To mow or not to mow, that’s now the question

  • Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
  • Saturday, April 20, 2002 9:00pm
  • Local News

Mike Sheehan once sent me a note that at first glance looked mighty hostile. On the outside of the envelope, he had penned: "Julie Muhlstein killed my lawn."

A mail carrier surely looked askance at the mysterious missive. I knew Sheehan meant his silly taunt in the nicest possible way.

Back in 2000, I met Sheehan and his wife, Elise, at their north Everett home to discuss their support of Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader. The Sheehans’ politics may be green, but their lawn — well, they don’t have lawn.

Tired of the drudgery and not sold on the environmental aspects of a traditional yard, they put down dampened sections of newspapers to kill their front lawn.

"We’d been in the house 10 years, and every year the garden beds got bigger and the lawn got smaller," Mike Sheehan said last week. "We were at the point of cutting a path around the beds. We decided, let’s just kill the rest of it. Every morning I’d walk out and there on the ground was The Herald with your picture."

So long as the Sheehans are happily lawnless, I’m honored to have played a role in a death by newspaper. I’m honored, but not ready to do away with my front lawn. With a 3-year-old entering his years of T-ball, Frisbee and rolling on the grass, I’m a long way from a bark and shrubbery landscape.

I do admit to being envious as mowing season cranks up. Every weekend until summer’s heat slows the growth, the lawn-free crowd can head to the beach or the ballpark while my teen-agers and I haggle over grass-cutting duty. Mowing on a nice day beats vacuuming, but nothing beats reading in a lawn chair.

"We see a lot of people rip out the lawn, it’s really common," said Tim Gray, co-owner of Pacific Stone Company Inc. The Everett business serves mostly residential customers, supplying stone for patios, walkways and gardens.

"Right now, people are mowing every four days," Gray said. Every four days? Gosh, where’s that teen-age son of mine?

With a "hardscape" of paving stone, Gray said, maintenance is minimal — sweep it or blow it off. Gray himself has an acre of lawn, but plans to replace the grass around his house with stone.

Top-of-the-line these days is Pennsylvania bluestone, featured often on home improvement shows, he said. There are many options, from concrete pavers to sandstone, slate, quartzite, granite and basalt.

Lifestyle dictates the choice, Gray said. "Flagstone and little kids don’t mix, the Big Wheels don’t cruise over the top of them," he said.

There’s a wide range in price, too.

A stone project can generally run "anywhere from $500 to $8,000," said Jason Heineken, who works for Northwest Landscape Supply at Smokey Point. A customer with a hilly lot on Orcas Island is spending $50,000, he said.

Maintenance isn’t the only consideration.

Kathy Kamel recently took out her front lawn for primarily environmental reasons.

"I didn’t want to water or use fertilizer or moss control," the Everett woman said. She replaced grass with a bark and compost surface and drought-resistance plants, including rock roses, lavender, wild lilac, juniper and heather.

Kamel has a teen-ager too, but even so was often stuck mowing her sloping yard, a chore she won’t miss.

Many of us see mowing as tedium, but not Miki James. When she moved from Woodinville to Everett, James missed mowing a large lawn. She now cuts the grass as a favor for several neighbors.

"I do it because I like it," James said when I stopped her in front of a neighbor’s house on Rucker Avenue and motioned for her to turn off her noisy edger. The gas edger, she said, "was what I wanted for my 40th birthday."

"Yard work is something I love. I like the process," said James, who isn’t a bit tempted to kill off her grass.

Mike Sheehan, whose whole front yard is a perennial garden, doesn’t mind yard work either.

"We’ve turned our garage into a greenhouse," he said. "We’re digging and dividing plants every year. We have planted trees that are still young, and we’re trying to transition into a shaded woodland garden.

"It’s just more enjoyable to me than pushing a lawn mower," Sheehan said.

For the rest of us, it’s another April weekend. Gentlemen and women, start your engines.

Contact Julie Muhlstein via e-mail at, write to her at The Herald, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206, or call 425-339-3460.

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