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Jul 11, 2005 9:39 pm

How Green Is Your Lawn?

William Weir, in the Hartford Courant (7-10-05):

Greg Burritt of Durham spends two hours a day, seven days a week on his lawn, and he's still not happy with it.

It's mainly some brown patches that are eating at him, which he blames on Foxy, his German Shepherd mix. See that? he says, pointing to a spot of dead grass. That's what dog urine will do.

``If you could invent something that would take care of that, you could quit your job forever,'' he says.

Actually, Burritt's lawn looks fine, and you wonder if the Durham resident isn't just another property owner with a distorted lawn image. Who could blame him? The lawn-care industry is a multibillion-dollar juggernaut that hasn't let up steam since it started rolling more than 100 years ago.

Pitting neighbor against neighbor and pushing us to ever more manicured lawns, the industry has long been feeding into our landscaping insecurities. The result is a uniquely American terrain that remains a curiosity to other cultures.

One of the industry's most ingenious turns, says historian Virginia Scott Jenkins, was promoting lawn care as a test of one's manhood. Ad campaigns used war metaphors and talk of doing battle against dandelions and weeds. No longer a routine chore, yard work became an adventure -- and every lawn soldier needed a mower, shears and hedge clippers in his arsenal.

``They advertised these as tools of war,'' says Jenkins, author of ``Lawn: History of an American Obsession.'' ``It was all very masculine stuff -- `You want to beat Mother Nature to a standstill; nuke that [Japanese] beetle.'''

It's been remarkably successful. According to the National Wildlife Federation, there are more than 50 million acres -- twice the size of Pennsylvania -- of residential lawn in the United States, and we spend from $40 billion to $70 billion a year to take care of our lawns....

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