Sunday, March 22, 2009


After an excellent lunch of dorade and chips, and Leopard's Leap Sauvignon blanc, at the restaurant on the upper level at Kirstenbosch, my mom, Vince and I strolled through the gardens. It's not something I do frequently enough in Cape Town. Vince and I had hiked up the mountain a couple of times, starting in the garden, but this place is very special, and should be visited often.

It was our early evening return from one of those hikes - up Skeleton Gorge, along the Aqueduct, between the Reservoirs and down the Jeep Track - that made me think again about lawns. The whole expanse of garden was in the great shadow cast by Table Mountain's eastern bulwarks, and the lawns were still peopled sparsely by quiet humans reading, on their own on a kikoi, or talking together, or playing bats, or sharing a bottle of wine. With the Hotttentots Holland Mountains on the horizon, still in sunlight, this foreground scene was idyllic, and made possible, it seemed, by that beautiful, soft, inviting lawn.

Again, that day after lunch, the lawns had lured picnickers (I find it inhuman that one may not picnic at the BBG), mothers and children, fathers and children, and the lone book readers. All generations were represented. And everyone was on the grass, in shade like cool water, cast by the old trees, on the hottest of days.

Let's not rip up our lawns! That was my Damascus experience.

I have written about destroying lawns in favour of other plantings (seeing thyme growing in a French lawn was the other Damascus moment). And the anti-lawn lobby has much moral right on its side in terms of the chemical component in lawn growing. But that is not the only way to grow a lawn, though it might be the easiest.

Lawn is luxurious, and calls us to play, and lie back. And think, with the sky on top of us. While the whole of the United States seems to be one big injudicious lawn, I think lawns just need re -evaluation. Halve them. Garden in the other half. Detach yourself from the TV. Unplug. Go outside. Don't be a lawn Nazi. Either on the dandelion-bashing end of the scale or on the ohmygod- you're-a-bad-person-you-have-a-lawn end...Chill.

We stopped at Colonels Bird's bath (picture in this sweet post), my favourite place - the clear, cold spring water welling up in it and flowing down the slopes in a beautiful, shallow watercourse with stepping stones beneath tree ferns and kloof plants. We passed a very small boy fishing for tadpoles.

We climbed higher to see the family of Eagle Owls we had been told about, and found them in the low branches of a Rhus, patiently observing the humans who came to pay them court in a trickling and polite stream.

And driving out and down to go home we stopped to buy proteas from the funny yellow car that parks here in the hottest of temperatures. They come from Stellenbosch.

Not everyone has a world heritage site on the doorstep. If this is your doorstep, pack a basket, and go and lie on the lawn...


  1. You wrote on Garden Rant:
    "The Fundamentalist type of blanket-attack on lawns/conventionally produced fruit and vegetables/out of season produce is just that: intolerant and immodest. We are moving in the right direction, but we should not firebomb the people whose choices are not ours."
    Excellent point. Nice blog.

  2. Hi Pam - thank you, and thank you. Big subject, isn't it?

  3. Like all of these discussions, it's fraught with good points on both sides. Should we have huge expanses of lawn that require chemicals to survive, the same chemicals which are polluting the lakes, rivers, and seas? should we have huge expanses of lawn that require lots of gasoline to be mowed? should we have huge expanses of lawn that need to be on life support, i.e. constant tranfusions of water, one of our rapidly dwindling, non-renewable resources? Maybe one of the answers is that we live more like most Europeans, in smaller houses on smaller lawns...and have a commons where we can lay out our blankets and enjoy the green grass?

  4. I've understood it as a class issue here in the US, where poorer classes grew food on their land, the upper echelons had no need of that and grew manor-style lawns indicative of status. It's a very interesting topic, now loaded with locavore implications.

    You are right about the BBG. I doubt that's always been the policy. I wonder when it changed and why.

  5. Ha - how I love a heated lawn debate! I can say I've also gone the full evolution from unaware to a water-wise zealot 'lawns are water guzzlers and high maintenance, so reduce your lawn!. But now I consider lawns a worthy design element: they are calm, green horizontal spaces which are restful on the eye and lovely to lie and walk on. And frankly (rationally), how resource-intensive is my little buffalo mix lawn? It requires no spraying, less water than a shade planting, and a mow every fortnight. For me it's worth it 100%.

  6. QC - for huge expanses of lawn I advocate sheep as mowers and fertlizers.

    Sigh. For anyone who has lain in the thick grass of the Sheep Meadow in Central Park on a summer evening, as the buildings on 5th Avenue, CPS and CPW turn gold and then sepia, ripping up a lawn is a very sad thing. The lawn is, in many ways, America.

    Amarilla, yes. Though the class thing baffles me. To me class is something else entirely, an innate quality. But consider the landed gentry of England who all had walled kitchen gardens. And hot houses for all those out of season Muscats...In fact why all the uproar? Keep the dang lawns, just do not use the pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. They really not necessary.

    Marijke, I'm with you...moderation, moderation.

    I still don't like golf courses.


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