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The Green, Green Grass of Home

I do not have a green thumb. Based on my experience with lawn care, it’s more like a toxic thumb. I could make a Chia pet go bald.

I don’t understand this. I was reared in New Orleans, where the humidity and heat is so intense, you could grow stuff in mid-air. We didn’t call it hydroponics, though. We called it “summer.”
The most important motorized possession in a New Orleans home is a lawn mower. Without one, you would become surrounded by rain forest in about a week. At night during the rainy season—which begins in April and extends through March—you could sit in your carport and hear the mosquitoes come in for landings a few blocks away while listening to the St. Augustine grass grow. It moans and groans as if giving birth to itself. By morning you can either cut it or take it to get its driver’s license.
Given this fecund backdrop, I can’t understand why every lawn I’ve been associated with looks more like a weapons testing ground. We’ve lived in six houses over the past 25 years. The only one where our lawn was not the embarrassment of the neighborhood was in front of our row house in South Philadelphia. The lawn there consisted of a sidewalk, which was broken and chunked from the roots of an oak tree that had been planted alongside the street. By the time we left the home, the tree had died and the horticultural society had stopped leaving brochures about Arbor Day in the mailbox.
In upstate New York, Atlanta, Missouri, Chicago and New Castle County, my lawns have been the scruffiest in the neighborhood. Growing up, my kids used them as landmarks in directions for their friends: “Go down the street until you get to the house with no lawn.” (Actually, they’d usually say, “Go one house past the one with no lawn. We’ll meet you there.”)
The failure of my cultivation does not stem from lack of trying. I’ve religiously applied the same products used by the people with the thick, green lawns on TV commercials. But it’s always as if my lawns are either bulimic or anorexic, like my lawn is saying to the other lawns, “No, you go ahead and feed. We’ll just watch.”
Accepting the premise that talking to plants was a healthy practice (for the plants), I even tried talking to my lawns. Every morning I’d exhort the grass to eat and be healthy, but it did nothing more than get me into trouble with the neighbors and prompt a revision to my kids’ directions: “Go two houses past the one with no lawn and the man talking to himself. We’ll meet you there.”
Maybe my lawn is ahead of its time. Maybe I have the lawn everyone else will have when global warming starts to peak, a nuclear winter occurs or an asteroid crashes into the planet. It may turn out that I have the kind of lawn that thrives only in adverse conditions, like the grasses that grow only in the high desert of the Alto Plano or in solid rock. Then my lawn will be the envy of the neighborhood.
Of course, with global warming, nuclear winter or an asteroid crash, there won’t likely be any neighbors around—or myself. So I guess it’s six one way, half a dozen the other. I could, I suppose, shift attention away from the lawn, so that the kids might tell their friends, “Go three houses past the one that’s never been pressure-washed. We’ll meet you there.”
Reid Champagne thinks a cool name for a lawn care company would be either Blades of Glory or Watching Grass Grow.

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