If you don't know how to take care of a lawn, find someone who can!
My counterargument to the New York Times advice column
Every time I’d catch my grandfather peering out of his picture window and scowling at someone nearby, I knew he was about to talk about grass. The man had a fruit and vegetable garden so well-kept that he saw no point in going to the grocery store for most things. He even grew flowers for fun. Along with being a handyman, gardening made him happy. But the one thing he could not stand was people “mowing grass wrong.” He wasn’t as unbearable as this lady, who called the police on someone for picking her tulips. He just didn’t understand why people were going in all kinds of weird patterns.
He coaxed me into watching people mow grass, just to see what he was doing versus them. Have you ever seen someone vacuum, and there are all these random zig-zag lines instead of neat rows in the carpet? That’s pretty much what his hang-up was. And considering his grass looked like it was waiting for a magazine photo shoot, who could blame him?
That’s immediately who I thought of while reading this New York Times post from a homeowner griping about a neighbor fixing the lawn. According to the post, the homeowner was trying to figure out why their lawn “magically improved” in various areas of the yard. Turns out that a retired neighbor “can’t stand clutter anywhere” and fixed it for them—for free. Although the husband doesn’t have a problem with it, the spouse thinks this behavior is “invasive and comes with an implied rebuke.” In other words, the spouse is sensitive about anyone telling the couple that they don’t know how to take care of the lawn.
The problem with this letter is the spouse is admitting that the neighbor made improvements. And professional gardeners charge anywhere from $60 to $200 per hour. Why create something that’s an eyesore for the block? Why not put that energy into fixing it? If you know someone who can—for $0—what’s the problem?
Playing Devil’s Advocate with my own opinion, anybody stepping onto your private property is problematic, especially if the busybody neighbor hasn’t asked first. But from the letter, it doesn’t sound like asking for permission would’ve done any good. The homeowners clearly aren’t all that invested in the lawn to begin with, other than mowing the lawn and using a weed whacker.
But who wants to be mortal enemies with a neighbor? Rarely do people want to come home to their favorite places to relax, only to have to deal with frenemies a few feet outside of their doors. And no matter how much my grandfather would shake his head and cringe at poorly mowed lawns, he didn’t grab his lawnmower and start cutting other people’s grass—even though the neighborhood watch was relentless about grass being mowed. Still, that was even a bit much for him.
There’s a happy medium I’m not seeing in the NYT answer though. It would help the retiree find something to do and help with the visibility of the couple’s lawn—just ask the neighbor for gardening tips. Those small pieces of advice could help the couple get the “magically” improved lawn this spring and make the neighbor find a new neighbor on the block to investigate. Win-win.
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