Monday, May 05, 2014

How Lawns Were Invented (And Why I Hate Them)

The scene: A country estate in some shire a days journey north of London. The year is 1789, and a group of fashionable young gentlemen have just returned from an early afternoon fox hunt and now sit in the parlor, engaged in what at the time would have been referred to as conversational intercourse.

Lord Darcey sat ensconced on a divan between two surreally beautiful––if somewhat breathless looking––young women, his right arm around one of their shoulders; the left clasping a tumbler of brandy. Across from him, Lord Henry sat in a similar state that could have nearly been a mirror image were it not that his glass contained port. In the corner of the room, by himself, Lord Peabody reclined in an overstuffed chair while sucking a heavily opium laced cigarette and staring at the ceiling with a glassy-eyed expression.

"Now what do you make of all this bloody anarchy down in Paris, Harry?" Lord Darcey directed at Lord Henry.
            "I'm quite sure I don't know what to make of it," replied Lord Henry, wiping port from his lips with a silk handkerchief. "But I can sure as hell tell you what caused it: Idleness. They say it's the devil's workshop, wot?"
            "So, you are essentially suggesting," Lord Darcey said, toying with the silver encrusted brooch of the woman pressed against him, "that revolution is simply a function of the lower classes having enough time on their hands to think about the fact that they live pointless lives of futile subjugation to the more morally worthy class?"
           "Precisely!" exclaimed Harry, downing his entire glass of port. "Between those gah-damned Catholic holidays and the general laziness of continentals as a whole, it's no wonder they're up in arms. And the way things are going here, I wouldn't be surprised if we aren't the ones with our heads getting carted away in baskets next!" he added, holding his glass out to a nearby valet who poured a crimson stream of liquid into it.
          "A fascinating theory," Lord Darcey said, a slightly ironic smile playing on his lips. "What do you suppose we must do to remedy this ungodly state of affairs?"
          "Sure as hell beats me," said Harry, giving his glass to one of the women beside him and gesturing impatiently at the valet to fetch another.
          "What if," the voice came from Lord Peabody in the corner, who until then had remained silently staring at the ceiling and now startled everyone by speaking. "What if we...."––his words were cut off as he took a gigantic hit from his opiate loaded cigarette that momentarily illuminated the entire dark corner in an evil red glow––"we planted the entire front of your estate to some fast growing plant, and then insisted that it be kept trimmed to an absurdly short length. That'd give the bastards something to do, wouldn't it now, Darcey old boy?" he said, still looking at the ceiling as if it were the real intended recipient of his suggestion.
            "Why that is the most capitally imbecilic thing I've ever heard," said Lord Darcey, throwing his head back with deep belly laugh. Harry joined in, and the four ladies might have, but their corsets allowed only a nervous titter.
            "But you know what," said Lord Darcy, sobering so quickly it startled everyone. "I love it." "Pendergast!" he snapped at the valet. "Have my gardner order four-hundred pounds of grass seed."

Thus, the lawn was born.

While the above dialogue is fictional, it is a historical fact that lawns have their roots (no pun intended) in the needs of the victorian aristocracy. When most of the common folk from England emigrated to America and took up the progressive idea that every man is his own master, they imitated a number of things from their former oppressors. Some, such as insisting their children be taught to read, were good things. Others, like planting grass around their houses, I think are more questionable. In fact, as someone who's parents insisted on maintaining multiple acres of lawn, and who now spends several days a week doing lawn care for other people, I would suggest that the entire concept is downright stupid, for three reasons.

1. Lawns have no practical purpose. 

Sure, maybe you imagine yourself playing ultimate frisbee or football on your yard, but the fact is, unless you have a truly gigantic, level and treeless one, you will usually end up heading to the local park instead. Lawns were invented by people who played polo, threw lavish garden parties on a regular basis, and needed to keep their servants occupied. What business do any of us have spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars every year maintaining something that we only ever look at?

2. Lawns are an environmental disaster.

Never in the history of the world have so many tons of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers been applied to such a large area of land covered in a plant that is then kept so short that it recycles only a negligible amount of CO2. Furthermore, lawns destroy environmental diversity by allowing only one species of plant.

3. Lawns aren't really that pretty.

Lawns look nice compared to gravel or concrete, but there are other things that look much nicer. What if you planted clover, or field peas, or crown vetch on the vacant spots in your property and just let it grow? There would be purple flowers and beautiful vines everywhere. It would be better for the environment. You wouldn't need any fertilizer. And you'd only need to mow it once a year. 

Just my thoughts on the matter.