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Artificial Turf

Horticulture e-news readers respond to a court case involving mandatory landscaping.
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From our e-newsletter of March 17, 2010:

I read an interesting news story last week about a car-wash owner in Brockton, Massachusetts. The city had ordered him to remove the artificial turf he had installed in front of his car wash in lieu of real grass or plants. He refused, and the case ended up in court, with a judge ruling last week in favor of the city. Although I'm obviously "pro-garden" and I want to encourage more people to take up gardening, I find myself on the side of the car-wash owner this time. If he knows he can't devote the time, energy or expense to keep a tidy lawn or garden, I think it's better he admit that and find another solution. Fake grass isn't pretty, and perhaps a better choice would be some rugged groundcovers and low shrubs, but at least he's making an effort in his own way.—Meghan Shinn, Horticulture editor

Readers e-mailed their comments:

No one should be required to have a lawn. Mine is as small as I can negotiate with my husband. My perennial beds and vegetable raised beds take up more and more space each year. Let's hear it for meadows!—C.M.

The city, like many these days, is trying to take on many more responsibilities than it should.—Fran

I live in deep south Texas in the winter, and then in the upper Midwest in the summer. At our home in Texas we have NO Grass, but we hosted the Master Garden Tour last spring. No grass, no grass to mow. With two hip replacements easy care is a must; almost all of the 7 gardens are in raised beds.—Art

The fake grass at least allows water to permeate the soil below. It's a much better choice than impermeable paving. Perhaps in time he would plant a tree or shrub or two. If encouraged to make it more appealing, he may also attract more business!—Marcia

Sounds to me on an infringement on his (car-wash owner's) rights. But then I know of at least three property owners in the upscale county where I live who have sunk inexpensive artificial (plastic!) flowers around their front yards that stay there year round. These fake flowers are so ugly and tacky (not to mention very weird looking jutting out from under snow) that I was thinking, "There oughta be a law" AGAINST such offensive ornamentation. So I suppose the decision should be up to the sensibilities of the local community, which is apparently what happened to the car-wash owner. Assuming the site is sunny, he could plant ornamental grasses interspersed with spring bulbs (daffodils, allium), daylillies (Hemerocallis spp.) and Gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia) for a long season of attractrive interest with relatively low maintenance.—Jeanne

It’s pretty sad that this country has become a dictator. We are supposed to live in a free country. If the man had garbage in his yard I could understand that. But at least he was trying to do something to cover the dirt. I was in Vegas and they used artificial turf and plants there. It looked nice. I myself would have used decorative rock and maybe some tall grasses. You know it’s his property; he should be able to landscape it how he chooses.—Janet

There's nothing worse than a lawn or bed of overgrown and neglected plants/grass. Shrubs need pruning and care and even groundcover needs maintenance. To force someone to provide something which they're either unable or unwilling to maintain is just dumb. Then when the area looks ratty, the poor guy will probably get slapped with a fine.—berkleemom

The car wash owner tired to keep it green in more ways than one. Sometimes I really have to question the "guidance" of our city leaders. Maybe some great landscape designer can go help him find a really xeric way to please the city and still be green.—Pam

I am on the side of the car wash owner. One by one, we are gradually losing our right as citizens and small business owners to make choices which benefit our families and our welfare. Political Correctness has grown beyond the realm of reason when one group’s opinion is forced upon the entire population. In the past 20 years, we have witnessed the folding of hundreds of small businesses because of all the restrictions placed upon them by government. Higher taxes, combined with increased reporting requirements and operating restrictions, have seriously hurt our economy. As these small businesses are forced to close their doors, jobs are lost, and families suffer.—Faye

I'm not in favor of fake grass under any circumstances, especially in this age of dwindling water tables and Midwest drought! Car-wash owners must be working their fingers to the bone adding up profits, and are rarely if ever visible when I go through an automated wash system, and I have the impression that their employees just stand around with their hands in their pockets when waiting for customers. Haven't these people yet learned that green turf isn't the only way to present an attractive entry facade? And where are you folks in explaining that grass isn't necessary anyway?—Susan

The fake turf should stay. I'm a Master Gardener who lives in Arizona. While I love to garden, turf is off the list. In fact, in our state, they no longer teach "turf" in the Master Gardener class. They discourage real lawns of any type. They do, however, encourage the use of artificial turf in playgrounds and such. Real turf requires too much water, does not do well around salts of any type, requires constant maintenance, doesn't turn green until April/May, and I can go on forever. His artificial green turf looks clean and is easy for him to hose off as needed. He should keep it. The officials should work on something of importance. Of course his other alternative is to pull it up and cover the area with concrete. Paint it green. Wouldn't that be sweet?—Kathy

I think he should have asked about low-maintenance plants. I agree with the city; bright green plastic grass has very little in common with the greens in nature.—bdlaudun

As a gardener & concerned earth person, I think that although the town is correct in asking the car wash owner to replace the "AstroTurf" with plantings (far superior to lawn), he may need some guidence & info as to Why. The water ( rain, runoff, etc) needs to permeate the soil to help all plants ( nearby trees too). The worst thing to do is cover the land with any impervious surface ie: asphalt, etc. What with driveways, buildings sidewalks, roads, not enough water gets straight into the earth in urban & suburban areas, causing more erosion and detereration of topsoil structure. Perhaps the town could supply the assistence of a Permaculture-focused professional to assist in the design.—Catherine

I agree with the car wash guy; even though I believe in the common good and gov. stepping in sometimes, this seems to be a case of overmanaging. What about the expense, gas, noise of a lawn mower, what about the fertilizer used, fertilizer spreader, the hose, sprinkler, nozzle, and water use. All cost the guy time and money when maybe he could grow his business to the better or have more cash for himself to spend in better pursuits, even more money in gov. taxes for better roads, schools. etc. Some artificial grasses are incredibly lifelike. Perhaps he made a cheaper choice, but what's so attractive about a strip of crappy real grass anyway?—Dorothy

Well, my opinion here but...if the artificial grass looked tidy, was keep neat and clean, the city should either butt out or they should offer to do it for him. I agree with you on the admission of not being able to care for his ground. Good for him and good for trying to come up with a eye-pleasing solution.—Donna

I can't stand fake grass, but it is probably much neater than an unkept urban curb area. I think this is a case of the city and courts spending too much time and energy on an inconsequential matter. I feel the same way about neighborhood covenants that force people to have "neat" front lawns instead of more natural settings.—Jay & Mary

It seems that if major league football can use "fake grass" that a car wash person, who may have little gardening experience, should be able to use the same. Personally, I'd rather see fake grass than concrete. Give the guy a break!—Linda

It doesn't take much to keep a small plot green! Maybe some grasses or perennials or maybe just ground covers. A little time and a little water goes a long way. He does have a car wash? Maybe find a lawn service, it would be a tax right off for him. Go green; there is no reason not to.—Don

I would say the poor guy is stuck between two boulders and about to get crushed. That does not say that I agree with the city. Any car wash that I have ever seen is paved to the edge of the property where the paving from the next business starts or it meets the roadside curb. By comparison artificial turf is pretty classy in my opinion.

1) If he ripped the "turf" out and left the area bare -- ie mud or hard baked dirt when dry -- the city would be all over him because that would not be "green" ( environmentally or in color)

2) If he plants grass, as the city wants, it would require extra use of water -- not very "greeen" if you ask me -- when the business is a hiigh water use industry. But also, this is a high traffic area. I have seen it all over the country at all kinds of businesses, people don't mind where they tromp. Landscaped areas around business are tramped through without heed for the plantings. Shrubs are broken and end up worse than a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. Grassy areas are not cared for. The grass develops large bare patches that become mud wallows when watered or it rains, or come Spring and the snow melts. I don't blame him for not wanting to put money into that. It would be an endless money pit in up-keep and re-doing it every time the city complained about the eyesore, or if as a good citizen he just couldn't stand to look at it himself. Also, just in general a lawn requires care to keep it green and looking nice. Not practical and very difficult around a high-traffic business.

3) It is a car cleaning area. No matter how careful the people using it are, and let's face it, people can be fussy about keeping their car clean, but turn into Mr Magoo when it comes to seeing the paper, plastic bags, etc. that blows out of their car while the doors are open, and trash is going to get spread around. This is a problem he probably has already, and it sounds like he keeps it cleaned up. If he didn't it would drive his customers away - no one wants to come to clean their car at a dirty, trashy looking car wash. Artificial turf is easier to clean up and maintain than grass. Plus, let's face it, shrubs are an even bigger trash catcher.

4) Maybe he should just pave it. Ooops. The city would really have a hissy fit over that. That isn't green at all ( environmentally or in color ).

5) Probably his best option is to pave a larger area and put in a chain-link fence or a line of really big rocks along the edge to keep cars and people where they belong. Unfortunately, the fence would become an unsightly trash catcher and require extra work to clean up. Then plant low shrubs ( don't want them tall enough to block a clear view of the area for security reasons) along it on the outside - not too close, your want to be able to get between the shrubs and the fence or rocks, for maintenance and if more space needs to be filled plant a ground cover.

I read the article. The city is like a bulldog with its teeth set in his throat. No matter what it is going to cost him big bucks. He has already been ruled against more than once which makes it doubtful that any further appeal can be won. He could spend more money on further appeals, most likely lose, and spend more money making the city happy -- if he still has a business left. Or he can spend the money doing something to make the city happy.—Laurel

I agree with the car wash owner!!! At least he's trying to make sure his property will look neat, which is far more than many businesses these day. I would also MUCH prefer something living and natural, but at least the artificial grass doesn't require irrigation!—Lana

I know it sounds like the owner lives in a communist country, but the town of Brockton is in its right to have the owner put in a real landscape. I've seen some pretty ugly fake landscaping in front of some of the businesses here in Connecticut. (Live plantings) could also give some business to a local landscaper and be better for the environment.—Tim

AstroTurf is better for the environment than grass (no fertilizers or gas-guzzling lawn mowers)—but not as good as some tough groundcovers, like nepeta, with some tough perennials like Allium 'Summer Beauty'.—Susan

While I am not a lover of AstroTurf, I believe it is better to have a no-maintenance style of turf in front of a business that looks halfway decent rather than a patch of weeds or a dying lawn. I think that sometimes city government gets into things that it shouldn't. While it is important for property owners to maintain a reasonable standard, that much interference is going over the top. Few businesses have the time or the profit to also maintain really nice landscaping, and car washes are usually surrounded by pavement and no greenery at all.—Paul