Grass Isn’t Green

by Christine Adams Beckett

An astounding fact: lawns cover more than 50,000 square miles of space in the United States, and therefore grass covers more surface area than any single farm crop in America.  To keep them beautiful, or simply functioning as cool, delightful treading grounds for our barefoot youngsters, that means a whole lot of work,  resources, gas and  money.  Most grasses want to grow to a height of about 2 feet, flower, and turn brown and die back, like any other self-respecting ornamental plant.  They have a pretty short life cycle.  To manipulate the months-long kickball season, one must dump a whole lot of junk on it to keep it green, and inevitably, one must mow the new growth to keep it at a height of two to three inches.   There’s also the nuisance of crab grass, clover and other unwanted plants we call weeds.  To solve that problem requires fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, which come in varying forms; seventy million pounds of it are used in the US annually.  Like any other ornamental plant, for it to look lush, it’ll need lots of water.  So a shocking 60% of water that comes out of taps in America are dumped on lawns.

The origin of the expansive, sweeping lawn comes from the Mother Garden of England, where grasses surrounded equally expansive country estates of the upper classes.  An equally enormous expense was attached to keeping them.  Until the nineteenth century, lawns were reserved for the aristocratic rich here in America, too.  They were kept trim by flocks of sheep (Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park is aptly named) or by scythes.  Certainly the cost of employing a person wielding a scythe was  pricier than your typical landscaper in Montclair, New Jersey, which on average costs $40 per trim.  If you consider that the lawn would be cut weekly for a 30 week growing season, that is a whopping $1200 per year.  You can do it yourself by purchasing a lawn mower, which will set you back anywhere from $60 for a back-breaking manual mower to a $10,000 commercial ride-on type mower with a Kowasaki engine.

It is no new science that the gas required to power the mowers, to manufacture them, to transport them is damaging to the environment.  And potable water is not in infinite supply.  Grass is simply not a “green” plant to cultivate in our gardens.  It is a useless ornamental plant that has spilled over to moderns times as a left-over show off plant to adorn our estates.

Swiftian proposal: let’s just ditch the lawns of bentgrass, ryegrass, fescue and bluegrass here in New Jersey.  We’ll grow some nice ground cover like pachysandra or ivy and have our properties dotted with delightful beds of trees and shrubs that are native to our area instead.  We’ll have stone foot paths to lead us in arcs around the delightful landscape.  In our back yards, we can have raised beds reserved for fruits and vegetables.  We will save ourselves money.  We will not use the harmful fertilizers or pesticides that can be damaging to our environment, or our water ways.  We won’t use more than half our water supply on sprinkling the lawns.   Instead we’ll have locally-grown organic vegetables that we don’t have to drive to the A&P to purchase, and the A&P won’t have to haul their 18 wheelers cross country so we New Jersey folk can have strawberries in February.

The question of the absent kickball fields?  We’ll head to the public park instead.  We’ll have the kids tend to the vegetable garden (ahem) and play hide and seek in our now much-more-lush yards.

Yeah, that’ll work.

Source: Bryson, Bill.  At Home: A Short History of Private Life.  New York: Anchor Books, 2011.  Print.