Dispatches | April 27, 2007

It happens every spring.  On my early morning walks around my bucolic neighborhood, I begin to notice it.  I try to divert my gaze and stay focused on the road ahead of me, but out of the corner of my eye I see it, everywhere.  Envy that has been dormant all winter wells-up inside of me.  I can hardly take it.  I want to scream, “Why does everyone have a better lawn than me?”

It’s a fact; I have the second worst lawn on my street.  My across-the-street neighbor John’s lawn is slightly mangier than my own, but he has an excuse.  Last year, he bought a bad batch of clayish dirt; now nothing on his corner lot will grow.  His barren yard fills me with delight.

Every spring, I spread new seed and fertilize and sweet blandishments.  Unfortunately, from year to year, I forget the type of seed I planted.  Now I have crop patterns in a bizarre sort-of-Celtic design.  Swirls of dark green hardy-bladed grass is traced by wispier, nearly neon strands.

After a little quick research, I learned that lustrous grassy lawns didn’t exist in America until the late 18th century.  Instead, the area off the front door of a typical home was mostly packed dirt, maybe a few mixed flowers.  Packed dirt I can do; a few flowers maybe. 

It was our desire to model ourselves after English aristocracy and the grand, sweeping expanse of green of their country estates that led to grass lust in America.  Unfortunately, due to a difference in climate, imported English seed was a bust.  Quickly, scientists concocted a fertile mix of Bermuda grass from Africa, blue grass from Europe, and fescues. None of which seems to want to grow in my yard.

The American Garden Club’s definition of an appropriate type of lawn is “a plot with a single type of grass with no intruding weeds, kept mown at a height of an inch and a half, uniformly green, and neatly edged.”  In my dreams.

Today, U.S. homeowners spend over $17 billion their yards and gardens.  A large chunk of the money comes from the pockets of my neighbors.