Guest Blog: Lawn ‘Care’
By Jane Wingate
The people in my town are well educated—claiming, among them, enough fancy college degrees to have kept a small university aﬂoat. In pursuit of the healthy, sensible life, they engage in all forms of aerobic exercise, monitor their cholesterol levels and their daily ﬁber intake, serving wholesome raw-vegetable platters at every party, scorning foods containing chemical additives.
The people in my town take good care of their children, giving them the best available health care, making sure their teeth are perfectly straight and their psyches coddled. The children in my town are not just Above Average, but Gifted and Talented. All the Test Results prove it.
The people in my town are steadfast in their support of groups that save whales and seal pups, and talk knowledgeably and with concern about the vanishing wilderness, the pollution of our air and water, the greenhouse effect that may cook us all. They have righteously declared our town a “nuclear-free zone.” And being well informed, they know that we are blowing off the ozone (which the human race just happens to need to keep from being fried to a cancerous crisp) twice as fast as originally predicted: 3%–5% of the ozone layer over the United States is already gone forever. You can be sure the people in my town grasp the signiﬁcance of that.
Yet, even though they are well-informed and concerned about the earth’s fragile ecosystem, many of the people in my town do a strange thing.
It seems that Beautiful Lawns are very important to them. To them, a Beautiful Lawn is a horticultural monoculture, arrived at by smothering every square inch of ground around their houses with pesticides and herbicides designed to wipe out all living organisms except lush blades of emerald-green grass.
So eager are they to have astroturf lawns, the people in my town hire experts, lawn “doctors” who diagnose what lawns need, prescribe remedies, and at various intervals during the year, invade neighborhoods in their aseptic-looking portable-Auschwitz tanker-trucks. The doctors drag out hoses and saturate lawns with chemicals bearing unpleasant-sounding names: bensulide, Oftanol, Trimec, mecoprop and dicamba. When asked, the lawn doctors testily assure the people of my town that their chemical soups are harmless to man and beast. That’s what they used to say about DDT, chlordane, chloroﬂuorocarbons, and a cauldron of other poisons whose gruesome effects we have only begun to understand.
The people in my town must remember a time when there were no lawn doctors. When all lawns came up green in the spring, turned brown in the heat of high summer, and came up green again the next spring. When folks subscribed to a laissez-faire policy of lawn management, pretty much letting what wanted to grow, grow. And when, as a result, wildﬂowers appeared, each in its own time: dandelions, henbit, gill-over-the-ground, speedwells, moth mulleins, chickweed, scarlet pimpernels, wood sorrel, clover, cinquefoils, yarrows, an occasional clump of daisies and Queen Anne’s lace—all as beautiful as their names. There was one simple rule: when the lawn started to look scruffy, you mowed it. And you knew not to scalp it in August.
What made the people in my town decide to tinker with that happy process, to wipe out all that diversity with a Love Canal of chemicals?
The above the essay first ran in the Baltimore Evening Sun in July, 1988, and again in Wingate’s 2007 collection of essays, “The Toilet Papers, Pieces Just the Right Length,” available at www.janewingate.com.