Would Jesus Mow His Lawn? (Re)Imagining the American Lawn

January 24th, 2014 § 3 comments

The not-so-humble beginnings of an American tradition.

Would Jesus mow his lawn? I would think (based on pure speculation) that if Jesus knew the historical and social background of how the American lawn came to be and the needless consumer cost of this commodity, He would stand with me in this counter-cultural movement. Heck no! Let your law go! This is one elitest American tradition with a lower case “t” that could really use a modern (re)imagining.

We have been discussing a fantastic set of articles that have given me some fodder for thought. According to Paul Robbins of Lawn People: How Grasses, Weeds, and Chemicals Make Us Who We Are, the lawn as we know it had its origins in aristocratic England and soon after caught on in France.  The lawn had a place, and its place was not one of function, but a way of “controlling nature.”  In India and many other countries around the world, the front yard is a living and working space, or in the case of Latin America, lawns are practically non-existant. In these areas, the courtyard is the norm.  The priority was functional, private space used by the family.

The dawn of the lawn really took hold in nineteen-fifties suburbia where an “ethos of conformity” (Steinberg, 24) was the norm. But what is even more interesting is the continuing ways the lawn was wielded as a form of social control. Housing associations, advertisements and a building business that catered to “pimping your lawn” (my words) reinforced the notion that a beautiful lawn was the commodity to collect.  In short, it became a symbol of status, wealth and power.  Furthermore, there became an “assumed connection between the type of landscape and type of person” a sort of “moral” code that whispered that those who cared about their lawns were better people, more civilized.

I wonder if times have changed all that much?

My mind begins to wander into imagining the type of lawn that would serve the American people in a more functional, yet still beautiful manner. You may ask, what could/would my counter-cultural lawn look like?

Consider the following:

1. Permaculture. Consider slowly converting your lawn into an edible landscape. The loss of a lawn does not have to mean a loss of the artistic beauty of one’s home. There are many beautiful flowering fruit trees, edible flowers and plants that carry an aesthetic all their own.

Beautiful and tasty nasturtiums and violets can serve as a border or filler around clusters of plants. The purple bean plant coupled with bunches of beautiful lettuce heads would make a nice pairing instead of bedded flowers.  These are also much more delicious. Imagine these layers of plants of varying color or height (all edible!) encircling the front and sides of your house.

Not only is layering certain crops a smart water conservation and protection technique but this would rock bordering a house.

With some research and skill, varietals can be found that are harvested at differing points in the summer, providing some consistent foliage. AND IT IS ALL EDIBLE!!!!  Talk about some monetary savings. Rumor has it that food prices will be increasing over the coming years and if any element of this is true, I’d like to have a jump start.  Additionally, the loss of the “typical” American grass lawn does not need to mean the loss of cushy space to lie in or play in. Check out the two counter-cultural lawns below. Beautiful. Functional. Potentially sustainable.

Envisioning the sustainable permaculture lawn. Image from: http://yogizendude.com/2009/09/13/permaculture-creating-a-sustainable-now

Whimsical permaculture cottage. Image from: http://permaculturecottage.wordpress.com/category/permaculture/

2. Medicinal and Edible Weeds-as-Lawn. As I have advocated for in my previous blog post, there are more than a handful of “so-called weeds” that are immensely medicinally beneficial and incredibly nutrient-dense.  With rising health care costs, I do firmly believe that herbal remedies can be an excellent complement to modern medicine and I do create many herbal teas, tinctures and compounds for personal use.  This is a key component of the permaculture as well.

Purslane, an often seen weed in Pennsylvania is high in Vitamin C and plant based Omega 3 fatty acids. Dandelion is not only a rich source of A, B, C and D but iron as well.  Traditional folkloric medicine will tell you it is an exceptional diuretic (think PMS, ladies). I have previous mentioned the red clover and the plantain, which I cannot speak highly enough about from personal experience.  I have particular love for the plantain “weed” and use the salve infused (for 2 months) in olive oil on bites, eczema and other rashes with GREAT success. This baby can even be chewed up and applied directly to poison ivy and bee stings. Oh yeah.

I have presented a few ideas for how to counter the socially constructed ideal of the American lawn while possibly adding value to your life.

If you still have to ask, “Would Jesus mow his lawn?” – the following fictional “dialogue” between God and St. Francis says it better than I ever could. This is a hilarious and hard-hitting MUST READ.



Love, S

*Medical disclaimer: I am not a licensed medical professional. What I do is purely for research and/or personal/family use. I cannot be held responsible for improper use. Always seek advice from a medical professional if you have doubts.  These claims have not been approved by the FDA (No kidding?!).

Local Resources:  http://pittsburghpermaculture.org/residential


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§ 3 Responses to Would Jesus Mow His Lawn? (Re)Imagining the American Lawn"

  • Debbie says:

    Whilst I do have a small lawn here, I am not one to pull out weeds…. not unless they are toxic to the chickens of course.
    The majority of the “garden” is natural and I encourage wild plants to propogate for the bees and the wildlife. In the orchard there is more wild primrose, forget me nots and other pretties than grass. I love the natural look and the flowers and scents that you get from leaving it to nature.
    I even leave the space between the rows in my potager to fill in with “weeds”. It encourages bees and other beneficial insects and I do not have a problem with the food chain being active in the space. Last year I had baby hares, and all sorts of other wildlife living there.
    My thought is that weeds are really just plants in a space that is not desirable for them to be in. Our desire – not the plants.
    Every now and then I do have a “weed” cull, but generally when it is looking a bit overgrown and nothing is growing well. Time for a thin out and I always drop the seed heads somewhere else so they can grow. The farmers around here would curl up their toes if they saw my fermette…lol

  • Corah Webber says:

    Hey! Just reading your blog for the first time… I’m part of VGN too (not officially launching my new blog until Monday though) Loved this article! Very much my type of thing… rebelling against the lawn norm! Would love to do this once we get our own place… have been looking into planting our yard with things that used to grow here naturally.

    • Sheila says:

      Hey Corah! Nice to ‘meet’ you and thanks for stopping by. Lawn rebellion is the best kind of rebellion. Please stop back and post what you are growing in your yard. We need your brainstorming power. Will check out your new blog soon, then.

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