Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Great Lawns

Before President-elect Obama made his electrifying acceptance speech at midnight EST last Tuesday, John McCain made a concession speech on the ‘lush lawn’ (New York Times 11/5/08) of the land-marked Arizona Biltmore Hotel. Most viewers were hanging on McCain’s words. But because like most women I’m a great multi-tasker, I was also trying to get a glimpse of the lawn in the darkness.

One and a half years ago DJ (Daughter Jen) and I stayed at that hotel for one night on our way to a longer visit to the Grand Canyon. With views of stately Camelback Mountain in the near distance the hotel, that calls itself “The Jewel of the Desert”, has a massive watering program to maintain the lushness in an alien climate. DJ and I were dismayed at the lawn and plant choices made by the landscaper and escaped to the Desert Botanical Garden nearby to enjoy a much more appropriate scene.

Back in New York City, Central Park features a thirteen-acre oval carpet of Kentucky bluegrass known as The Great Lawn. The lawn was totally refurbished eleven years ago with special soil, sod, drainage pipes, irrigation lines and 250 pop-up sprinklers. In 1997 the cost estimate for maintaining the lawn was 650,000.

Like the lawn at the Arizona Biltmore, it’s lush and well-cared for, and the scene of some major events. People go there to read, relax, and sun themselves, play softball, cricket, make out, and listen to concerts. The stage on the great lawn has played host to the likes of Pavarotti, Pope John Paul II, the NY Philharmonic, and a new Disney movie.

Dear gardeners, do we need/want/deserve such a lawn? Does a privately owned hotel in the desert deserve it?


Anonymous said...

As a lover of lawns, I have come to appreciate a compromise. Personally, I've drastically reduced the size of mine. It's now down to just enough to give me a taste of it while still allowing my children to play on it. They still love that! However, I also appreciate the need to balance the monoculture of a lawn with a more diverse planting, which I have done. Over the years, I've weined my lawns and landscape off chemicals and the good thing is, it still looks great!
Regarding the "Great Lawns", yes, they serve a purpose. As you stated so well, lawns are the foundation for many great memories and set the stage so nicely for many things. We should not lose site of the fact that they are living plants, and take in carbon dioxide while releasing oxygen. They also absorb water and reduce runoff. HOWEVER, they don't need to receive the amount of water we habitually put on them (wasting a very precious resource) and we surely don't need to treat them with so many chemicals. In fact, these 'public'lawns should lead by example and utilize more eco-friendly methods while at the same time, informing the public (via signage or whatever) as to their methods. What a great teaching moment. I also feel public lawns especially have a responsibility to keep them safe and that means paying more attention to what they're using to maintain them. Lawns can be beautiful and of great benefit to the mind and body, but they don't need to be perfect and they certainly don't all that goes on and into them to look that way.
Thanks for a thought provoking post.
Joe Lamp'l

Ellen Spector Platt said...

Hey Joe, I too once looked at a large,perfect lawn as the gold standard that I'd love to achieve but was too busy (too lazy?) to try. On my farm I left most of the uncultivated ground in natural meadow,with walking paths cut through and everything mowed once or twice a year. Seven years ago a spokesperson for the neighboring development came to complain about me 'harboring vermin' in the tall grasses and wild flowers. I think that attitude is changing as our eyes and brain adjust to what's ideal.

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