Keeping Up With What?

Keeping up with the Joneses is an idiom in many parts of the English-speaking world referring to the comparison to one’s neighbor as a benchmark for social class or the accumulation of material goods. To fail to “keep up with the Joneses” is perceived as demonstrating socio-economic or cultural inferiority.


One of our neighbours called the Lawn Police on us again.

This is the second time, in as many years. I hear the threatening knock at my front door in the middle of the afternoon, an uncommon occurrence around here, and I know right away it must be a complaint. Who ever comes to the door with a basket of muffins and a hello, anymore?

Apparently, our abundant crop of dandelions and thistles has irked someone on either side of us. Was it Master Gardener on the right? She and her husband spend oodles of time outside, perfecting the tidy perfection of their perfect lawn, but they’re generally very nice to us.

Or, was it Busy Mom on the left – the one with so many berry bushes, whose three sons keep numerous defunct and in-process vehicles on the front boulevard at all times? We’ve definitely had words with her on various subjects over the years.

“You know, dandelions are bee food,” I say, folding my arms in an attempt to energetically oust Mr. Jorgenson, the uniformed By-Law Officer on my steps. “Isn’t this my yard? My home?”

“Yes, but . . . Unfortunately your dandelions go to seed and waft over to the neighbours’ yards,” he responds with some amount of sympathy.

“Bees are dying by the droves. Pretty soon our world will have no more bees, no more pollination. Do you want to live in a world without fruit?”

“My wife says the same thing to me,” comforts Mr. Jorgenson. “I’m just doing my job. I’ll have to take some photos and send you an official letter.”

Sure enough, less than a week later, we receive a letter in registered mail, signed by Mr. Jorgenson, complete with 8×10-inch photographs of our weedy paradise.

We think the photos look quite pretty, actually. Our yard appears to be a lush playground for insects and other creatures, the sun shining in a splendiferous halo over the happy green grass.

My partner M. trudges out and mows it all down. So now, we’re keeping up with the Joneses.

The yard looks embarrassed, shorn and naked. A few stubborn dandelion stems waver upward, attempting to offer their beleaguered spirits to the sky. It’s a battleground where thousands of tiny creatures have been slayed on the sacrificial altar of appearances.

Appearances, indeed. That’s what it’s all about.

A manicured lawn is the primary indicator of social belonging to the middle and upper classes, in an urban environment. What do most people think when they drive by a house with a long, shaggy, wild lawn? They think, Shabby. Dirty. Unkempt. Irresponsible. Low-class.

Nevermind that the natural environment is down on its knees, as humanity scrubs the Earth clean of nearly every speck of wild space.

Nevermind that air and food pollution cause countless types of cancer and endocrine disorders.

Nevermind that our lovely neighbours regularly spray herbicides and pesticides around their yards to mitigate the proliferation of both plants and tiny creatures.

What about the invisible chemicals wafting over into our yards – and our nostrils, and our brains and bloodstreams – the stuff we can’t see? How’s that for appearances?

Why is that kind of behavior acceptable, but not our thriving crop of natural, uninhibited, wild and wanted plant and insect life?

You can’t see pesticides, that’s why.

Our tall, freedom-loving field grass is a style associated with being a “lower” sort of person, that’s why. (Don’t even get me started on that.)

To our neighbours, and to the city of Saanich, keeping up with the Joneses is apparently way more important than preserving the environment. That’s why.

It’s high time we changed our social norms around encouraging the obsession over appearances when it comes to everyone’s yards within the urban space. It’s a free country, and if my family and I want to support the bees and other insects in their innocent attempts to survive the human race’s war on Nature, then we should be able to do so without being penalized.

Lawn culture is damaging. It promotes the idea that a beautiful natural space is one that’s dominated, flattened, razed down and kept in submission. It promotes the unhealthy use of pesticides and fertilizers, which contaminate our air, food and waterways.

And also, it promotes bad relations between neighbours because now I’m giving everyone the stink-eye over the fence, wondering why I’m forced to suck up all their toxic chemicals, while they’re exempt from dealing with my perfectly healthy dandelion seeds.

This essay can also be found at along with my other opinion pieces.

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  1. KC

    Sounds like an opportunity to wear my dandelion costume and hang out in your hood.

    1. admin

      Come on by! Dandelions & other undesirables welcome!

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