August 10, 1987 12:00 PM

lawn mower lon moer n., archaic: machine for cutting grass until the late 1990s

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Dr. Jan Weijer isn’t particularly excited about watching the grass grow—especially when it means that weekends must be devoted to cutting it. Well, relief is at hand. The 63-year-old University of Alberta geneticist has developed 10 new strains of grass that, once planted, grow only two to six inches a summer and need neither watering nor fertilizing. In short, he has provided an answer to the lazy homeowner’s dream: an equally lazy lawn.

It all began in 1973, when Weijer and several associates initiated Canada’s Native Grass Project, aimed at the revegetation of industrially scarred land. In the Canadian Rockies they collected hardy grasses for experimental planting at their test site in Edmonton. “We noticed that we had grasses that were poor growers,” he says. “Although they were beautiful, they stayed very small.” Finally, Weijer thought, “My God, I know where we can use them.” Since then he has developed self-weeding and self-propagating lawn grass that will require revving up the lawn mower only once each summer. (The grass releases a chemical into the soil that inhibits weed growth.)

The Dutch-born Weijer studied tropical agriculture and genetic biology before going to work at the Firestone Botanical Institute in Liberia in 1954. Two years later he moved on to the University of Alberta, thus winning a $100 bet with his wife, Dorothy, who claimed that the school would never hire somebody “from the bush.”

Weijer plans to sell rights to his grass seeds to an Alberta company for $7.7 million. (Development and marketing could take six years.) Now separated from his wife, and having survived a bout with cancer in 1983, he lives quietly in an Edmonton suburb with an assistant and 88 birds and other pets. “I love consulting, but I’m ready to let someone else grow the grass,” he says. “I want to retire while I can still have some fun.”

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