Are You on the Side of Nature?

As a kid in my suburban hometown outside Chicago, I remember walking along the sidewalk and starting to notice what came to be called “edging.” Maybe once every four or so blocks I’d see a man (never a woman) who was that fussy – typically cranky“get off my lawn” kind of men. Each pushed down hard on a long wood handle attached to a toothed roller, making sure the sharp teeth trimmed any grass that dared creep onto the pavement. Though undeniably neat, such properties felt more forbidding than welcoming and I’d hurry past with my eyes trained to the ground.

Now I live in one of the greenest US cities – one with a forest, five regional and seventy neighborhood parks, thirty-four nature preserves and a green master plan. But even here, peer pressure requires – no, demands! — edging. The lawn addiction has evolved from a fetish to a serious national obsession.

On a walk I once met a homeowner in his thirties who was busily sprinkling chemical fertilizer on his grass. He muttered something about the burden of mowing the lawn. I pointed out that if he didn’t fertilize it, he wouldn’t have to mow so often, a comment he greeted with a befuddled look.

I tend a pollinator friendly garden among neighbors who hire a certain lawn company whose owner boasts of his training was in chemical applications. His website says nothing about horticulture.  This chemical expert also prefers loud gas-powered tools to mold every shrub into a meatball shape, the national gas-station garden aesthetic, and to maintain lawns of turf non-indigenous turf grass, having excised the native violets, clover and plantains.

I started my lawn-bashing campaign in earnest in the mid 1980s, to meager effect. But now we’re in crisis mode and need to finally agree at to take care of the natural world as much as or more than our own perceived own status. The former, after all, will last longer.