Editor’s Notebook: Mowing Down a Dream

Editor’s Notebook: Mowing Down a Dream

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

This week is our Home & Garden issue, so I have a confession to make: I’m the neighbor of your nightmares.

I realized that fact again while doing my impression of yardwork for the first time this spring. It was a sunny, cool, pleasant day, and the last thing I wanted to do was spend it with my lawn.

I appreciate a beautiful, lush, perfectly green patch of grass when it’s on a baseball diamond or a golf course. But home lawn care leaves me cold.

Most of my East Cobb neighbors hire professionals to fertilize, weed, mow and otherwise maintain the manicured look for their front yards. A few do-it-yourselfers are out there every weekend for hours at a time, seeming to take great pleasure in yard maintenance.

No one will mistake my yard for anything cared for by professionals. Generously, you could use the oxymoronic term natural or wild landscaping to describe the yard. Lazy would be more accurate.

The grass is often overgrown, at least in comparison with the buzz cuts the neighboring lawns get each week. Of course, you can’t see the grass most of the time because of the thriving weeds and years-old leaves.

At least some of the neighbors are unamused, calling the county with annoying regularity to complain about the state of the yard, most recently claiming (inaccurately, in my opinion) that the grass and weeds on more than 10 percent of the property topped 12 inches in height. So I spent three hours ripping out and weed-whacking the greenery in the front yard and pushing around the manual rotary mower for the first time this year.

Again, I’m a lousy neighbor if you judge neighborliness on the beauty of the yard. Or the exterior of the house. Or the life in the trees.

It took me two decades of homeownership, with almost 28 years left to run on my current mortgage, to realize that some people, myself included, aren’t meant to share in this particular slice of the American dream. Live and learn.

None of my failures as a homeowner, however, changes another belated realization: Private lawns are stupid.

According to an article posted in 2010 at the website of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, we Americans have as many as 40 million acres being misused as lawns. To maintain that greenery, we spend billions of dollars a year, use 10 times the fertilizer and pesticide per acre as farmers apply to crops, thus contribute to environmentally poisonous runoff, sprinkle and spray away 30 percent to 60 percent of the fresh water used in urban areas (either exacerbating drought shortages or overwatering in areas with adequate rainfall), spill 17 million gallons of fuel trying to refill lawn and garden equipment, and contribute 5 percent of the nation’s air pollution with our mowers.

All to get just the right shade of sun- and drought-resistant green so we can waste more time from March through October or November cutting grass that grows like weeds. We could be growing vegetables and herbs. We could be growing pretty flowers (ideally perennials). We could have trees or mulch or rock gardens or any number of other low-maintenance uses.

Instead we have grass — great if you have room and need for a baseball diamond or a croquet court, a nuisance otherwise.

I’m not on the cutting edge of environmentalism, but I’ll never understand why a person would proudly drive his Prius or Volt or Tesla to work, only to return home each evening to the environmental disaster that is an exquisite lawn.

So maybe my naturally sloppy yard makes me a lousy neighbor. At least I can convince myself I’m being a good friend to nature while I float in my chemically balanced pool all summer.

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