An Ode to the Lawn Gardeners

Lawn gardeners get a bad rap for grooming plants that don't help pollinators, but I say, watch them grow their garden and you'll change your mind!

Are lawn gardeners a thing? I’ll make a case for it, hear me out.

The author of today’s piece and my husband happen to have a lot in common. They’re “lawn guys” who never wanted to be lawn guys. When we bought our hundred-year-old house, it came with a lawn that looked like a golf course. I was terrified and I knew we’d ruin it. Not my husband though, it gave him a new purpose. The old owner did in fact own a golf course and had plenty of help, so I feel like we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves when it goes a little brown in the Summer. But my husband isn’t as forgiving, and once Spring arrives, he spends the next three months with his brain divided in two: half thinking about the lawn, and the other half cursing it and the birds.

Me, I don’t care all that much, I care more about the garden beds. Also, I kind of love the idea of “No Mow May” where you let your yard grow full of dandelions and violets and things to help the pollinators. Him, not so much. That’s OK, he doesn’t tell me what to do with my garden, I don’t tell him what to do with his garden … er, lawn. Lawn gardeners appreciate that.

But for those who are in the same boat as my guy, you’ll appreciate today’s story, “Get off My Lawn,” by Marcus A. Stricklin. Marcus evolved from a guy who characterized lawn guys as old men who’d be better off “knitting a sweater or gumming butterscotch,” to being a lawn guy who sings lullabies to his grass; Remember the song The Green Grass Grown All Around? Yeah, that one.

As the human scarecrow of our story today will profess, not every garden is a flower bed or a batch of tomato plants. For some folks, gardening means tending to a lawn, and I think that’s just fine. Seeing my husband tend to the grass is very much how I tend to my own plants – yelling at wildlife, pulling weeds, and eagerly watching for growth and avoiding disease.

So this one goes out to all the lawn gardeners!

Lawn Gardeners Will Relate to This Ones

This story comes from our archive that spans over 30 years and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. Pieces like these that inject gardening humor into everyday life lessons always brighten up my day, and I hope it does for you as well. Enjoy!

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Get Off My Lawn

Or else!

By Marcus A. Stricklin

I never thought I’d be that guy. You know the type. The type of guy who is obsessed with his lawn. Not like partially obsessed, I’m talking full on Google-knows-everything-about-you stalker type obsessed. I’ve seen Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood. You know, the 2008 movie where he plays a cantankerous old man. He looks mad all the time. One of the things he repeated over and over again was “Get off my lawn.” At the time, I was like “Hey, it’s just grass, dude, calm down. Go knit a sweater or gum some butterscotch. And definitely make sure your Life Alert is working.”

Grass is everywhere, like seriously, E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E. I know because I see it everywhere all the time. So why was that guy freaking out about someone walking on his lawn? That was seven years ago. So let’s fast forward to this spring when I witnessed the lawns in my neighborhood. They were majestic. Each of my neighbors has a different shade of beautiful lush green lawn. It was as if Better Homes and Gardens had a contest in my neighborhood, and they were all in the running for the grand prize, the coveted Blue Ribbon of Awesome Lawnness. I sulked home and looked down at my sad sack of lawn and saw that it was reminiscent of the desert chase scene in Mad Max. (And, yes, I watch a lot of movies.) Admittedly, I was jealous because I wanted a lawn to be proud of. I wanted a lawn so beautiful that I could stand outside and hold a cup of coffee and admire it in the morning, while I watered it ever so gently. I wanted that Blue Ribbon lawn.

So one Saturday morning I got up early and took the hoe to the lawn. I hacked and pulled up nearly every inch of “weak grass” so I could plant “super good-looking grass.” (It’s like regular good-looking grass, but with a cape.) I even ordered some loam so I could even out the lawn where there were divots from where the hoe (not my fault!) went crazy with rage. I put down fertilizer and seed and covered it with hay so the animals and birds wouldn’t have a free tasty snack. I like animals, but I’m not on a charitable mission to feed them. That’s what nature is for.

Sadly, that’s when I became a wee bit obsessed (read: partially psychotic) about the grass.

I would water the lawn three times per day. Morning at six, then noon, and then I would tuck it into bed with a nice layer of water and a lullaby: “The Green Grass Grows All Around” by the Learning Station. My girlfriend won’t admit it, but she was worried about me.

On about the third morning, just as I was about to water the lawn, I saw him—him being the thief I have dubbed Secret Agent Squirrel 00Nut. He was sitting on the edge of the lawn, just sitting there watching me. He bent down and scooped a handful of hay and took off running with it in his ratlike mouth. I took off after him, screaming, “Give me back my hay!” Secret Agent Squirrel 00Nut was fast and got away. I could hear him laughing. I went over and covered up the area with hay from other parts of the lawn. I could tell 00Nut had taken a lot more at various points during the night. I wasn’t happy. I felt as if that sinister squirrel had a vendetta against me. I’ve seen Rocky and Bullwinkle and I know that squirrels are capable of much more than they let on. Needless to say, I stepped up my rotation outside. Any animals that came within inches of my yard, I let them know I was there, watching. (I guess being unemployed has its perks.)

Sadly, I had to go out of town for a week, but still called my girlfriend for updates on the grass. I would say, “Hi, how was your day? Uh huh, that’s great, yeah, fine and dandy. More importantly how is my grass doing?” I would even make her send me picture updates about it—like an ultrasound, but for grass. It was the longest week of my life. I had grass dreams, mostly of me rolling around in the lushness of it.

I came back from my trip, and even more hay was gone. That’s when my crazy level went from “Um, are you okay?” to “I think you need to take a step back.” I had a Planet of the Apes moment. Not today’s version of that movie, the original one with that hunk of handsome, Charlton Heston. I dropped down to my knees as the sprinkler went off around me and screamed, “DAMN YOU SQUIRRELS, DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL.”

I started to water the grass more and from my front window, so I could watch movies and the lawn. I kept binoculars and a bullhorn with me. From that point on, if that secret agent squirrel or one of his Merry Band of Thieves walked near the lawn I would yell, “GET OFF MY LAWN!” and blast the siren from the bullhorn. I think I scared all of the animals within a five-mile radius because I haven’t seen one in a while. Slowly but surely, the lawn came in. I guess the saying isn’t true, a watched pot (grass) never boils (grows), because I watched it and it grew.

Oh, I was as happy as the Fat Kid in Willy Wonka. I saw all of the hard work I’d put into my lawn come to life. The constant watering. The pep talks at 4:00 a.m. The bedtime lullabies. All of it had worked. My new problem, however, is people. When I had a dusty lawn, no one would walk within 20 feet of it. They would treat it as if it had leprosy and pass on the other side of the street.

Now that it’s come in and it’s pretty, they want to admire it. They stop and gasp. They want to touch it, and, worst of all, they want to walk on it. Ugh, people. No. Just no. Do you know how much time and effort went into that lawn? An insanely ridiculous amount of time. Do you know what it’s like to be a human scarecrow? Scaring off not only the deadly gang of squirrel thieves but their ravenous bird friends, as well? No, you don’t.

I scared a poor kid to death by yelling at him as he walked on my lawn. I was sitting on the couch, the window was open, and I screamed, “GET OFF MY LAWN!” He apologized and ran away. When other kids come to visit my son, I give them all the same lecture (minus the yelling):

Things you can do at my house: Make a mess, eat all the food in the house, burn it to the ground. Claim it as your own, like Christopher Columbus did once.

Things you can’t do: Walk on my lawn. Never walk on my lawn. I will make you replace the individual blades of grass you have damaged. Every. One. Of. Them.

Come to think of it, every one of them—my son’s friends—has quit coming over to our house. Good.

By Marcus A. Stricklin, published originally in 2016, in GreenPrints Issue #106. Illustrations by Tim Foley

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What do you think, is a lawn a garden? Honestly, I never considered it as such until I saw how much work and love went into ours, and now I think lawn gardeners deserve a little more credit!

  • These kinds of lawns are exactly what is having a major effect on the decline of pollinators, and a terrible waste of water. Replacing turf with native grass and plants is so much more attractive and gives pleasure not only to butterflies and bees, but to gardeners and passers by who stop to look and comment on my non-lawn garden. Another benefit of my garden is that it captures run-off from the gutters and sump pump giving the rain time to percolate through the soil where it acts like a filter and prevents all those chemicals you use from flowing into (in my case) the Huron River.

  • Laura M.

    I love this one. I have had a bad lawn year myself. Only I hired the Lawn Dr. My 1/2 acre garden takes all of my time.


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