July 14, 2006

The Tyranny of the Mower

Are you down with - or down on - the lawn?

The delawning was accomplished over Memorial Day weekend by a SWAT team of some 15 recruits who read about the project on Mr. Haeg's Web site. Mr. Haeg arrived armed with three rented sod cutters , a roto-tiller and a dozen rakes and shovels, and within three days the yard was transformed.

The new garden has caused much rumbling in the neighborhood, a pin-neat community originally built after World War II for returning G.I.'s where colorful windsocks and plastic yard butterflies prevail. Some neighbors fret about a potential decline in property values, while others worry that all those succulent fruits and vegetables will attract drive-by thieves - as well as opossums and other vermin - in pursuit of Maui onions and Brandywine tomatoes.

But the biggest concern seems to be the breaching of an unspoken perimeter. "What happens in the backyard is their business," said a 40-year-old high-voltage lineman who lives down the street and would give only his initials, Z.V. "But this doesn't seem to me to be a front yard kind of a deal."

This is exactly the attitude my next door neighbors have about my yard. Yes, those neighbors who leave their dog to howl and who blow grass clippings all over the car in my driveway, even though they've been asked politely not to do it. Oh, they'll sniff and look down their noses at the back yard wildness, and enjoy peeking over their fence and through their windows to gather more evidence that the college professor next door is some kind of hippie. But it's ok as long as it's all in the back yard, where it should be, an acknowledgement that garden wildness and lack of lawn is somehow shameful and antisocial in all its exhuberance. The front yard, however, is a whole 'nother story. That's where you pay for the lack of social conformity, for not playing "keeping up with the Joneses," for not validating all the time the neighbors spend on snipping and poisoning and sweeping (yes, sweeping) their grass.

I have been working on replacing the front lawn for several years. I have filled my front yard with raised beds containing an assortment of herbs, flowers and vegetables. And everything I've planted is delicious, whether it's edible to me or for the hummingbirds and butterflies. Where there aren't beds, I'm encouraging clover to replace the grass (it attracts pollinating bees... did you know you can't grow cucumbers without bees, their specialized pollinators?). I do keep a small patch of grass, mostly for the pooches to poop on, but even so I use a reel mower set long. I'm sure that if I didn't have a picket fence that concealed some of it, the neighbors would have already called code enforcement on me for "excessive weeds." I'm not exaggerating...they did it to a family up the street that let flowing vines cover their porch opening (great shade and privacy screen) and gangly shrubs take over their tiny strip of front yard (no more mowing).

It seems to me to be one of those values things that people take as being some kind of comment on them, rather than an expression of, oh, say, personal aesthetics and property rights. From the look on his face, I'd say every time my neighbor looks at my (lack of) lawn, his ass puckers right up, as if my clover and echinacea were a sculpture of a big middle finger pointed right his way.

That wasn't my intention, really. I just love to be outside, working in the garden. With a lawn, there's not much work to be done (contrary to the amount of time that guy spends out there fussing about). You mow, you set sprinklers, you put on some weed 'n feed. Done. With flowers and plants, there's soil preparation, poring over seed catalogs in the winter, starting those seeds in cold frames or windowsills, planting, weeding, tasting, dead-heading monitoring, complaining about slugs (!), harvesting, composting...and it starts all over again. For me it has something to do with being a tropical person transplanted into a temperate climate. There's no way to get my daily dose of outside heat like I did growing up in South Florida or living in Brazil. When it comes back in the spring, I want to soak up as much outside time as possible. The garden is all about me. I'm like a my grapefruit tree, kept inside all winter, wilting and pining for the sun, so that once spring comes around and we can go outside... well, let's just say both of us respond well.

Posted by binky at July 14, 2006 12:00 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Culture | Ecology | Liberty


lovely ppost, binky, and i think your stewardship of your property sounds far more worthy than my own, or really anyone's i know.

Posted by: moon at July 14, 2006 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, I'm still up for the urban garden makeover at your place. :) I've even got an idea for a small fountain.

Posted by: binky at July 14, 2006 01:31 PM | PERMALINK

Remember, a small jar lid with a little cheap beer inside is the best anti-slug device ever created in human history.

Posted by: StealthBadger at July 15, 2006 10:28 PM | PERMALINK

True, except when you live in the rainiest darn spot in the whole country (outside the Pacific northwest). The beer gets washed away.

Posted by: binky at July 15, 2006 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

How about a small jar lid with a cute little roof of some kind over it?

Posted by: jacflash at July 15, 2006 11:28 PM | PERMALINK
Post a comment

Remember personal info?