Water. One can’t go a single day without it. It’s a natural resource that, being from Ohio, I can take advantage of. It’s relatively cheap. It’s widely available. If I accidentally leave my sprinkler on watering my tomatoes, no one gripes. Here—for better or worse—water is taken for granted.
But covering an industry where I constantly hear reports from the drought-stricken West Coast, I can’t help but feel bad. I find myself lecturing my children on not wasting water. We turn off the tap while brushing our teeth. We don’t leave the hose running outside when we don’t need it. I feel pretty good about this … until I look over at the neighbor’s irrigation system that looks like it’s watering more of the street than the lawn … on a rainy day. I might be the only one on my block who’s even thinking about water.
The discussion about water inevitably leads to one about turf. In my nearly 20 years covering the landscape industry, I have never seen such dramatic statements made about lawns since the water crisis has deepened in the West. In a recent Los Angeles Times, writer Michael Pollan called the lawn “indefensible.” “It’s a wasteful way of treating the land,” he said. “We will one day look back on lawns like we now do littering, smoking in bars and public urination.” And in The Washington Post, writer Christopher Ingraham called the lawn a “soul-crushing timesuck.”
These are dramatic statements that can make anybody question their lawn. But then I think about the feeling of walking barefoot on cool grass on a warm summer day and watching my children kick the soccer ball back and forth across a stretch of green, falling and laughing as grass blades tickle their skin. I think of how many times the smell of fresh cut grass made someone’s list of what makes them happy. And I truly appreciate how the grass helps cool an urban area that would otherwise swelter in the heat or how it filters heavy rainfall to prevent flooding in my yard or keeps dust and other pollutants at bay, easing my son’s allergies. Turf provides all of these benefits, and they’re comparing it to littering and smoking? Isn’t that taking it a bit too far?
Turf is misunderstood. Maybe this is rooted in Americans’ obsession with its care as they strive to create that perfectly manicured acreage that looks like a golf course green. I get it. Some places may not be meant for sweeping expanses of turf. Half of all outdoor battles can be won by just putting the right plant in the right place in the first place. You do this and you reduce the supplemental water and inputs that plant needs to thrive considerably. But, despite all of these facts, because turf is the celebrity of the landscape, it becomes the target. Better and more education on turf, its benefits and its care is the answer. And this industry can do something about that.