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The Art of Lawn Maintenance: A Safe Debate We Can All Have

Published: August 12, 2022

There is a huge debate currently underway, with passions high on both sides.

No, it is not about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nor is it about Roe vs. Wade or gun control.

To Lawn Or Not To Lawn?

It is about lawns.

Lawns, according to one side, are an environmental disaster. In the U.S. alone, they consume three trillion gallons of water annually. Plus, there is all that fertilizer; those noisy, exhaust-belching mowers and trimmers; and the impact grass cutting has on pollinators like bees.

On the other side are those who extoll the virtues of a manicured lawn. No less an authority than the Lawn Institute states that lawns are actually good for the environment.

According to the Institute, pollutants in stormwater runoff can be absorbed by a thick lawn, decreasing the amount that makes it into a sewer system. And the oxygen production of a 50-foot by 50-foot lawn produces enough oxygen for a family of four (as long as they hold their breath during winter months).

Amidst all of this Sturm und Drang, I have a politically incorrect confession to make…

My Lawn Confession

I like lawns. 

More than that, I like mowing lawns.

This started at our place on the South Green. We had more than an acre to mow. As soon as I became old enough, I was out pushing around our beast of a lawnmower. It was noisy. It spewed blue-gray fumes. It could cut off your toe if you were not careful.

When you were 12, it was like having your own pet dragon.

The thing about mowing is that it is pretty mindless. Yes, you need to adhere to some sort of pattern. And, yes, you need to be careful not to cut off your own foot. But there is something Zen-like about it. Unlike, say, skiing, where you need rapt attention every second, mowing allows the mind to wander.

Never was this truer than when I worked at Crane Beach as a member of the crew. I was sometimes assigned the mowing of the allée running from the Great House of the Crane Estate down to Steep Hill and the sea. Climbing onto the tractor, with its gang mower in tow, guaranteed several hours of daydreaming as I crisscrossed the estate’s green expanse.

Sometimes, my thoughts would be about travel to exotic lands or imaginary sports exploits… or even more imaginary success in wooing a particularly unapproachable female of the opposite sex.

Fortunately, I emerged from these daydreams just prior to hitting one of the statues that line the allée or, when reaching the end, successfully avoiding the plunge down Steep Hill to the rocks and beach below.

Still Mowing My Own Lawn


Today, we have a home that sits on about a third of an acre in a relatively affluent neighborhood populated by doctors, lawyers, and members of the diplomatic corps. Indeed, many around us have lawn services. These show up with all manner of equipment, buzz around the property, and leave. It reminds me most of the grounds crews that pop out at Fenway Park mid-inning to spiff things up and quickly disappear.

But no lawn service for us. With a nod to the environment, we have an electric mower. We use little or no fertilizer, water sparingly, and even let the dandelions do their thing before mercilessly beheading them.

My neighbor across the street, sensing my bouts of periodic mowing euphoria, has dismissed his lawn service and purchased an identical electric mower. Another next to us has dispensed with grass altogether and has planted ferns, creating a kind of Jurassic Park (sans dinosaurs).

And Outdoor Lawn Roomba?!

One of the nearby embassy residences has taken things a step further — they have a robot that cuts their grass. Think of an outdoor Roomba with blades.

Which raises a Phillip K. Dick-type question: Do robot mowers daydream? Perhaps about other robot lawnmowers? Or travel to distant lawns?

Me? I just continue to have the same old daydreams. I do so now without the fear of plunging down Steep Hill to the beach below (although I do worry about what lurks in our adjacent ferns). As for the robots, they will have to pry my cold, dead hands off the handle of my Black & Decker before I give up my God-given right to mow.

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About The Author
Robert Waite
Robert Waite
Robert is Managing Director at Waite + Co., a communications firm with offices in Boston, Ottawa and Toronto. He also teaches at Seneca College. He has more than 35 years experience leading communications, marketing and government relations functions for some of North America’s largest firms, including Ford, IBM, CAE, CIBC and Canada Post. He served as Press Secretary to Senator Edward W. Brooke (R-MA) and Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) and in the Reagan Administration. He is a three-time winner of the New England Press Association’s Best Column Award. He can be reached at [email protected].
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