“Do you want us to dig out those violets and dandelions and…other stuff?” said the landscaper.
“No, I don’t,” I said firmly. “I like them.”
The man took this in while examining my lawn more closely, his inner turmoil showing in his face as he grappled with the sacrilegious concept of letting flowers live in the lawn.
I live in the leafy suburbs, a place where the all-green velvety, pool-table-like lawn is worshipped and served as a god. Where a stray bugleweed or a lamb’s quarter would be ruthlessly hunted down and murdered, where visions of dandelion fluff blowing in from elsewhere haunt the dreams of the grass-obsessed home-owner. Where the big bucks are spent for International Harvester-sized sit-upon mowers, herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers, all to groom, feed, water, and maintain the monoculture of grass. Grass. Grass is not a plant. It is an animal. It is a cash cow.
I have no grass. Or little grass. It is true that my spouse re-seeds the lawn with grass when the mood takes him in September; and grass emerges, tender and lusciously green. By the next summer there is no longer any grass. Or little grass. There is crabgrass and violets and clover and bugleweed and dandelions and God knows what-all else. It is green sprinkled with white and blue and yellow and purple in May. You can tread on it. You can mow it. It is my lawn.
Grass lawns are good in Great Britain. It is cooler there, and it rains a lot more. Big British Lawns are populated by sheep, who keep them trimmed down. Grass lawns are not good in New England. It is too hot. Grass lawns want to go dormant and brown in the summer. Eternal vigilance and loads of toxic chemicals keep grass from being crowded out by plants that love living in New England. Those plants who have displaced the grass in my lawn are real plants; they survive on their own, with sunshine and water and dirt being the only contribution from me.
I do have to mow it. I always wondered why those grass breeders have never come up with a dwarf species that stops growing at three inches, and holds its own against crabgrass. I am sure that will never happen, because the lawn-care and lawnmower industries would quietly assassinate anybody who threatened their cash cow.
Think of all the great things suburbanites could do if they kicked the grass habit. Vegetable and flower gardens, wildflower meadows with mowed pathways, astroturf, Japanese sand and rock gardens. But no. We have drunk the Kool-Ade; the all-grass lawn is a sign of respectability, financial success, and the Puritan Ethic. It is a a holy grail to be struggled for and worried over day and night. Labor-intensive though it may be, costly though it may be, crazy though it may be, stupid though it may be, we pour cash and labor (our own or the labor of those nice guys from Guatemala) into our grass lawns. We resent and silently curse the neighbors who have violets and dandelions spangling their lawns. That would be my lawn…