A manicured swath of grass may be the ultimate symbol of suburbia, but perhaps it shouldn't be.
In the suburbs, homeowners take their lawns seriously. A neighbor, who maintains an impeccable bed of grass in his backyard, once spent a full hour explaining to me how he'd had a sample of his soil analyzed to help him attain optimal growing conditions. He glanced at my backyard and suggested I do the same.
And why wouldn't he? My back lawn has never been one to admire, if a manicured lawn is your kind of thing. Surrounded by tall hickories, ash and oak, it is mostly covered in shade, a condition not ideal for grass. I use neither fertilizers nor pesticides, so my lawn is a sparse blend of grass, clover and weeds, interspersed with sad bald patches.
My sunny front lawn, however, grows like a champ. It grows so well that a passer-by, concerned about my boisterous crop of dandelions, once suggested I use her landscaping crew to corral my wild patch. "They can really get those dandelions under control," she said.
But the dandelions aren't going anywhere. When my husband and I moved into our house six years ago, we envisioned a yard as green as our ideals. We swore off pesticides and bought a Fiskars reel mower, a simple machine with a cheerful orange cover. The website's video, set to inspirational music, showcased the blades silently slashing through grass like butter. We were convinced that this would be the way to a sustainable suburban aesthetic.
The quiet swooshing was a peaceful reprieve from the roar of the gas-powered alternative. But have you pushed a reel mower up a slope on a hot, humid August day? Try it and you may start to consider the limits of your green intentions. Three grueling summers later, we caved when a neighbor offered us her old gas-powered mower after she bought a larger one. We took it and put our loyal Fiskars in the garage, telling ourselves we'd still use it on the weeks when the grass wasn't too tall. (Spoiler alert: We never did.)
Americans are devoted to their lawns, planting enough sod to cover the state of Florida, making turf grass the largest irrigated crop in the country. To keep the grass green, some of us pump our landscapes full of pesticides, chemicals that potentially harm our children, pets and waterways. We use 7 billion gallons of water a day on our yards, wasting half of it to runoff, over-watering and evaporation.