Saturday, January 31, 2009


A "smooth closely-shaven surface of grass is by far the most essential element of beauty on the grounds of a suburban house."
-Frank J. Scott in The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds, 1870

"May God have mercy on Mr. Scott's soul."
-David Quammen in "The Boilerplate Rhino: Rethinking the Lawn," 2000

Early in my adult life, I made a pact with myself that I would never live in a home that required taking care of a lawn. Nor would I escape the task by having a lawn and simply hiring someone else to take care of it for me. For twenty five years, I was successful, living in houses that were either surrounded by natural vegetation or had no yard at all (a few apartments and dorm rooms) or were covered by snow seven months of the year so lawns didn't really matter. It wasn't until I moved to Phoenix, AZ in 2003 that I wound up breaking the pact and rolling out 500 square feet of turf in the back yard of our tract home. Fortunately, this tiny patch of grass could be managed with a non-motorized push mower, but that was the only conciliation. Otherwise, I had become enslaved, just as I feared would happen.

Not only did the Phoenix lawn require weeding, edging, fertilizing and mowing to maintain it's "smooth closely-shaven surface," our location in one of the driest climates in North America requires an excess of piped in water that seemed obscene from my environmental conservationist point of view. On top of all that, the extremes of Phoenix's climate also recommend a bi-annual regime of re-seeding with cold tolerant rye grass in October and boosting the thirsty but heat tolerant Bermuda grass in the summer. Under my less than meticulous care, this essential element of our suburban landscape became a patchy, ragged, weedy mess in less than a year. The doves gobbled up the first seeding of rye, and added their excrement to the scene.

After three years of this love-hate relationship (love the soft green oxygen producing living beings that are grass/hate the water wasting, invasive weediness and constant maintenance required to keep it all looking good) I cut off the water supply to our patch of lawn and let it die a slow and hopefully not too painful death. Within a year our backyard became a dust bin.

Until two weeks ago. With benevolent intentions to stimulate the local economy while restoring the suburban concept of beauty to our backyard, I had a couple of guys come out and roll out some new turf. Only this turf is called SynLawn. It is made out of fossil fuels, I presume, and requires no watering. No weeding, no edging, no fertilizing. No bi-annual switch of dominant species to deal with the heat or cold. Our new lawn feels soft underfoot and always look perfectly manicured, perfectly green. An added bonus is that when you want to go out and have a picnic, read a book, stretch, or sleep out for the night on your synthetic lawn, you will never have to wait for it to dry off from being watered or surprised when the sprinkler systems turns on. If it gets too many leaves or dust, you can vaccuum it.

At first I had to laugh at myself for indulging in such frivolous conventionalism, since being frivolous and conventional are counter to my creed. But after getting over that, I am SynLawns new best salesperson! I love it! For a SynLawn dealer near you, log onto and tell them I sent you. You will get a big kick out of their grass covered promo truck!

P.S. In the photos at the top, the one on the lower left is living grass. On the upper right is SynLawn. Could you tell the difference?


Allan Stellar said...

Gosh Kathy,

This one astounds me. Yeah, I know it is green and all, but I sort of feel the same ambivalence about plastic lumber products.

It is sort of like what Michael Pollan says: "if your great grandmother wouldn't recognize it, then don't eat it."

You have surprised me with your enthusiasm!

Jackijo said...

Hmm, I am still have mixed feelings about it. I am glad you have found a solution. I did dig out about 1/4 of my lawn last year, but I still have a big patch that I love. I decided to not use pesticides and only organic fertilizer, so my lawn is less than perfect. I loved watching the birds eat the rye, so that was worth the seeding and it needed almost no watering this year with all the rain. However, now I have to decide what to do about the summer grass. Thanks for making me thing through this anyway.

Katherine Darrow said...

Yeah, I know. I surprised myself too. It's totally out of character. Almost like getting silicone implants.
But, in this environment....this suburban environment....the fake turf actually makes sense in a weird way.
The other options: real grass that uses lots of water in this really dry environment; rocks, which are just not very fun to walk or play on; dirt, which fills my house with dust; sand, which the cats use for a litter box; or flagstone/bricks which are pretty much like plastic turf, but hard as a rock...because they are rocks. We also, sadly, have to think about "resale value" because, Lord help me, we do not plan to stay in this location a whole lot longer if we can help it. Actually, we only put fake grass on 300 square feet. The other 200 are being made into brick patio to have a fire pan for all of our pagan rituals. :)