Tuesday, May 09, 2000

Crisscross lawns come home

Owners emulate major league ballparks by mowing patterns into their yards

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Paul Guinn says he mows in four directions: perpendicular, horizontal and two diagonal.
(Dick Swaim photo)
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        It's not easy being green and thick and patterned like a baseball field. But if you want a lawn that stacks up these days, you might want to consider something more than digging out the dandelions.

        Maybe a little turf teasing. The trend is picking up across the Tristate and the rest of the country.

        “Yeah, I do that,” says Paul Guinn, of Oxford. “I cut four patterns. Perpendicular, horizontal and two diagonal. Each mowing, it's a different pattern.”

        Just north of the Miami University campus, when the weather's right and the mowing's on schedule, you can see previous patterns under Mr. Guinn's latest cutting. “It's almost like you're looking at a checkerboard,” he says.

        Sometimes one yard isn't big enough for the design.

Mary Kay and Ron Meyers.
(David Baxter photo)
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        At 5814 and 5818 Pandora Ave., in Pleasant Ridge, next-door neighbors the Bickels and the Meyerses have turned lawn mowing into an art form. Sort of. And a cooperative home-improvement venture.

        It started out with simple mowing schedules that kept the grass on the incline in front of both houses at about the same length.

        Then it escalated to discussions about “What diagonal are we on this week?” Kristen Bickel recalled. When she challenged the boys — husband Jeff Bickel and neighbor Ron Meyers — with a herringbone pattern, “They were off.”

        “I cut it with the chevron pointing down; he (Mr. Bickel) did it with the chevron pointing up,” Mr. Meyers said. “We call that a fashion cut.

        “It's interesting,” he said. “Just a little friendly neighborhood competition. It's kind of infectious.”

        What about the rest of the neighborhood?

        “They think we're really very funny,” Mrs. Bickel said. “They think we put way too much thought into lawn care.”

        Across the street, neighbor Beth Shaw thinks it's wonderful.

        “It's different every week,” she said. “It's really funny, because we get to look at it, and our lawn looks like crap.”

        Over on the Cincinnati Bengals practice fields — three of them at the moment — groundskeeper Doug Bradley works full time maintaining grass and creating stripes and diamonds in it.

        “Aesthetically, it's nice to look at (patterns),” he said, “but the real reason is, if you mow the same way every time, the grass will lay that way and grow that way. You want to do it different each time to make the leaf blade grow up and down rather than sideways.”

        Mr. Bradley, a trained horticulturist who has been caring for athletic fields for more than 11 years, uses a 5-foot reel mower with steel rollers on front and back.

        Even with the wide blade, it takes about 21/2 hours to mow a field.

        “We sharpen blades at least twice a week,” he said.

        Long a mark of a classic lawn in Britain, striping is now taking off in America. You might need all that stuff if your lawn stripes are on national television, but one maker of ride-on lawn mowers — Simplicity Manufacturing Inc. of Port Washington, Wis. — toldthe Washington Post that its machines bring authentic ballpark-style striping to suburbia.

        The key: a full-length roller behind the mowing deck, which creates a nap that reflects light. Turf rolled away from the observer looks lighter; turf rolled toward you looks darker.

        The effect works better on cool-season grasses (fescues, ryes and bluegrass) than on warm-season ones (zoysia, Bermuda grass), especially in the spring when the turf is lush and green, the Washington Post reported. Some stripe addicts even mist the lawn after mowing to accentuate the stripes. The pattern lasts for about a week.

        For years, Simplicity's machines have featured the rollers as part of a floating mower deck design that prevents turf scalping, says company spokesman Troy Blewett. But the striping attribute is catching hold, he claims, because of the phenomenon at ballparks and a “growing trend for people to spend time in their yards.”

        The models are sold through dealers and cost from approximately $2,000 for a basic riding mower to $12,000 for a large garden tractor with special attachments..

        Mr. Guinn's mower is a 38-inch Simplicity, “smelly and loud,” but effective in luring compliments. “The neighbors — and walkers and joggers — do comment that the lawn looks very nice,” he said.

        Steve McCarthy, a spokesman for another major manufacturer, Toro, says most machines will put a grain on turf. “I used to work for a landscape company, and we used to do diagonal striping for the homeowner to make it look cool.”

        Mr. Bradley suggests that homeowners “who really want that stripe effect (without buying expensive equipment) can use a lawn roller or tack some carpet to a 2-by-4 and pull it behind the mower to help lay it (grass) down.”

        Simplicity believes its rollers give it the edge. The company enlisted the endorsement of Dave Mellor, groundskeeper for the Milwaukee Brewers, known in the groundskeeping fraternity for his complex and dizzying stripe designs.

        Mr. Mellor, a native of Piqua, Ohio, has put out a brochure and video for prospective customers of Simplicity showing how to mow seven patterns, from simple checkerboard to a plaid design. Much of the work involves maneuvering around the edges of the lawn and going over light stripes to clean them up.

        Mr. Meyers, who said he was inspired by the outfield star shapes for a televised All-Star baseball game, has his own tips: sharpen the mower blade frequently (at least two or three times a season) and, “I've learned that the pattern looks best when you bag it (grass).”

        What's next for Pandora Avenue passersby?

        “Maybe a glen plaid?” ventures Mrs. Bickel.

        Whatever it is, remember, “We just do it to amuse ourselves. We're not out for a beautification award.”


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