Paint it Green

February 16, 2009

I was with my brother’s family late last summer in Vienna, Virginia. We walked to a nearby park, incidentally one of the parks where Robert Hanssen made some of his infamous dead drops to his Russian clients (but that’s another story). A new all-season baseball field was nearing completion, its artificial turf gleaming emerald, far more intense than the material I remember as a kid.

A landscaping tanker pulled up. Men with hoses emerged and started to spray down an area away from the fake grass with a hose, with what I assumed was a fertilizer mix.


When I got closer I saw something unexpected. The brown chaff around the perimeter of the diamond was glistening green. They had used a dye to turn the rest of the area artificially verdant (perhaps this stuff—safe! Nontoxic!). It’s a landscaping technique that seems to be growing in popularity, and not just for civic projects like this, nor even for proud homeowners anymore.

Welcome to the deep-recession grassscape, which seems to not have as many homeowners around to actually tend to it. Now these dyes are being used to keep up appearances of lawns of foreclosed homes, which overhauls the logic of modern landscape maintenance. Keeping up with the Joneses is irrelevant, because the Joneses are gone. A new lawn and garden industry niche has opened up: not sustained watering and fertilizing, but people who will paint your lawn, are of particular interest to real estate agents and neighborhood associations.


Nick Terlouw of Greener Grass Co., photo by Craig Sanders of the Record

A kempt yard is a miniature landscape that presents a responsible, prosperous, and disciplined family. The front lawn used to be one of the main units of the “good neighborhood”; its upkeep symbolized the neighborhood contract to keep the area nice, and property values up. A natty green lawn represents prosperity, and the implications are obvious when the lawns start dying.

So here’s a notion that only sounds radical because we are still conditioned by outdated notions of stability and affluence. Let the lawns die. Reframe our deeply held notions of suburban order via our small residential plots and transform lawns to gardens. In the process we’ll get much closer to our food and maybe even save money. Huge crises like this one are prime opportunities for huge cultural shifts, and the suburbs are fertile ground for this innovation, stereotypes notwithstanding.

For a photographic meditation on what the foreclosed future may look like, check the fine work of Eve Morgenstern. I see little farms just waiting to be seeded.


One comment

  1. Another fascinating Faux-Lawn:


    I saw ‘Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes’ at the Yale Architecture Gallery this weekend. It did a beautiful job highlighting the synthetic nature of the suburbs, and our evolving (and oft depressing) notions of prosperity.

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