The lawn police. July 8, 2008Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: landscaping, lawn ornaments, resource use, taste, the lawn police
Our friend Ben’s fantasies don’t usually take a militaristic bent. When watching the latest James Bond villain striving for world domination, my response is always, who’d want that job?! Just trying—and usually failing—to maintain some semblance of order here at Hawk’s Haven is like, well, herding cats. (“Layla! Get down from there!” “Molly, come! Molly. Come here, Molly! Molly…” “Athena! Get out of there!” “Plutarch, be quiet!” “Layla! I said get down!” “Don’t bite me, Marcus!” “LINUS!!!!”) Imagine herding whole nations. No, thanks. Just give me my MacArthur award and let me go on about my business in peace.
However, I have long harbored the dream of establishing the lawn police, an ever-vigilant force, heroically dedicated to the public good and headed by yours truly. The lawn police would tirelessly scan the yards of private citizens, corporations, and public buildings, handing out citations, fining for gross violations, and making arrests as needed. The crimes that would fall in the province of the lawn police are twofold: gross failures of taste and offenses against the environment.
Let’s tackle taste first. Our friend Ben recognizes that taste is in the eye of the beholder, and in general, I try to adopt a live and let live policy. I personally wouldn’t choose a red or green gazing ball for my yard, but if someone else makes that choice, so be it. Patriotic planters with red, white and blue-ish flowers aren’t my idea of a good time, but if someone else enjoys them, that’s fine with me, even if they festoon them with little flags. Lonely lines of tiny marigolds or wax begonias look very sad, but the most our friend Ben would have the lawn police do in such cases is leave a discreet card gently suggesting that the homeowner might wish to try to find their poor plants a few friends. Even in the case of sculpture, which requires practically genius-level taste to pull off, our friend Ben is generally willing to sigh and look the other way.
In matters of taste, then, the lawn police would spring into action only when a gross, egregious, horrific failure of taste occurred. Fat fannies, aka granny fannies, would merit a citation. So would white-painted rocks distributed hither and thither across the yard, garishly colored bark mulch, too much mulch of whatever color, white gravel mulch replacing plants (weedy white gravel mulch would merit a fine), trash and random objects abandoned in the yard (as opposed to, say, a vintage tractor deliberately displayed as a lawn sculpture), and more than two signs, banners, and the like in homeowners’ yards (public places get a dispensation here; they usually need signs, and plenty of ‘em). Once a plant has actually made it into the ground or its designated container, our friend Ben would prefer to see some sign that the homeowners were honoring their commitment to it, so wilting, weed-choked, and dead displays would also merit citations.
There’s another citation-worthy offense, and that is clutter. Our friend Ben of course recognizes the value of repetition—more is sometimes very much better, and not just when dealing with plants. One pink flamingo, for example: all righty then. Two pink flamingos parodying lions or other statuary flanking a path or entry: very funny. A flock of pink flamingos foraging across the lawn or heading down to the water garden for a drink: clever and conceivably brilliant in the hands of an artist. The same with urns, or any object. And of course, clusters of container plants are almost always preferable to a few souls lost in the landscape. It is, of course, all about scale and impact.
But clusters and clutter are two different things. Our friend Ben is an inveterate collector, so I deeply sympathize with those of you who feel compelled to collect every garden gnome or mushroom sculpture or birdhouse and/or feeder. Collecting is its own reward. If you can figure out a way to display them all at once and make it look brilliant, deliberate, striking, I not only won’t sic the lawn police on you, I’ll salute you. Ditto if you rotate your collection so only a tasteful few are on display at any given time. But if it looks messy and haphazard, alas, you’re getting a citation. And if you’re housing a random display—50,000 different pieces of cutesy junk strewn all across the yard with no rhyme or reason—I can only say, clean up your act or else. Or at least put out a yard sale sign so people will think there’s some reason why it’s all out there.
Then there are the more serious offenses, the ones that fall between citations and jail. These get fines in proportion to the level of offense. One example that continues to baffle our friend Ben is a house I pass relatively frequently. The homeowners work very hard on their property. For years, they have added trees, shrubs, and flower gardens to beautify their yard. They have put solar lighting around their foundation, hung well-maintained, colorful hanging baskets at regular intervals, and generally made very visible efforts to upgrade their home and landscape and make it more attractive. The effect is ruined, however, by the peeling tarpaper that has been falling down from the attic level of their house’s exterior for at least ten years now. The home’s exterior is clad in vinyl siding (which deserves a fine in and of itself, in our friend Ben’s opinion, but that’s another matter). But when the homeowners had it put on, they left part of each end of the house bare, clad in the underlayer of black tarpaper. Our friend Ben assumes that they had planned, and no doubt continue to plan, to finish the attic floor at some point, cut out windows through the tarpaper, and then put on siding. But really, would it have killed them to put on triangles of siding in the interim? It’s beyond our friend Ben how they could lavish such attention on the landscape and front of the house and fail to see the black strips of tarpaper hanging down on either side. Perhaps a fine from the lawn police would open their eyes.
Other fining offenses? Fountains with statues of urinating boys. Ethnic statuary—Mexicans and donkeys, black men holding the ring for the horse’s reins. (Wake up, people! What are you saying here?!) Fake plants (outdoors only; we’re the lawn police, after all; what you do indoors is your business). Pond fountains that shoot up into the air. (C’mon, guys, this just looks stupid, unless you live at, say, Versailles. Go for a waterfall or a fountain that spills water downward instead. If you want geysers, go to Yellowstone.) Adirondack chairs. (Just kidding. Our friend Ben hates Adirondack chairs—how could someone think that bizarre posture was comfortable?! But as long as you don’t make me sit in one, you can have as many as you like.) Anything Disney. (Serious this time.) The witch crashing into the tree and the hideous tree faces are borderline between citation and fine; don’t push your luck. Those hideous inflatable holiday ornaments will be mercilessly fined wherever found.
Finally, we get to the ultimate level, where offenders are hauled unceremoniously to jail. Only the most heinous offenses would be punished in this manner, but there are a few, and they generally fall into the abuse category. Topped trees, for example. How could someone do this to a beautiful, living thing? Our friend Ben would actually like to mete out the same treatment to those who behave in this horrific and cruel manner, but I’ll refrain from making the punishment fit the crime in this case. I do wonder, though, as in the case of the people with the peeling house, how homeowners who top trees can bear to look at their hideous, brutal handiwork during the many months when leaves aren’t covering it up. (Folks who cut down dead trees but leave an unsightly stump sticking up, often as much as 5 or 6 feet from the ground, would merit a fine but not jail.) Anyone who chains a dog in their yard is, in our friend Ben’s opinion, going directly to jail. You can enjoy your stay there exactly as long as your dog has been chained outdoors. And if any harm has come to your dog from this barbaric treatment, God help you.
You’re right, I did mention environmental offenses as another category that merits lawn-police action. Conspicuous resource consumption is a red flag to the lawn police. If you’re using a sprinkler on your lawn and/or garden, you’ll be fined, and repeat offenders will be hauled to jail. Grow lawn grass that’s appropriate for your region, don’t mow it too short (or mow at all in hot, dry weather), don’t dump on chemicals, leave your grass clippings on your lawn, and you won’t have to water your lawn, ever, much less resort to a water-wasting sprinkler.
If you live in an arid area where lawn grass won’t even survive without constant watering, our friend Ben urges you to consider alternatives, such as natural landscaping. Can’t live without your lawn? Maybe you need to move to a more temperate area. Gardeners, mulch your beds, and put down drip or trickle irrigation or water your gardens by hand. We can’t afford all that water waste from sprinklers. Everyone, graywater works fine on lawns and ornamental gardens; challenge yourselves to find ways to collect and use it.
Hosing down sidewalks, using snowblowers and other gas-powered equipment when a tiny bit of handwork would do the job just fine, setting out furniture and other usable discards for the trash instead of donating them to thrift stores, and other acts of compulsive idiocy and/or laziness will also merit fines (or worse). And of course, anyone caught littering or tossing cigarette butts on the ground or out the car window will be hauled directly to jail.
We are so privileged to be caretakers of our precious land, plants and wildlife. Let’s celebrate the abundance we have and nurture it to the best of our ability rather than abusing and wasting it. Recognize that each of our choices has consequences: putting food down the garbage disposal rather than composting it and returning it to enrich the soil, using plastic grocery bags instead of getting a couple of cloth bags and taking them into the store with us, showering multiple times a day instead of conserving water, buying a new car every year instead of a used car when your previous model can’t run any longer. Please, please, think first, then act.
Yes, our friend Ben must admit, it would be fun to run around handing out citations and the like for breaches of lawn taste, and of course one could feel quite righteous rushing about handing out tickets for environmental violations. But geez, what about recognizing people who are doing things right?
So of course the lawn police would also have a program in place to honor and award those folks who are creating eye-pleasing landscapes, delightful landscape features, and the like. Home-yard scale would thrill our friend Ben even more than estate or corporate scale: In the face of the bigger-is-better, celebrity-driven culture we live in, I remain convinced that the actions of plain people, those of us who own modest homes and are just trying to get by and live our lives to the best of our ability, are what ultimately matter. Every choice to save resources and nurture our tiny plot of ground affects the whole earth. (Don’t let any pundit tell you otherwise.) Every design choice you make can have an impact beyond your imagining. (Think of people driving past and thinking, “Hey, look at that! Maybe we should try that in our yard.”)
So go for it! Do your best, and listen for that little inner voice telling you that what you’re doing is right, or nudging you towards a different choice. Our friend Ben’s dream of the lawn police is just that: a dream. Nobody’s going to show up to give you a citation. But you can become lawn police on your own behalf. Your yard, and all of us who have to look at it, will thank you.