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Landscape Alaska: Lawn Thoughts

Posted: April 18, 2014 - 12:00am

What’s in a word? How does a field become a lawn?

It’s spring, and all over the borough, tiny green tips of grass are beginning to emerge. Some lawns in sunny and protected spaces are already green. Some are still whitened by winter’s freeze, and look like they might take a couple more months before they become the smooth green surface of fantasy.

Lawns have a long history with us humans. Their attraction goes back to our days on the savannah when danger lurked everywhere and we were delicious morsels. There is nothing so reassuring as a nice clear field of vision: nowhere to hide; no surprises. That’s a description of the archetypical lawn: safe, smooth and so richly green that an antelope could eat itself into somnolence.

Savannahs, pastures, prairies, and glades are all precursors to lawns, and they share some of the lawn’s noble qualities, but they are pretty broadly defined. They can contain a lot of things besides grass. They might have clover, yarrow, veronica, violets, buttercups, rushes, sedges, and, of course, MOSS.

Here in our corner of the world we witness the competition between grass and moss on an annual cycle. Right now the moss is in the lead. Almost every lawn in Juneau is partly moss, and with the grass pretty dormant now, the frilly, soft, even gooshy moss is really in charge.

Many of the longtime southeasterners are very satisfied with the condition of their fields. We like our mown combinations of species. The result is very satisfying. It’s mostly one length, it’s various shades of one color, it’s even fragrant, and the texture and deeply staining qualities are hard to beat. It looks like exactly what it is; a pasture that has been grazed short by a creature with sharp metal teeth.

More exacting inhabitants find this less satisfying. They look at the various shades and textures, they see how a week makes such a difference as the dramatically different growth rates make the smooth surface into a rumpled layer, and their poetic souls are not fooled. They know this is not a lawn. This is a faux lawn. A real lawn is all grass; moss is whipped out annually; edges are clearly defined; and the color… the color is all the same. There may be a spectrum of grass greens, but it is all the same texture.

Check out your yard. Where on the lawn spectrum do you fall? Are you a lawn purist or a mown pasture type of gardener? How much energy and attention are you focusing on the lawn?

Lawn technicians all over the town are busy removing the effects of winter now, sweeping off gravel left after snow piles melt, and getting plow damage tidied up before the annual moss hunt begins. Once the starting bell is rung, the competition for who can bag the most moss gets pretty competitive. Moss hunting requires no license, and the trophy is there for all to see.

• David Lendrum, with Margaret Tharp, has operated Landscape Alaska for 25 years in Juneau. They design and build landscapes on every scale and have won numerous awards both locally and nationally. They have a weekly call-in show on KINY and can be contacted through their website at www.landscapealaska.com.

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