By James Edward Sved on July 2, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC (Irreverent Homemaker @ Herald de Paris) – Living on the turning circle end of a classic American cul-de-sac ( \ˈkəl-di-ˌsak\ – from the French and meaning, “I drive a Volvo and aspire to the country club”), as I once did, has many advantages, the least of which is that I had the opportunity to observe the odd grass-grooming behavior of my neighborhood. Here, the most curious and puzzling acts all take place in people’s yards. It’s not quite gardening — I call it yardening.

I have never understood the appeal of the perfectly manicured lawn. Is this supposed to be a patch of nature, or an idealistic representation of man’s conquest over the landscape? To answer this question, I wish I could travel back in time to seek out the 18th century French and English landscapers who started this gross tradition … and strangle them.

Most people don’t realize that man’s conquest over the lawn is a 250-year-old proposition. Without the rigid landscaping lines of the French courts of the Louis kings, or the forced nature of the English aristocracy, there would be no subsection in your community association’s ownership manual telling you what kind of plants you can put in your beds or that three angry, similarly dressed ladies will be measuring your grass and fining you if your lawn gets too tall in mid-July.

Without the landscape architects of so long ago, it might be OK to plough under the grass in my front yard, bring in truckloads of beach sand, build a dune near the front porch and put up a volleyball net. Without the resulting totalitarianism of community association bylaws, I could realize my Tuscan dreams and plant a small grove of olive trees in the side yard and press my own oils.

Free country? Try telling that to my one neighbor, who was told to take down a fence he spent six months building, until it was approved by the architectural review committee — which is made up of a Web entrepreneur, a banker and the previously mentioned Stepford committee. Tell me why I upset my neighborhood by not building a fence in my backyard, instead opting to clear the vista to the creek and promote the growth of indigenous foliage.

What is going through people’s heads? Why are so many of my neighbors purchasing riding mowers to cut their teeny 1/3- to 1/4-acre plots of land? Have we become that lazy as a society? Is the draw of owning a John Deere so great? I fear so. What about all those people who hire a lawn service to cut their grass so they have more time for their cardio workouts at a posh health club? Excuse me for pointing out the obvious, but cutting your own lawn with a nonriding mower is a cardiovascular workout. And while I am on the subject of lawn care, what’s up with bagging trimmings only to buy factory-composted organic matter to sprinkle on your grassy expanses? Since we all buy our plastic homes understanding the ridiculous restrictions, can’t we at least go about the task of yardening with a little common sense?

Nope, I just don’t get it. Why should a front yard in Marin look like a front lawn in Pacifica or Orange County or Maryland? Why should we all buy the same grass seed, planting beds and shrubbery from Wal-Mart? The ideals of the American suburb haven’t changed much since the 1950s, when the postwar boom gave us such creepy homogeneous developments as Levittown, and everyone was supposed to look and act exactly the same, like June Cleaver or Ozzie Nelson. It is time to break free of those stereotypes.

It isn’t as if the typical suburban plastic house dweller is going to put an old Chevy in the yard on concrete blocks, let the grass grow knee-high and sit on the front porch and whittle. Free the burbs — and for crying out loud, give me back my creative, yardening individuality.

Jes Alexander, Publisher of the Herald de Paris, once did a tour of duty as a Home & Garden columnist for The San Francsico Chronicle.

Pamela Glasner July 2, 2009

Your article’s a rush!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question: “Why don’t you bag your grass clippings?”

Uhm, because lawns need nitrogen to grow, grass is nitrogen, it’s already there, obviously it’s good for the grass ’cause it IS grass, in fact, it’s THE grass that’s already growing here, it isn’t even a transplant…uhm…what’s the problem here?

I guess I must be doing it wrong. So OK, every week I have to contend with grass clippings that cling to my shoes and my dog’s feet with the early morning due and then end up on my kitchen floor or my living room rug. But still, I think I’d rather have that than some expensive toxic waste I have to drive to Home Depot to purchase by the sack-load and then worry about my dog or cat ingesting it.

Worst thing that ever happened when my dog or cat ate grass …. well, you get the picture!

Must be something terribly wrong with me….

Anne KD September 26, 2009

The draconian regs of community associations is why I fought so hard to buy a house away from a development. The real estate agent wasn’t happy with us about that! And the looks I’ve gotten when I answered a question from a couple of people we met in the area who asked me which development we live in…well, it was entertaining. Our property has several garden beds, and I’ve been letting more and more native plants creep back in. I’m slowly taking out the invasives and introduced stuff. I’ve been thinking a lot this year about expanding the beds so I don’t have as much lawn to mow. Can’t wait till the wild raspberries and blackberries are old enough to set fruit in the next year or two. I’ve yet to bag the grass clippings, and I’ve been letting the grass grow several inches high. I’ve been using natural free mulch- fallen leaves from last season.

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