I've tapped into a mysterious trend that has me intrigued. The strong affinity the men in my family have for their lawn. It falls under the same ritualistic phenomenon as the smile on their face while carving a turkey or the thrill they experience when reaching for a can of WD-40. Curious. In many ways, I believe that their lawn poses as an extension of themselves. Their technical approach to maintenance, practice and dedication are all quite telling.
To shed some light on this, I've formulated a number of personalities that I believe are the skeletal system to this group. I will affectionately refer to each of them as my lawn lovers. It is important to note that no lawn lover is identical; it is a unique combination of these four personalities that make up each lawn lover. They are as follows:
a) The Rambo: These are diehards who thrive on spurring with the wild. Jerry cans stand at attention to resuscitate his arsenal of power tools and he probably has a bunker filled with illegal supplies of DDT.
b)The Bear Grylls: The outdoor enthusiast that wants to be at one with nature. A sensible composter, he harvests rainwater to irrigate his grass (from seed) and wears pants that unzip into shorts.
c)The Donald Trump: Financially focused, this lawn lover seeks order and regulation over said investment. He nickel and dimes the highschooler that currently cuts his lawn.
d) The Quincy MD: He relies on the olfactory science of fresh cut grass to relieve stress. Swelling with pride as he admires the yard from his barbeque perch, he also enjoys the benefits of aerobic exercise while pushing his old school mower.
Clearly the mingling of these personalities creates a complex bunch and I've been puzzled by them for years. In the 80's I can vividly remember the words my mother used when the hardware store delivered the tractor my father had purchased to maintain his green suburban swath. (Looking back perhaps this was to balance his x chromosome as she had just introduced an 8 foot professional grade loom to the family room. It was so impressive that it could have severely compromised the GNP of a small foreign textile country had she actually used it). While every family has its own quirks, I don't believe that this is an isolated incident of lawn fever. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you knew a couple of lawn lovers yourself.
Lawn lovers are easy to recognize. Typically, their dabblings in the world of nature begin and end at the lawn(unless they re strong Rambos and are able to implement a power tool; weed whacker, chipper, chain saw, blower....you get the picture.) For the most part, lawn care is their forte and the tasks of flowers and beautification fall to the non mower sect. Not even a Donald Trumper would say "Ralph, your perennials look so full bodied and lively. What a dazzling array of color and attention to scale. Who does your flowers?" Nope, it's all about the lawn. None of these lawn lovers weed, plant bulbs, dress window boxes or fill urns.
Frankly, I'm quite happy with this division of labor as the meadow of succession model isn't my thing and my To Do List in the garden is suffering from the shoe cobbler’s son syndrome. On behalf of the non lawners, may I extend a nod of thanks to those who cut it themselves or organize a sturdy team to do so. In appreciation and respect I thought that it would be interesting to do an introspective of lawn and perhaps unearth answers to this enigma.
Looking into the history of lawn one learns that this hobby is not innate but a tempestuously honed craft. It wasn't until the industrial revolution that the concept of a green yard was introduced to America. (Thinking back, Michael Landon was never filmed on the prairie with a John Deere in the paddock or creating a pathway to the swimming hole with a Toro.) The English gardens with their green clipped swaths impressed the wealthy American Donald Trumpers travelling abroad and upon their return, a demand for grass lawns was born. In 1915 the U.S Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Golf Association penned an appropriate mix of grass seed and the industry of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers followed. This would be the conception of the classically trained DDT lawn lover’s movement, and the Rambos.
Technology has also helped the longevity of this past time. In 1919 the power mower was introduced but very cost prohibitive to the average American family. During WWII when most of the lawn lovers went to war, Rosie the Riveter was left to tend to the yard. When the soldiers arrived home, their hobby was on the brink of extinction. Men were less inclined to cut the grass with spindly push mowers after they had been exposed to the torque of military tanks, all terrain jeeps and powerful bombers. Thankfully, in their absence the price of power mowers had dropped. Eager for horsepower, men returned from the hardware store, power mower in transit. Thus the transfer of task evolved and men once again united with their beloved hobby. Since then, they have continued on their quest for the perfect lawn.
One of the most coveted lawns for the hardcore Quincy MDs and The Donalds continues to be Center Court at Wimbledon. Like rare and celebrated diamonds, I'm surprised that the lawn lovers group hasn't assigned a name for the show court like the Lawn of Regal Ryegrass. Personally, I love watching the tournament and follow Bud Collins with piqued interest as he curates the triumphs and thrills associated with international sport. While my small boys gauge the circumference of the contender’s calf muscles, I delight in my husbands pronunciations of the athlete’s foreign names. (It's as if he was trained in linguistics with Jason Bourne and has me wondering if his sock drawer is stuffed with CIA passports and the dry-cleaning bag holds folds of Euros.) While many of us will be tuned in to watch great tennis and steep in our own tradition of the games, I suspect that the championship grass quality, maintenance regime and health of those infamous blades will not be missed by the lawn lovers. Even the Bear Grylls will wonder what the secret pesticidal cocktail is for such manicured perfection.
Since Wimbledon’s conception in 1869 it has always been played on grass. In fact, it was the grass itself that began the tournament. The All England Lawn Tennis Club needed to raise capitol for a roller that would properly maintain the lawn. They held a tournament and charged admission. From the proceeds, they were able to purchase the equipment and turn a profit. With the exception of a brief hiatus when the gallery at Center Court was bombed during WWII, the tournament has been held every year since.
Today 400 million pounds is spent on turf, seed, mowers, feed and pesticides for the upkeep of the grounds each year. And Mr. Trump, with good reason. The grass and soil posture completely dictate the performance level of the players. The consistency of ball bounce is dependent upon the structural integrity of soil and the water content of the 100% rye grass court dictates the speed of play. Maintenance is obviously of utmost importance and this weight falls on the shoulders of head groundskeeper, Eddie Seawards. Each day of the Championships he mows Center Court to a height of 8mm and relies on a mix of pesticides and fertilizers to keep the grass in optimal condition. I would imagine that he would keep good company with all four of the pure lawn lover’s personalities in his quest to produce everyman's dream of green perfection.
Just when the lawn lovers thought that they had their secret system of seed, fertilizer and pesticidal anecdotes mastered, a new approach has been quietly percolating with great success at Harvard. (Hah! In a half panic and delight its at this point that the lawn lovers heartbeat ignites as they start to read this article a little more s l o w l y.) Harvard has been retiring the traditional use of pesticides and synthetic nitrogen applications on campus and now relies on organic compost and compost tea. Obviously, little needs to be said about the organic movement that has the world in its stadia hairs. The Bear Grylls lawn lover appreciates that organic compost and compost tea keep in tune with natures rituals. So impressed with the success of this approach, Harvard hopes to be fully organic in the next two years. Kindly, this Boston Tea Party chapter of the lawn lovers association has established a website to teach all lawn lovers how to implement this approach at home. www.uos.harvard.edu/fmo/landscape/organiclandscaping.
Dan Hageney (pictured in my own yard), owner of Connecticut Green has also started implementing this tea approach and has had great success while wisely tapping into the locavore trend. With a gourmet spin, he uses premium compost and then a judicious dash of microbial foods. Hageney brews the tea for 24 hours and then sweetens the pot with molasses, dehydrated seaweed, humic acid and fish oil before spraying. Like Spa Day at Elizabeth Arden, the compost tea reinvigorates the soil of established plant material and will no doubt have the lawn lovers on the block noticing your renewed and youthful yard.
The weekend is around the corner and the spectator sport of lawn appreciation will soon resume. (Apologies to those who sit watching Wimbledon solo as their lawn lover hangs out in the garage, busy fashioning a garbage can into an industrial size organic tea pot.) Come Monday, as my beloved Rambos, Bear Grylls and Quincy MDs arrive to work I wonder if The Donalds will be secretly entertaining the organic approach as they return to their positions of raising capitol for their lawn funds...I mean hedge funds?