I grew up mowing a giant, mangy lawn. My family lived on an acre of hilltop land, which we kept shaggily mowed, too spiky to walk on in our bare feet. On one side was a cornfield. On the other side was our neighbour, Mr Howland, the Ned Flanders of lawn care. He seeded his lawn with fine golf-course-grade grass, mowed and sprayed it weekly, and even rolled it flat like an off-season Zamboni driver.
Photo by Adam Kerfoot-Roberts
Mr Howland’s lawn infuriated me. I stewed about it every time I gingerly steered our riding mower around the nest of killdeer in the unkempt grass, and as I mowed along the property line, grimacing at the clear Goofus-and-Gallant contrast. After I mowed, I would tromp across our acre of brown spiky stubble and take off my shoes on Mr Howland’s lawn.
Well, well, well: It turns out that ours was the morally correct lawn. It would have been more correct if we’d mowed even less and let the grass grow to its natural height, or ceded some of the backyard to the wild field of pheasant grass. We didn’t need to be ashamed of dandelions, or brown patches, or ground-nesting birds.
As The Nib’s Ted Steinberg and Shannon Wright explain in their comic “Hate Mowing Your Lawn? Good! Don’t Do It”, the regularly mowed lawn is a recent invention, popularised in the US only after World War II. Its rapid expansion, driven by lawn-care companies and reliant on invasive species of grass, sucks up nearly 76 trillion litres of water a year, 50 to 75 per cent of home water use each summer in the US.
While lawns, like any plant life, suck up greenhouse gases, the energy spent on their care wipes out any gains. Cutting back on lawn care is one of the easiest ways you can reduce your climate-change impact. You’ll burn less fossil fuel, and the taller grass will retain more moisture.
So I win the long game, Mr Howland. And I know you were mowing over our property line.