Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Weeds in the Front Yard: aesthetic issues and depressing effect on local property values

Robert Wright´s front yard.  Picture in his article for New York Times
I have many posts explaining the American issues related to front yards, the obligation –at least in California- is to keep them as Wimbledon-like-lawns.
If there is something I really HATE in California man-made landscapes, is the gardeners´ habit to cut the bushes as cubes. That´s so incredible for me, because I can accept a bush that is destined to divide properties or areas in a garden, but to cut everything straight is really weird. Also, it is weird for me the wire mesh with an animal´s shape to be modeled as a bush, I see it too kitsch when it is not a sculpture in itself, in other words, when the wire mesh is bought at Home Depot or a nursery and there is no artistic value added. This opens a discussion about aesthetics, that is well treated by Robert Wright in his article for the New York Times ¨The Dandelion King¨, dated April 20th, 2010. (Difficult question: Is there an aesthetic of the weed?)
Robert Wright, is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, and writes for the New York Times every Wednesday about culture, politics and world affairs. 
Let us read some paragraphs from his great article:
I can accept this one. Picture posted  at
This one has a completely different concept from the frog. Probably you can find a kitsch wire mesh below. Image from
As I’ve told my neighbors, I feel bad about lowering the value of their property. I mean, it isn’t my goal to have a front yard that, by standard reckoning, is unattractive. The unkept look of my lawn is just a byproduct of a conclusion I reached a few years ago: the war on weeds, though not unwinnable, isn’t winnable at a morally acceptable cost.
When I first bought a house, back in 1993, I was under the naïve impression that the Wimbledonlike lawns in my neighborhood were more or less natural. At most, I figured, I’d have to pull the occasional weed and sometimes toss grass seed onto a barren patch before a spring rain.
Sure, I’ve done enough Googling to conclude that if you deploy the standard arsenal of lawn-care chemicals, you may well pose a threat to grass-eating pets or dirt-eating toddlers or, further downstream, water drinkers in general. 
I certainly applaud less lazy people who craft eco-friendly carpets of green in labor-intensive ways — researching and implementing elaborate “organic” weed-suppressant strategies. And I have nothing against people who can hire a battalion of weed pullers. But for me, the practical way to have an eco-friendly lawn is to have a weedy lawn.
The problem is that this approach doesn’t leave me with a wholly clear conscience. Sure, I can tell myself that I’m helping neighborhood pets and any straying toddlers — and maybe water drinkers in general. But then there’s the aforementioned effect on local property values.
An economist might frame my dilemma in terms of “negative externalities” — unwelcome effects that my behavior has on people other than me. Polluting the environment is a negative externality, but so is lowering the value of my neighbor’s home. How to choose between dueling externalities?
The first of the two externalities — releasing dubious chemicals into the environment — is the inevitable result of using them on your lawn; you can’t negate this negative externality without rewriting the laws of nature.  But the second externality — the depressing effect on local property values — results from something that may be mutable: prevailing opinion about what makes for an attractive lawn. The preference for Wimbledonlike lawns is not, I submit, a law of nature.
I mean, sure, an expanse of green probably does appeal to the typical human’s sense of beauty. But so does a snowcapped Alpine peak — and I’m definitely not putting one of those in my front yard. The question isn’t whether carpets of green are intrinsically attractive, but whether the more natural alternative — my front yard — is intrinsically unattractive. I think not.

Looking at Wright´s lawn picture, I suppose the problem is not the dandelion, but the grass that is left in between them. Of course, you cut the grass, and you cut the dandelions, unless you are extremely careful. Maybe he has to cut altogether, that´s it, I´ve never been worried about weeds unless they grow in the interstices of a path, or if they are too big, I remove them from the root. But after all, dandelion has a kind of beauty with its yellow flower, and I learnt some months ago, that it is edible, and you can make any type of salad. So, another solution, is to eat the leaves in salads and then cut the rest. When it grows again, you make more salads, and cut the grass  and weeds and so on.

Read the full article
More posts about front yards:
See animals bushes

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