lawn. I do remember him applying some fine-ground limestone on it once. I don’t think anyone used chemicals or fertilizers on their lawns. The lawns were default-organic. ( The back yards were more unique and distinct).

    Between the lawn itself and the various trees, shrubs and bushes, we had a fair number of insects in the front yard. The june bugs and the green june bugs came out in their season. So did the fireflies. For several years our lawn ( and the adjoining part of the neighbor’s lawn) had a lot of strange orange and black patterned wasps coursing back and forth an inch or two above the grass every high August, always coursing, never landing. Some kind of mating behavior. Eventually Dad caught one and took it in to an entomologist at the University. It was an unusual wasp whose name I forget.

    So our lawn never was like the lawn in the illustration. I don’t remember anyone else’s lawn being quite that extreme either.

    All the neighborhood kids would play on the various lawns, going from one front yard to another. The lawns were very useful for neighborhood kids to play on.

    So I don’t hate “lawn”. I still like “lawn” well enough within reason, not beyond it. There are some municipal lawns near where I live now which are mowed every few weeks or so. It gives the grass time to grow tall enough to make the clippings worth raking up and taking home for my gardening. These lawns make do with skywater and soil fertility.

    A good first step would be to take some lawns and then more lawns from being chemo to being organic.
    There are “natural” lawn care companies and Organic lawn care companies. They can be found out about on line. A good next step would be for these Organic lawn care companies to add Organic garden building and maintainance to their offerings for those willing to pay for the service. And between the two poles of all lawn or all garden is a gradient of some lawn and some garden.

    If food becomes unaffordable enough or supply chains break down enough times, homeowners who still want to keep their lawns may decide to stop keeping cancer juice lawns and start transitioning their lawns to non-toxic organic management, in case looming famine forces them to turn some of their lawn into garden.

    I was resting during one of my rounds in the hospital last night and overheard two old men talking. One talked about his “skeletal problems” and then said ” well, no much weeding or yard work this year”. And then told the other one that he had decided to stop using chemicals on his lawn any more. ” I watch TikTok videos sometimes and they have videos of bees on dandelions and if you have no bees, you have no food.” If some liberal had decided to gloat about him ” finally coming around”, he might decide to use chemicals after all to own that liberal. Luckily, no liberals were around to gloat or say anything at all.
    So popular sentiment is shifting here and there, away from cancer juice perfection and towards eco-health safety.

    The more people start asking their Extension Agency for strictly organic lawn-care advice, the more the Extension Agents may feel motivated to learn about strictly organic lawn-care advice. And the more they may feel comfortable suggesting such advice to people who ask about a problem but not about specifically organic approaches to it.

    One eco-friendly approach to lawn care might be .. . let the grass grow as tall as the laws and ordinances permit. And then cut it back to not-as-short as you normally would have. Letting it grow longer between mowings lets the plants grow more deeper better roots. Leaving the lawn taller than normal even after mowing allows the plants faster recovery back to more growing for more deeper better roots. And the clippings can be raked up for garden mulch use, as a comment above suggested. Maybe let the lawn grow tall enough that only a sickle-bar mower will cut it. Maybe there will be eco-green lawn service companies who can accommodate that approach.

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