No green thumb? No problem--Ron Litke offers praise for AstroTurf

October 25, 2011

Ron Litke

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Those without a green thumb--take notice. Lawn care woes can be turned around with synthetic turf. Eight Forty-Eight commentator and Chicago writer Ron Litke took a creative look at this household problem.

I’m glad that fall is arriving; and so is my small backyard. For us amateur gardeners, the pummeling rain and intense heat this summer made some plants grow out of control while others were stifled or quickly scorched to brown. I freely admit I was not prepared to deal with the horticultural vicissitudes that I figure are more common to Equatorial Guinea.

And then there’s the grass, easily the most stupefying and Sisyphean exercise of homeownership. No matter the size, grass lawns are among the most wasteful uses of water; and rarely does a lawn come out right. Unless, of course, you are a member of the legendary Bossard family – which has cultivated the White Sox playing fields for more than 70 years and whose patented drainage system is used by most of the Major League. And it’s not just baseball—they created the first natural turf soccer fields in Saudi Arabia. So, if you’re working on grass and not a Bossard, you are, in my estimation, plainly delusional. Or you have so many chemicals in your lawn that it’s possibly radioactive.

I fell into this spiral of thought after my newly acquired combination retriever, Labrador and – I’m convinced – part goat-puppy, tore up the 20-or-so square feet of grass – rolls of verdant sod – that I planted in my backyard last summer. And then I spent too much of the winter trying to figure out what to do with my small but precious outdoor space. We kept the dog.

This year, however, I am triumphant. I step out my back door and survey a  sublime wave of green: It is Giverny in Chicago, minus the water lilies and the water. No watering, no mowing, just the simplicity and genius that is fake grass from completely recycled materials. Call it synthetic, artificial or the brand names FieldTurf, SYNLawn, Pregra or Sprinturf; I call it genius and could smack myself in the head for not installing it years earlier. The dog can’t tear it up, and whatever she drops on it is easily cleaned with a quick shot from the hose. I can use a vacuum to clean up the leaves.

And though I detest golf, I nonetheless have a putter and some golf balls that I gently tap into a drain at the back of the yard where, no matter how much it rains, the water that does not permeate the turf will return into the city’s water system.

And now I wonder: How can I install the turf inside? Sure, wood floors and carpeting are nice, but you know how so many houses these days are designed to “bring the outside inside?” Could there be a better way than turf? Lay it on the floor or use it as a throw on your couch and sit in the grass – heck, put in on the walls in your den with the big television; and, depending on the season, put down the chalk of a left-field foul line or the 50-yard marker with a Bears logo—finally, 4-D HDTV.

Or, if you’re a natural history sort of person, use the turf to recreate a historically accurate ancient species exhibit from the Field Museum. Try that with ordinary carpet; I don’t think so.

Fake grass is among the great artifacts of the postmodern era, a significant simulacrum of environmental irony – at 10 bucks a square-foot installed. When I walked in my yard today, the grass was perfect; and, much to my satisfaction, I know it will continue to be so throughout the winter – whenever it peeks out from what is supposed to be the snowiest season in years. I say, “bring it on.”