Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Lawn Police

After a cold and rainy spring, we finally had four days in a row of sunshine, the effect of which has been to make our grass spring up almost over night. My initial reaction was delight that the grass was finally showing signs of activity, until I saw a neighbor glaring at the dandelions and clumps of onion grass in our yard. Uh-oh. We unfortunately did not dash out to tend to it.

Then the day before yesterday, while we were having school, I saw a truck from the Borough parked outside the house, and one of the workers carefully measuring our grass. Yes, that is what they do around here, measure people's grass; if it surpasses a certain height (the exact number of inches eludes me at the moment) then the offending homeowners are fined. We do not know if someone reported us or if it was random stop by the lawn police.

As one might guess, the lawns of our neighbors are manicured to perfection, pumped with so many chemicals to create an almost unnatural shade of green, excessively pruned and prim and utterly devoid of charm. The houses are ranch-style from the seventies, as utilitarian as can be imagined, and ugly as sin. The lawns are maintained at great effort and expense, which is so strange since no one is ever seen sitting in the front if their homes, enjoying the result of such costly maintenance; it is all just for show.

Not that I do not enjoy gardening myself, I do. However, in the last few years, things have gotten a little out of hand in some of the flower and herb beds, which seems to bother our neighbors more than it bothers me.

Such bourgeois obsession with lawn care is completely alien to me. When I grew up in Maryland our house was at the end of a long driveway, surrounded by dense woods, on a back country road. Even had we lived in view of the road, it probably would not have kept my father from leaving his canoe in the front of the house, where it could be more easily loaded onto the top of the car for frequent outdoor excursions. While we did have a front yard, sort of, the pine trees created dense shade; the grass never grew very tall. Along the sunny side of the house, my mother made a sloping rock garden with bonsai trees, rhododendrons, and a profusion of petunias and marigolds. No grass to cut there. As for the lawn in the back of the house, it was surrounded by woods and pasture. There were dogwood, sassafras, oak, maple, and plenty of pine. Some trees were draped with wild roses and honeysuckle, which would bloom in June. Often, in the spring, we would let the horses out to graze in the lawn, which made for a rather lumpy effect, but why let such lovely grass go to waste? And we were outside a great deal; it was a place of beauty, mostly due to the rusticity.

Now I live in the most conventional of middle class neighborhoods, where lawn maintenance is enshrined in law. Not that a yard should become a wilderness, and there are times when the municipal authorities should intervene. However, for a city to pay people to measure the grass of private citizens in order to discern whether or not the yard offends is a bit much. But, unless I like paying fines, cutting the grass as soon as it gets an inch beyond the designated height must be a priority, because such is life in "Happy Valley." Share


Anonymous said...

Wow...gotta love that! I think the dirty looks at the lawn are par for the course in our middle class neighborhoods. That's why my goal is to live in a cabin in the woods someday...something like where you were raised?

Wendy Haught said...

That's why I couldn't wait to leave our "master-planned community" and get to the country. We didn't get in trouble about the height of our grass, but we painted our front door a different color WITHOUT APPROVAL from the homeowners' association. Was the new color obnoxious? No. It was a very traditional forest green.

Anonymous said...

Funny, Chesterton predicted this sort of thing.
You're not allowed to break conventions (lawn height and preferences are subjective) while the breaking of the commandments (objective law)is lauded and promoted at every turn.

I'm so rebellious, I'd put a sign on the lawn: "environmental study in natural grasses, save the planet"
just to see what would happen.:>

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Carmelitemom, although our house was not quite a cabin, I would be happy with one now.

Wendy, how annoying. Your door sounds lovely; you think it would please them. There is nothing more pathetic than attempts at gentrification by petty people.

Susan, I think that's what bothers me the most. Come election time, the same people with the overly pruned yards show that unborn life is not a priority.

christopher said...


I can't even begin to consider posting a comment on this phenomenon without my blood pressure skyrocketing... It's simply more of the inhuman and impersonal system we've accepted. Everything and everyone is turned into a faceless number, or even an economic value rather than as a citizen and a neighbor. These homeowner associations and city code enforcers care nothing for life or quality of life. It's all about property value, the almighty dollar.

Where in MD did you grow up? I grew up in Prince George's County before and after the inner city flight to the suburbs. It was an unbelievably safe and happy place in the early 70's. By the 80's, I had people stealing things from my bedroom while I was sleeping.

There's still some nice places in the state but it's government is so far gone it's only a matter of time...It really makes me sad when I think about what was once a such a serene place.

I've been to Happy Valley a few times, years ago, I had no idea it was coming to this also.

elena maria vidal said...

Well said, Christopher.

I grew up in Frederick County, still lovely, although the traffic has gotten a bit out of hand.

Terry Nelson said...

I wonder if the neighbors who vote pro-abortion know you are Catholic and pro-life? Or do you have a statue of Our Lady showing? Big crime in planned neighborhoods.

Measuring the lawn! - like straining the knat and swallowing the camel.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, they all know. The statue of St. Michael is a dead giveaway.......

Terry Nelson said...

I'll bet that has something to do with it then.

elena maria vidal said...

It could be.

Anonymous said...

Your neighborhood sounds almost identical to the one I grew up in - perfectly manicured yards but no one ever enjoyed them, that I could see. Neighbors even sued each other over bylaw infractions!

Homeowner associations can be good things I suppose. But if it's your preferences being banned, then they don't seem so wonderful. Often they become a vehicle for pettiness and ill will between neighbors. What could be considered offensive varies greatly. Old, rusty cars on a lawn would irk me; to someone else they could be a beloved collection. My Mary statue brings me peace but might make a neighbor's head spin.

I know that in many areas there are very few bylaw free homes for purchase. I wonder if someday land in the country will be at a premium because of the freedom from bylaws, mello roos and fees they offer.

Freedom to do as one pleases with one's home and land is a lovely thing. Your post reminded me of the ending of The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse by Beatrix Potter: "One place suits one person, another place suits another person. For my part, I prefer to live in the country, like Timmy Willie."

The lawn police measuring your lawn seems a bit silly to me. Long lawn or not, I would be grateful to have a wonderful person like you as my neighbor!

elena maria vidal said...

That's sweet of you, Margaret. A friend who has lived in this community a long time said that this year they are being extra diligent about measuring the grass in order to make money through the fines. We received our "warning" yesterday. Luckily we got our grass cut.....

lara77 said...

Elena, I cannot believe that communities have nothing else to do but measure lawn grass!! It is beyond comment! I live in a small community in northeastern Massachusetts and all I ask is that neighbors be clean and maintain their properties. I have neighbors who let the leaves from their trees blow onto my lawn so they have no clean up! This September a fence is encircling my property. Good fences make good neighbors!

Enbrethiliel said...


Elena, I had always imagined you living in a mini-Trianon with gorgeous garden walks . . . I wonder why . . . ;)

elena maria vidal said...

Probably because I imagine myself living there, too....;-)

Brantigny said...

O the north.

You can not see me, but I am laughing.

I do not know how much land you have there but there is plenty of land around here.

Anyone who measured my grass would likely find my dogs, assisting in their rapid departure.

I often wonder if there are any, like, crooks they could be chasing. What is next, checking the amount of shampoo on the shelves at WalMart?

Move to the South, where a lawn ain't a lawn until it hides your old car.


Brantigny said...

Follow up.

I thought you lived in Pennsylvania not Stepford, Connecticut.

still LOL.


elena maria vidal said...

Stepford, Pennsylvania, that's where I live, for sure.

I would love to move south again, even if it's just as far as Maryland. But my husband's an ol' P.A. boy and he won't budge.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if any of your neighbours realise that it's actually healthier for grass to be long and wavy? They'd have fewer disease problems - and therefore fewer expenses - if they let things go a little.

We also have by far the worst-looking front yard on our (suburban) street. Ratty lawn owners unite!