Turf wars

May 5, 1999 at 12:00 am

It could happen to you. And when it happens, nothing will keep you from following your obsession.

You’ll dream green, you’ll drool green, your knees will be stained green and you’ll repeat green, green, green, like a mantra in your sleep.

You’ll have joined the millions of Americans who have succumbed to the summer phenomenon of obsessive lawn care.

And who would blame you? Don’t we all cherish fond memories of summers spent on green lawns, playing ball or rolling down lush hills, our hearts close to such sweet-mown grassy knolls.

Unless, of course, we grew up in the concrete jungle. In which case, we’re sometimes even more susceptible to the alluring call of the lawn mower, buzzing away like a pleasant swarm of faraway bees, at 8 in the morning on a Saturday.

But before you decide to create your own field of dreams and buy into the multimillion dollar obsession that is the American Lawn, consider some of the shocking consequences.

For a perfect lawn is not achieved through personal sacrifice alone. It comes at the cost of your home, your family, your neighbors and your neighborhood. Even your planet stands to lose. Like buying a house on a full suburban acre of ungrassed soil, it’s not a state to be entered into lightly.

But assuming you’ve found yourself ensconced in an area – or a headspace – where Lawn Matters, let’s look at the progression of this manic obsession.

First of all, you’ll begin to notice imperfections in your previously perfect home, as you realize the deeper implications of the phrase, "The grass is always greener."

You’ll cruise the neighborhood after dark, your previously dormant competitive streak germinating as you check out yards, inspect irrigation systems and speculate on the mowing styles of your more grass-worldly neighbors. You’ll begin to compare your own patch of scrubby sod to their green grassy glories.

You’ll make your first trip to a garden center, where you’ll pretend you know what you’re doing. You’ll ponder Bermuda grass and fescue, ryegrass and bluegrass. You’ll buy 20 pounds of Kentucky blue seed, and a trunkload of nitrogen fertilizer. You’ll arrive home wondering what alchemy could combine these two elements into a glorious green carpet.

Frustrated, you’ll admit early defeat, watch a baseball game on television, and dream of AstroTurf perfection. You’ll pay another visit to the garden center, where you’ll rent a tiller, a dethatcher and a mulcher. You’ll go home and feel empowered, applying these tools to your weak and imperfect lawn. You’ll overseed, water and fertilize. You’ll walk the dog five times a day to keep its cruel paws off your tender early sprouts.

And then, when the first blush of new green appears, like a miraculous hair regrowth, on your Perfect Lawn-In-Waiting, your joy and obsession will be reborn. You’ll count sprouts per square inch, measure stalks and water carefully.

You’ll watch, with satisfaction, as your yard transforms into a pale green paradise. You’ll stand with two aluminum pie pans, banging them together to scare off marauding birds and digging cats. You’ll lock the dog indoors.

And you’ll wait. Soon, your lawn’s adolescent leaves will ragamuffin into a shag rug.

You’ll get out the power mower. You’ll decide it’s not enough. You’ll invest in a lawn tractor. With a sense of satisfaction, you’ll drive around the yard, showing the lawn the limits of its influence. In your yard, you reign.

You’ll lose track of priorities. Your houseplants will languish. Your dog will pee on your turf one last time before it moves in with the neighbors.

You’ll ignore news reports that say the organic compounds released by mown grass contributes to pollution.

You’ll water obsessively, tending your green after sundown or before dawn, oblivious to drought or water-conservation measures. You’ll scoop up bathwater with a teacup before you’ll let your lawn go thirsty.

You’ll make friends with the guy from ChemLawn and bow in the direction of St Louis, home of Monsanto, the makers of Roundup, the all-powerful weed killer.

At some point, that wide canvas of perfect emerald green will look somewhat blank. You’ll purchase ornaments, perhaps bunnies or gnomes. They’ll take up residence beside the "keep off the grass" sign you’ve had sandblasted into a rounded stone.

You’ll ignore the jeers of the neighbors, the pleading of your family for dignity. You’ll install a miniature windmill, and yell at the neighbor kids to put those putters away.

One day, you’ll notice a small brown patch, where the grass has succumbed to some outside influence: Gasoline? Footprints? Dog pee? Your heart will wrench, and you’ll consider your options. A divot, stolen from the local golf course? More grass seed? Spray paint?

You’ll settle on spray paint, heading to your local Home Depot to find one to match. You’ll spray under cover of darkness, embarrassed at your lawn-care ineptitude.

Soon, under the influence of the paint, more grass will turn brown. And then more. And more.

From there, the insidious cycle begins again.

Don’t let it happen to you.