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Green Acre #369: Going For the Green

Synthetic grass leads up to a pool in Anaheim, California. / Photo above and on the front from the Synthetic Grass Store in California, octurfstore.com.

This Green Acre column first ran a year ago. We’re rerunning it to give LittleBird Stephanie a well-deserved week off. She STILL doesn’t like fake grass.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

WHEN I WAS a kid I had a globe. It was mostly blue—water, you know—and suspended on a gold metal stand that let me give it a twirl, which I did from time to time, setting it spinning without looking and jabbing my finger at a spot. 

Aha! Outer Mongolia!

Oh ho! Bora Bora!

Oops. Splash.

Why I did this I don’t know. I did no more with the location than identify it. Then I’d go back to whatever it was I had been doing, feeding my white mouse, Willie, or reading about Egyptian burial customs, which held such grisly fascination for me when I was 10. 

When I get stuck with this column I do something similar: cracking open The Essential Earthman, my favorite of garden writer Henry Mitchell’s books, and seeing where I land. Fortuitously, I always land on something relevant. As there is little that is not relevant to something, this is handy. 

A pathway in Anaheim, California, is covered with artificial grass. / Photo from the Synthetic Turf Store in California, ocurfstore.com.

Today the book fell open to “Living Without a Lawn,” which is something I do very well. Mitchell, who could knock the pompous out of the most pretentious garden fusspot, said of lawns, especially small ones: “It’s particularly silly . . . in the minuscule little warrens of Georgetown and Capitol Hill. . . . ”

As I happen to live on Capitol Hill and possess two minuscule gardens, one front and one rear, with neither sporting a blade of grass, this is right on target. 

The notion that “the best people have lawns,” he said, “died about 1910 in the advanced sector of the population. . . .  I can remember quite well when the best people had cows.” President Taft’s wife, also known as Mrs. Taft, used to bring her prize heifers (or whatever they’re called) to graze on the White House Lawn, he noted. 

I could make a joke here but won’t. 

Few people today bother with lawns on Capitol Hill, but of the few lawns a surprising number are fake. These are not cheap fakes, either. With the starting price of homes hovering at around a million bucks and residents with multi-million-dollar egos, they wouldn’t be. They are made of your absolute finest, most luxuriant and costly plastic—the Prada of plastics—magnificently clipped, excruciatingly lifelike, bearing absolutely no resemblance to Astroturf and its ilk. 

So good are these installations that one (meaning me) when sensing a fraud, must bend and attempt to pluck a blade to be sure. This is an unpleasant experience. While one enjoys trompe l’oeil and the occasional bit of witty garden fakery, one does not enjoy being fooled by expanses of plastic dreck. 

I would bang on the door of one of these homeowners and beg an interview but, not being a good liar, would be unable to mask my hostility to their greensward for long—even behind both mask and Ray-Bans—and my angst would spew forth like snake venom. What possible excuse . . .

Instead of such horror, consider Mitchell’s suggestion for a shady spot—a framework of shrubs and such fine woodland performers as azaleas, camellias, lilies of the valley, bluebells and “grand little bulbous things like anemones, crocuses, and the like.”

For a place in the sun, a lily pond would do well, with a spot to sit and contemplate the “toads, fishes, water lilies, and such. With a backdrop of roses . . . there would be no need for a lawn. I am speaking still of tiny plots,” he said.

As am I. 

Fake turf offers a dizzying array of grass types and styles, including Kentucky Blue and Fescue. The Ultra grasses are shorter and intended for putting greens. There’s also a “Pet Paradise” fake grass that’s shorter and more compact. Crazy! / Photos from the Synthetic Grass Store in California, octurf.com.

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