grass or lawn? that is the question
‘One thing that never goes astray in a lawn maker is a measure of insanity, but the main thing is choosing the right grass species and strain or variety.’ (The Lawn: A Social History, by Peter McInnis)
I used to have a lawn. I never really thought about it – it was just what you did. It was for providing a contrast to the garden beds, space to lie on and for children to play on. I loved the new experience of gardening but somehow never enjoyed maintaining the lawn. I had an aversion to the sound of the lawn mower. Weeding was a pleasure in the garden beds, but an impossible and never-ending task in the lawn. And there were serious lawn hazards. You had to watch out for dog poo. When you went barefoot you had to be careful not to stand on a bee.
|back garden 1980s|
|back garden about 1987|
When I went trekking in the Indian Himalayas I encountered my first alpine meadow, natural grassland maintained by snow, ice, wind, sun, grazing goats and other animals. It was soft, perfect and lovely, consisting of perennial grasses, sedges, wildflowers and low-lying shrubs. A far cry from the expensive, time consuming mono-cultural thing that is lawn.
|Western Himalayan meadow (Wikipedia)|
Lawn is a modern phenomenon. Until recently people didn’t have the time, energy, tools and space to make a lawn. Modern technology, lawn mowers, fertilizers, etc. both provided the opportunity and fed the desire of people to tame and control their piece of land. Grass has been seen as representing wildness, freedom and anarchism, and lawn representing stultifying tidiness and conformity.
Lawn hasn’t been all bad. It enabled the rise of the game of croquet and, more recently, golf, tennis, football and other sports. But as the climate changes we realize increasingly that lawn is not environmentally friendly. Lawn is sterile. It provides no food or shelter for wildlife. It requires lots of water. I suspect that the growing demand for fake grass is already spawning lucrative business opportunities.
In the 1970s I had a lot of lawn. Over the years, gradually, relentlessly, I dug up the lawn and extended the planting area. Today there is no grass, not even on the nature strip in the street.