Ana Veciana-Suarez

I’ll take lawn envy over the cost of a lush, green yard

My neighbors’ lawns are green carpets that roll from street to front porch, lush and tightly tufted and a splendid symbol of homeowner pride. No matter how often I walk past, I’ve never spotted a weed or wildflower, not a blade out of place. Even in South Florida’s dry winters, the emerald hues neither fade nor yellow.

Our lawn, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. Not that it’s an eyesore, by any means. In suburbia you are judged by your front yard, so we keep it up — in our own way. It’s green, yes, but that’s because of the summer afternoon thunderstorms. It’s lush, true, because of the clover that has taken over. And there are no patches browned by chinch bugs.

When it’s in need of a good mow, I can see tiny white and yellow flowers growing in uneven rows. Occasionally we are blessed with a dandelion or two in some remote corner, sometimes a tiny toadstool. But our lawn is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the envy of the neighborhood, though I like to think that our colorful landscaping — purple queens, dwarf junipers, striped bromeliads, gardenia bushes, Christmas palms — makes up for it.

Last month I tasked The Hubby with some reconnaissance work. I wanted to know how our neighbors keep their yards so plush. Three-times-a-week sprinklers? Fertilizer? Weed-killer? Whatever their tactics, they obviously were doing something we weren’t.

The Hubby, who is anything if not thorough, returned with a detailed report and a business card. The lovely grass, like the tresses of many blondes, isn’t natural. But with the right amount of work and outside maintenance, we, too, could boast such extravagance.

Would we commit to such effort? Could we? Was the payoff worth it?

In one word: no. Sure, a green lawn is like a bright, shiny medal of homeowner virtue, as inviting as an open front door and better than a welcome mat. But the price, both in terms of money and environmental consequences, can be steep.

Grass, as many people already know, demands a lot of water and a fair amount of fertilizer. We didn’t want to use either more than we needed to. Rain may be plentiful in our hot summer months, but not so much in winter. To tap into this limited resource felt wasteful. Just as important, we resisted the idea of adding more chemicals to the soil. You don’t have to be a scientist to know that fertilizer runoff has caused algae blooms in our waterways, killing fish by robbing them of oxygen.

In search for alternatives, I found out that lawns, both residential and commercial, are the largest irrigated crop in America, with more than 40 million grassy acres in the continental U.S. But they’re so thirsty that several water companies out west offer rebates to homeowners who tear out turf and replace it with drought-tolerant plants. There’s also a movement that advocates “wild” yards, complete with weeds and wildflowers and whatever else sprouts up.

I suspect I may never get over my lawn envy, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that a perfect expanse of grass just isn’t for us; not because we’re some chest-thumping environmentalists, not because the monthly maintenance bill would’ve been outrageous, not because we believe the rest of the block should convert to our thinking.

Quite simply, as we’ve grown older, we’ve become more aware of our role as temporary caretakers of the fragile beauty around us, more conscious of how our actions have consequences that will affect our grandchildren long after we’re gone from the planet. That means hard decisions, tough choices — an acceptance of the perfect imperfections growing in our very yard.

Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at avecianasuarez@gmail.com or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.

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