Lawn Reform

Anti-Lawn Nazis Should Call Off the Blitzkrieg

Guest Rant by Frank Hyman   Frankcropped


You
can’t have read about gardening for the last 5-10 years and missed the
stories about how lawns have  gone from being a symbol of the American Dream to
becoming the nightmarish instrument of the corporate horticulture
industry. What had been the greenest portion of the American Dream is now
undermining our clean water, clean air and our peace and quiet while we read
the morning paper.

In the good old/bad old days of our grandparents, lawns
were mowed aerobically and peacefully with reel mowers (what a friend calls
“acoustic” mowers), leaf blowers hadn’t been invented and fossil-fuel based
fertilizers were expensive and rarely applied. And nary a discouraging word was
heard.

But
like garlic mustard gone to seed, times have changed. And as any anti-lawn nazi
or student of the environment can tell you, the Standard Operating Procedure
for an Ego Lawn (think habitat for McMansions, corporate HQ’s and 50 acre
public school sites) calls for:

1. Mowing with a noisy and
dirty two-stroke engine on a self-propelled mower (that no doubt will soon come
with cup-holders for our hi-fructose-corn-syrup-infused fizzy drinks),

2. Fertilizing with an
excessive amount of water-soluble nitrogen and phosphorus that causes algae
blooms that poison the water and kill fish,

3. Irrigating with timers that
throw out water even on rainy days and wash more fertilizer into waterways,


4.  Bagging grass clippings and
dumping them in landfills where they can produce climate disrupting methane gas,

5.  Saturating the soil with
herbicides that kill many of the microbes that would improve the soil unbidden,

6.  Spreading lawn fungicides to
kill the diseases that are generated by the excess fertilizer,

Rinse, lather, repeat.

Frank-0Lawnlet and chairs 

But as a reformed member of this tribe, I have to say these folks are
taking their goal of exterminating lawns too far. (The story of my
conversion is here in the Oct./Nov. issue of
Horticulture magazine
.)

To
say all lawns are bad, are you also saying that every turf grass plant is bad
as well? Would it be an environmental crime against nature to keep one fescue
turf grass plant in a pot? To mulch it with some pretty gravel, feed it some
lovely worm-compost tea, water it with leftover dishwater and creatively prune
its individual leaves with bonsai scissors? And then let it go to seed late in
the year for a festive holiday appearance?

Of
course not. (Note
to self: pitch story idea to magazine editors regarding newest hot trend in
container plants.)

So
let’s go a step further. Instead of a modern oceanic lawn, would it be bad to
keep a tiny bed of maybe 5 fescue grass plants? How about 50? Or maybe just
enough for an adult to lie down on and watch the clouds go by? Better yet, enough for 2 gardeners and a 13 year-old,
arthritic, black Labrador Retriever named Molly to lounge on with a couple of
gin & tonics and a dried pig’s ear respectively?
Somehow,
it’s just not quite as comfortable to lie on the anti-lawn Nazis’ preferred
alternatives of flagstone patios and xeriscape gardens as it is on a bed of
grass.

Only
a real Nazi would be heartless enough to want to grub out such a sweet little
garden bed of turf. Especially if the grass is maintained on a lean diet of
organic fertilizer, mowed with a  quiet
cordless mower, watered from a 300 gallon rain barrel, and hand weeded for
about 5 minutes every month or so by a gardener with a cold beer in one hand.

What
reasonable person could begrudge such a garden?

So
maybe the anti-lawn Nazis can just take a deep breath, dial back the rhetoric a
bit, and in addition to damning the Ego Lawns,
they could endorse the occasional Eco Lawn (or what we call our Lawnlet),
and sit down with more reasonable gardeners over cocktails to talk about some
other worthy problems. Like what can we spray on invasive exotics like
Microstegia vimineum (Stiltgrass) to make them taste good to deer?

Frank Hyman is a Durham, NC landscaper, garden coach, and teacher of gardening AND politics.

Posted by on November 11, 2009 at 6:50 pm, in the category Lawn Reform.
Comments are off for this post

27 Responses to “Anti-Lawn Nazis Should Call Off the Blitzkrieg”

  1. David says:

    This is seriously dopey. Besides being fairly offensive to anyone who cares to remember what the real Nazis did. Since the author teaches politics, he should realize how uncalled-for it is to throw that word around like this.

    Setting that aside: I think it’s obvious to just about anybody that the problem with lawns is not that they consist of grass, but all the accompanying problems (as listed by the author, 1 through 6, which are pretty grievous). Find one “anti-lawn Nazi” who is taking after lawns simply because they contain grass, and then we’ll talk. Sheesh.

  2. I have found that a pot of variegated St. Augustine grass, uncut, makes a much more interesting potted plant than Chlorophytum. This same variegated St. Augustine, uncut, is also quite useful as a groundcover creeping in the beds with larger plants and shrubs. And if you want to really throw the anti-lawn fascists off, try growing variegated St. Augustine grass where a normal lawn would go. You can even mow it. Throw in some stone henge type massive boulders and ask anyone who complains to come visit during a full moon when the “no it’s not a lawn, it’s a spiritual carpet” literally glows in the moonlight. Now this is assuming the complaint is not from one of those fine bladed grass nazis from up north who insist grass must have teeny tiny skinny blades and St. Augustine grass is too coarse and offensive and completely unacceptable as a spiritual carpet.

  3. I was wondering when the dopey backlashing would start about using the word Nazi.
    Holy crap batman, give it a break.

    Frank, I’ll be sharing that drink with you on your lawnette. Make mine a Wheat Grass Shake with a shot of Tequila.

  4. Heiner says:

    Maybe you’re simply to young to understand what a Nazi is. Try Nazism for a first glance.

  5. tai haku says:

    I have to side with those against the use of the word “nazi” in this context. TO be fair to the author, this isn’t a unique case, everybody seems to be being called a nazi these days for something (godwin’ law moving off the internet and into the world perhaps). Perhaps US school history lessons need to focus a little more on what went down in the 1930′s and 40′s – its not a word that gets thrown around so much in europe…especially not the day after the 11 November.

  6. Chris Upton says:

    I would observe that a large percentage of Garden Rant readers and contributors seem to have no qualms about the use of the word Nazi when applied to Native Plant proponents.

    Never heard a peep.

  7. susan harris says:

    Chris, here’s my post about Michael Pollan’s “Against Nativism” article, in which I take issue with his use of the Nazi term. Other commenters did, also.
    http://www.gardenrant.com/my_weblog/2008/03/exclusive-garde.html

  8. greg draiss says:

    PRAISE BE TO FRANK!!! Thre are indeed anti lawn nazis who do not care whether someone has made their lawn smaller to save time mowing. you must make your lawn smaller beacuse it is good for the environment and for no other reason.

    I love the fact Frank teaches gardening and politics. The next wave of millionaire lawyers will make their fortunes in western water law and after that the politics of gardening.

    The TROLL

  9. We, of the Lawn Reform Coalition, took the stance for less lawn or no lawn, especially in dry climates. But we also support more sustainable, more organic lawn care for those lawns that remain. We called them Freedom Lawns: free of pesticides, free of artificial chemical fertilizers, free of over-irrigation, and free to become dormant during drought or cool weather.

    Our website http://www.lawnreform.org offers ideas and resources that encourage folks to think twice about their lawns. No hysterical ranting is included.

  10. Tara Dillard says:

    The lawn idea is far too small & ancient history. I invented TARA TURF over a decade ago after studying landscapes in Europe.

    Meadow using what the wind blows in & clover & bulbs & herbs. Needs 25% the mowing of traditional lawns. Zero water, only rain. Chemicals, laughing at that!

    It’s artistic with multiple mowing heights & will steal your heart upon moonlit nights, creating a chiaroscuro of delight.

    A terrible culprit in the traditional lawn issue are HOA’s. If you live by their rules it’s, most likley, ILLEGAL for you to have TARA TURF.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  11. Highly amusing to note the range of responses to Frank’s very funny piece. Ah don’know…. I think he’s done a superb job yankin all our chains! Extremism in any form tends to go terribly wrong. I suggest we all keep working hard, continue making fun of ourselves and remember to walk barefoot on our little patch of lawnlet ! Kudos to you Frank!

  12. Michele Owens says:

    Lawns are nice. Lawn hysteria (weedkillers, artificial fertilizers, treating dandelions and clover like vermin) is not.

  13. Frank Hyman says:

    FWIW–In middle school I read my parents’ copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and then moved on to all 3 volumes of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. But I never had any difficulty differentiating between people’s use of the term nazi either as a historical reference or as a common shorthand in this country for someone who’s taken an extreme position on an issue.

    To everyone who sincerely, but mistakenly, believes that I was describing people who are dogmatic about eliminating lawns as wanting to commit crimes against humanity comparable to Auschwitz, I sincerely apologize.

  14. Tibs says:

    Woowoo! I have a Freedom Lawn. Ok, it does get mown with a power mower. But no chemicals, no watering. Not because I am particularly green but because I live in an area that gets rain and I am too cheap and unorganized to do a whole weed-n-feed thing.

  15. Benjamin says:

    Aren’t lawns also biological dead zones? What butterfly drinks the nectar? What be gathers the pollen? Et cetera. I agree, some organic lawn is great, but I live in a development where it’s lawn lawn lawn straight up to the walls and driveways, not even a tree in that sea of twice-per-week mown grass.

  16. Bob says:

    “Lawns are nice. Lawn hysteria (weedkillers, artificial fertilizers, treating dandelions and clover like vermin) is not.”

    True…but such hysteria is backed by law in some places. I think too many people forget that planting native plants (or just NOT having a lawn) was actually ILLEGAL in many places… and STILL is in some places.

    It was not that long ago that a yard full of trillium and mayapples could cost your your house, all your money, and very possibly land you in jail. (I remember one case where fines were well over $100,000)

    One law (I believe in Ohio) was so poorly written that the city COULD have ordered virtually every all maple and oak cut down (ALL native vegetation was banned!) Some of these cases continued until the last few years, and may still continue today.

    And even now, there’s neighbors who wonder why everyone doesn’t have a nice, weed-free lawn like every good American should… not to mention all that advertising insisting that lawns MUST be perfect (get rid of that ugly clover and dandelions!)

    So… I don’t think “lawn folks” have ANYTHING to complain about… the rest of us just got out of prison.

  17. Bob says:

    “Aren’t lawns also biological dead zones? What butterfly drinks the nectar? What be gathers the pollen? Et cetera. I agree, some organic lawn is great, but I live in a development where it’s lawn lawn lawn straight up to the walls and driveways, not even a tree in that sea of twice-per-week mown grass.”

    Exactly… Visitors to my yard comment on the butterflies that they see almost no where else (and you have lightning bugs, too…?:)

  18. John says:

    If lawns were ecologically dead then there would be no need for all the pesticides.

    If it’s a plant, and it’s green, it is doing a job and playing a roll in nature. It may not be doing as much as an oak tree but it is doing something.

    I am so glad that my social circles don’t involve homes with perfect lawns. No one I know would make the effort to follow all the spray, feed, water, mow and dethatch schedules. It has always baffled me the huge amount of money being spent on lawncare and I know no one that takes the time – all our lawns are somewhat weedy and wild. I never thought of myself as an outsider but I must be out of the loop.

    (Hi Frank – Supreme Bus Captain)

  19. Pam/Digging says:

    Great post! Reducing lawn size, maintaining it in a way that’s consistent with other healthy gardening practices, and enjoying a lie-down on it with the dog while looking at clouds are all Good Things in my book. I’d love to join you for a drink on your lawnlet, Frank.

    I removed all the lawn, front and back, in my former garden, then later realized I missed a small patch and put back in what I dubbed a “lawnette.” I’ll be working toward that goal again in my new garden, which has too much grass.

  20. Ficurinia says:

    I too read the article in Horticulture and this seems to be all the rage here in Portland, OR. Five years ago I ripped out all of our lawn because it looked horrible with old home. I’ve never liked grass and the return of wildlife to our garden has been amazing!

    Lastly, all kitlers deserve lawnettes to rule over. So yes, even the nazi problem has spilled over to our feline friends. The cats cannot really help their resemblance to that nut, but we should be careful calling anyone a nazi. As a Gen Xer, I am so tired of nothing being sacred anymore. Those “nazis” may be your neighbors, and in my case, I have one. I could never imagine calling him that to his face. He’s really nice.

  21. Chris Upton says:

    I stand corrected! Sorry.

    I guess I’ve heard the phrase “native plant nazi” so much I lost my intellectual rigor. No excuse though.

    You guys just keep doing it! Don’t stop.

  22. joene says:

    Frank, this is my absolute favorite Garden Rant post – sorry ladies. Just the right amount of sarcasm, all while listing good, sound advice. I love the wild abandon of your lawnlet.

  23. Dan says:

    Appreciate the author’s apology for the Nazi references. As a Jewish gardener, I was offended by the use of this emotionally-charged word in what is in the end a rather insignificant debate – lawns – considering the profound tragedy of the Holocaust. There are better ways to make a point about gardening than to use the N-word in an effort to attract eyeballs.

  24. ellenk says:

    re lawn: yay frank!

    i understand the sensitivities re the phrase in question, but i’m surprised that given its broad use, as in seinfeld’s “soup nazi,” it’s still so worthy of comment.

  25. myrecessionkitchen says:

    In defense of the lawn, my (organically grown) lawn serves as a place to play with kids, a tumbling mat for the cats and an important component of my compost.

  26. To call the people who are “anti” lawns Nazis is ridiculous. Beyond the mild amount of offense I take at the term ‘Nazi’ being used to describe anyone other than a person who commits genocide, the charge is completely overblown. I live in Southern California, an area that really can’t afford all those lawns, as we’re in a serious drought. And yet I see plenty of lawns. Not only that, I hear barely a peep of protest about those lawns. I find it hard to believe that anyone feels terrorized into ripping up their lawn.

  27. Gwelf says:

    seriously? I live in a moist climate. My lawn is threaded with wildflowers and about 10 species of lawn. This debate is getting tired, stemming as it is from hot, dry climates where people practice this type of insanity.

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