18 November 2008

Gardening Under Attack Online on “Garden” Blogs

Gardening Under Attack Online on “Garden” Blogs

The internet has been a boon to gardeners seeking information. A simple click of the mouse brings up thousands of pages on any topic of gardening. Gardening professionals as well are clicking away to find information, treatments and cures for insects disease and even for finding new products to offer. The internet also offers a tool to find the best deals at competitors as well. But a look below the surface finds a growing grass root effort to change the way Americans garden.

Blogs have grown very popular over the last five years. It only makes sense since the term blogging has gone from geek speak to main stream. Once the realm of late night political radicals, bloggers now cover every topic imaginable from politics to yes even petunias. A recent survey by a Washington newspaper showed there are now at least 800 blogs dedicated just to the subject of gardening.

Within the gardening blogosphere one finds sub topics covering all the differing aspects of gardening. There are dozens of blogs on organic gardening, sustainable gardening, city gardening, gardening in the desert and herbs. The list goes on. Many of the blogs offer up little more than a gardener’s personal journal documenting that gardener’s trial and error with new varieties, weather and animal encroachments. These personal gardening journals are amongst the best reading garden blogs with comments from other gardeners encouraging each other to continue trying to grow that top sized tomatoes or prize pumpkins.

One of the more popular garden blogs is one called Garden Rant. Garden Rant is unusual in the fact is written by four authors. Most blogs are the personal creations of one individual. Garden Rant is also unusual in that the four contributors are admittedly not avid gardeners but writers who write about gardening. They do have gardens but they are by self proclamation writers first who started gardening as a hobby.

Their manifesto statement is to amongst other things, to cause a horticultural revolution while uprooting the garden industry, love bug ridden overgrown gardens all while being suspicious of the horticultural industry. Upon reading this feisty manifesto and opening statements my curiosity was piqued and I was ready to defend my industry. It has been a lonely fight most of the way. These ladies wanted to start a “revolution.”
So far I am about the only one regularly defending the garden business and “normal” gardeners from an onslaught of attacks on the way we garden and conduct business in the garden industry.

One of the icons of the American Dream, a green lawn, has come under a barrage of attacks from Garden Rant and others in the blogosphere. Lawns to these bloggers are unnecessary, time consuming, polluting, over fertilized, water hogging, and out dated.
The online groundswell against the American lawn has grown to the point of calling for the Great Lawn in Washington to be replaced with a vegetable garden!

The Great Lawn in Washington is a symbol of American independence. This lawn has enabled the greatest of American rights, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. The greatest protests in American history have taken place on this lawn. From the Million Man March, Viet Nam War protests, rallies to support troops and veterans have all taken place on this lawn. A smaller version of the Great Lawn sits in front of millions of American homes. These great lawns in miniature are the work and pride of homeowners who embody the same over riding principle behind the Great Lawn in Washington, freedom and pride of accomplishment.

Freedom of assembly is represented in home lawns by the gathering of families and friends for picnics on Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July. Accomplishment is represented by home lawns in pride of ownership. A well kept lawn shows pride of the homeowner not only in his home but the neighborhood in which he lives.

Lawns are places where kids play, babies learn to crawl and great childhood memories made. Front lawns and back yard lawns are places for families to gather, play games or just look longingly into the sky. These time honored American traditions are hard to do from the middle of a vegetable garden!

This not to say that the anti lawn crowd do not have some good points. Large lawns that are heavily fertilized can add to fertilizer run off and excess use of water in arid climates.
Some neighborhoods do consider lawn mowers a noise pollution issue. In fact many homeowners associations place limits on when mowers can be run. And fertilizers do cost money and most are made from petro industry byproducts.

However the trend in the size of American lawns is shrinking. Homeowners with large expanses of manicured green lawns are reducing the size the area under intense care.
Time is an issue as well. Many do not want to spend the entire weekend mowing raking and fertilizing a big lawn.

Americans still do love lawns just smaller ones. So why is there all this banter about getting rid of lawns? Some in the anti lawn movement want lawns outlawed altogether.
It would be a strange scene indeed to see front lawns across the country replaced with vegetable and herb gardens. They would be nice to look at but still strange things to see next to the driveway.

I think this anti lawn groundswell is a product of mob mentality. When someone in a controlled atmosphere, such as a blog, a political speech at a convention get the crowd excited they follow the leader and climb aboard the band wagon. When people of like minds gather on a regular basis with no opposition it is easy for the leader to get all on their side.

If you love your lawn though, all is not lost. What has made the garden industry a unique business is that is an industry of small businesses. There are some giants in the industry but the traditional garden outlet is family run. The garden industry is still thankfully a wonderfully fragmented industry with thousands of small businesses. This is replicated in the gardening blogosphere as well. Top read blogs in electronics, autos and politics have tens of thousands of readers daily. Garden Rant one of the top read garden blogs has less than 1500 readers daily. While there is a movement to rid the American front yard of its green lawn it is a small movement that may be limited by the very thing that makes gardening such a wonderful industry. It is a small industry dominated another icon of the American experience, small business.


  1. Icon of the American dream? Lawns??? I think not... Obsession, maybe (especially with a neighbor who mows twice a week!). Lawns are NOT the "underdog"...the obsession with lawns has run rampant over everyone else for years (you really need to mow those weeds...or else!)

    Wildflowers and native plants were banned for years...they're STILL illegal in many places. I'm one of those mavericks leading to way to a small lawn, and a yard full of birds, butterflies, and flowers. 150 species of native plants that come up on their own, take care of themselves, and need just minimal maintenance in a 1 acre yard.

    It would be a WONDERFUL thing to see front lawns replaced with vegetable and flowers! Finally...something to look AT! My neighbor's yard is empty and flat; I literally have small "flocks" of butterflies floating through clusters of flowers and greenry.

  2. What Bob said, plus: The ideal of the American Lawn, from whatever deep-seated simian memories it arises, has led to numerous mistakes in urban landscape planning (uncontrolled runoff would be a big one) that I must work to mitigate daily in my position as a commercial landscape manager. Our cities are finally getting an awareness about irrigation management and runoff control, and so regulations are helping encourage property owners and managers to do better jobs of taking care of their land. I am proud to encourage our customers to replace inappropriate lawns with drought tolerant and soil-holding shrubs and ground covers.

    As for the residential scene, many neighborhood yards simply default to the obligatory lawn of what we in the industry call "mixed warm season weed grasses" which the resident can pay someone to mow weekly to keep it looking acceptable to our lawn-biased eyes. My yard has no lawn, because I value the diversity of plants and the fauna it feeds and shelters. My family often gathers in the garden to socialize and stargaze, so I know it can be done!

    That said, I do recognize some people really use their lawns for lawn things and so I encourage them to learn how to care for them to reduce water waste, runoff and chemical use.

  3. "A smaller version of the Great Lawn sits in front of millions of American homes. These great lawns in miniature are the work and pride of homeowners who embody the same over riding principle behind the Great Lawn in Washington, freedom and pride of accomplishment."

    While I love the sentiment, I seriously doubt that the majority of small-lawn owners are purposefully planting "Small Great Lawns". I wouldn't want the Washington Great Lawn replaced. It is a Memory in green. But calling all lawns purposeful memorials seems a bit naive to me.

    I think MOST people who plant a lawn just don't know enough to know their options. And there are so many! Fragrant lawns of herbs and low-maintenance flowers. Steppables. Our options today make "just" a lawn rather passe, and let's say it: boring.

    Bless those who love their lawns. May they live long and prosper. But there are new and exciting ways to beautify one's environment, and growing veggies is hardly an ignoble way to do so. Planting steppables which exude fragrance and flowers at each step is hardly thumbing a nose at the garden industry. Planting a low-maintenance herbal lawn to attract wildlife is hardly a an irresponsible alternative.

    We now have options, and we are not afraid to use them!

    /Rant Off, and go Garden Rant!


  4. Thanks to all for at least seeing my point a little bit. By all means do what you will with your front yards and back yards. Lawns can be a useful part of the landscape in private and public areas.

    I have never said they need to be Scotts Four Step-ped to death or glow in the dark. A healthy lawn filters out dust from the air and filters runoff almost but not as good as wet lands. Plus the amount of CO2 it absorbs and replaces with oxygen is far more efficient on a square foot basis with a planting of ornamental trees or replaced lawns. Not to mention erosion control.


  5. The White House lawn in question is not the historic protest site that you are thinking of. The protest site/historical green space is called "the Mall" and there is no push to turn it into a garden. The White House lawn is protected by a high, pointy fence and a lot of very serious guards. It gets used at Easter for and egg roll event.

    I'm not surer where the previous anonymous poster is getting his data, but the biomass of a square foot of lawn can't compete with the biomass of a densly planted garden or wild space.

  6. This blogger is missing the point entirely. First of all this is a movement to try and get the new President to plant an organic vegetable garden on those 18 acres of lawn around the white house. Not the ENTIRE lawn either. Probably less than one acre would be fine. This is NOT about the lawn on the "Mall".

    This is a push on our new president to encourage by example, to get people to grow their own food and to stop relying on produce that comes from an average of 1500 miles away, wasting all kinds of resources in fossil fuels and using practices that encourage more pesticide use.

    Growing a vegetable garden on the White House grounds would teach those beautiful girls too about growing things, which is always a positive thing for just about anyone.

    It would harm nothing, and help a lot. Eleanor's "Victory Garden" inspired thousands of families to supplement their diets with home grown produce, and helped ease a nation's burden to provide food when we were entrenched in a World War and a horrible economic situation.

    It's healthier, it's more environmentally sound, and it will encourage preservation of an abundance of heirloom seed varieties that would otherwise be lost to big agri-business.

    If the diarist above loves lawns, so be it, though I would say he/she has a complete lack of creative imagination of what a yard SHOULD look like. A lawn is not an American Icon either, that's a bunch of platitudinous BS. Lawns have been extant all over Europe for centuries. They were boring then, and they are boring now.

    It's time to create a real garden on the White House lawn!

  7. Dear Joy:

    If not for a lawn where would your chidren run around barefoot? in the rose garden?

    Where would they play tag, hunt for night crawlers play catch etc.

    Where would they lay at night counting stars or during the day making sculptures from fluffy clouds?

    No one said a lawn need take up the entire garden.

    For a lawn is part of the garden.


  8. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  9. Lawns may symbolize something different to everyone just as a natural environment does. Me?
    Lawns = futility and deprivation

    Nature = co-existence, respect, harmony, fun

    In my yard, I genuinely prefer an exciting thicket of combined sumac, hazelnut, and maple/oak/ash seedlings than lawn for example. I just do.
    It not only provides me with drink, food, and a happening view of wildlife, but it must be right because these plants are native to my region.

  10. Great blog you have here :) and I think lawns do symbolize something different to everyone.