I got a notification today that my city (not the farm we are building) has just released new ordinances for lawns. These include a maximum allowable height, a listing of acceptable grass species and a clause relating to “non-acceptable species allowable percentages” – which means that they are now telling me when to cut my lawn, what kind of grass I can plant and how many weeds I can have mixed within my “approved” lawn. This is just another tax now, since failure to comply will result in two warnings, then a ticket weekly until the problem is resolved to the satisfaction of the city manager.
Our word ‘lawn’ originates from the Old English word “launde”, which meant an opening in the woods, a glade if you will. The lawn, as we know it today, has a militaristic origin. Trees and shrubs were thought to be a bad idea in the area surrounding castles, as they could hide soldiers and even siege equipment. Castle lords began requiring their peasants to graze goats, sheep and cattle immediately surrounding the walls of the castle – to keep the area easy to observe.
Today we have a centuries old association of lawns with power and wealth. This was furthered when, in the 16th century, the landed gentry and even some well-to-do merchants began to cultivate lawns to exhibit their opulence and wealthy station. This obsession grew so rapidly that the word “hedge” came to mean trees and shrubs dividing fields and lawns. During WWII, European hedgerows were so dense and inter-grown that soldiers could not pass through them, and in many cases even early tanks had problems due to the density of the hedge growth.
As you might imagine, when the early settlers came to America, they considered themselves a new “landed gentry”, and the concept and practice of lawns continued. Early lawns were strictly available to the wealthy, as it took labor to both create and maintain lawns. Early lawns were kept trimmed by humans swinging a sickle or humans closely tending goats – both of which required a wealthy landowner. In the early 1800’s, an Englishman named Budding invented the lawnmower, and the lawn became something that, today, is considered normal.
Early lawns were not made of grass, but (more often than not) flowering plants such as thyme and chamomile – as they grew relatively short and provided additional crops. Wheat was often grown in the launde around castles.
Yet today in my little city, the all-wise and knowing City Council has just foregone any planting outside of specific non-native grasses. Last year they removed five pecan trees due to city employees having to ‘waste time’ sweeping up pecans, which made an “unsightly” mess on the streets. They were also worried that if some child with an allergy ate a pecan that has fallen from a city tree, the city might be liable in a legal action. <insert 40 lb sigh here>
Lawns are a recent invention – and rely on the lawnmower to remain even an option for most people. In America, most suburbanites do not even cut their own grass. It is illegal to cut others grass and be paid here in my city, unless you are bonded – so kids can’t even make money cutting grass anymore. On my street, with 30 homes, three of us cut our own grass. Many of my neighbors don’t even own a mower. “Lawn Care” contracts are in the neighborhood of $150 per month, and more if fertilizing is included.
One need not wonder about why suburban life will decline in the future. Freedom has been legislated away in favor of maintaining both identical appearance and local landscaping businesses. This has added another layer of expense and aggravation to living here on the margins of a metropolis.
My original lawn plan was to rip up the St. Augustine this fall, and replant with a short native Texas grass. That would mean no fertilizing, minimal mowing and no watering at all. Unfortunately, the type of NATIVE TEXAS grass I wanted to plant is not allowed in my little Texas city any longer.
We will sow these short grass seeds at the farm for the same reason – to reduce mowing. Interspersed within my grass at the farm will be lots of wildflowers – as the bees really need them due to being so stressed in every other respect. For us, that means no mowing until about this time of the year in order for the wildflowers to seed out and maintain their populations. I personally like that plan, as it answers a lot of needs for the soil and the bees. It reduces mowing expense tremendously. It looks pretty having the flowers and the waving, taller grasses too.
There isn’t really a way to fix this problem of city officials. I went and presented my option for native Texas grass – and was soundly ignored. The concern of many neighbors was that the native grass would “infiltrate” their carefully manicured lawns. Apparently, lawns are considered an “investment” now. I wish the same worries were extended to GMO crops and RoundUp herbicide, but they are unlikely to be until something seriously bad happens. That ‘seriously bad thing’ may be on the way if the bee population keeps decreasing – in some years by double digits.
We will continue to implement better practices at our farm, where we live miles away from any city ordnance in a very poor county. In town, we are leaving the grass alone, and if it dies back then it dies back. We will do weed control with vinegar when necessary. We will adhere to the letter of these new laws, but there is no way we will participate in the spirit of them. Actually, these new laws have no spirit in them – just a mania for everything to look the same.
We will have several laundes at the farm, short native Texas grasses and wildflowers for our bees, vegetable vines climbing many trees and the planting of fruit and nut trees will continue.
It is an awful thing to watch how stupid things have become in cities. It is very disheartening to watch fear run everything around you. It is chilling to see people embrace crazy restrictions and rules in an attempt to eliminate any risk to anyone. Watching parents forego teaching their children common sense and responsibility, then cede it to government, simply turns my stomach. “Personal responsibility” will soon be a comic phrase, like “military intelligence”.
I hope the irony of where our lawns came from is not lost on you.
We all pay more in taxes and regulations, while our freedoms, even the small ones, are curtailed by our neighbors. Perhaps that explains why I have many neighbors, but far fewer friends here in this little Texas city.