Tag Archives: lawn

Confessions of a former lawn lover

It’s September of 1997 and my wife and I have just moved into our first home. After having rented an apartment for a year, we were ready to take on a mortgage and all that comes with owning a house. To think that we paid less than $120,000 for that home seems ludicrous now and makes me feel old. I’m still not sure how we handled the down payment but it seemed logical to deal with that struggle rather than throwing away money in a rental.

Once you own a home there is a stipulation in each and every contract that states you must visit Home Depot at least once a week (I believe it has since been updated to include Lowe’s as well). Even if you’re like me and struggle to replace a light bulb, you have to walk into HD confidently each Saturday morning, say hello to the greeter and start wandering the aisles with your orange bucket. It is burned into the male DNA code to love these excursions and to get all giddy when looking at drill bits.

I freakin hate Home Depot. Always have, always will. It reminds me of my male shortcomings and the smell screams “You have a lot of projects to do and not the first clue where to begin.” It is intimidating and emasculating and stressful and makes me want to go back to a rental.

But there was a solution to the Home Depot dilemma back in the early days of home ownership. I could easily fool the other HD shoppers into believing I was willingly entering the store while walking through the parking lot, coffee in hand. A nice confident gait works wonders. And then after entering the store and before the panic set in, I simply made a quick hard right and headed outside to the garden/landscaping department. That was my solution and it allowed me to keep what was left of my male dignity. I had been cutting a lawn most of my life and I even knew how to replace the string on a grass trimmer and operate a gas powered leaf blower. I was comfortable in this environment.

During one particular pseudo Home Depot excursion, I became enamored with the Scott’s 4 Step Program for the lawn. I read through one of the brochures and within minutes was convinced I needed to treat for grub control and crab grass. You mean if I follow these simple instructions I can get a lawn as green as those on TV? Where do I sign up? An impeccable lawn and landscaping was going to be my thang, my manly thang (even if a man should never say thang).

Within the year, I had diligently followed the instructions and applied all 4 recommended “feedings” and my lawn kicked all sorts of ass. Seriously, take a look at this:

former lawn lover

Like the greens at Augusta, right? And doesn’t the lawn look great with a backdrop of finely manicured lollipop evergreen shrubs and one lonesome hydrangea? I was the envy of the entire neighborhood, in my head at least. If you were to drive by my house on a late Saturday afternoon in the spring or summer, chances are you would have seen me sitting on the front stoop, beer in hand, ogling my lawn. A man’s man.

On top of the Scott’s plan, I also began to regularly periodically spray each individual weed (bastard) with Roundup. You mean to tell me there is a weed killer that kills the weeds but DOESN’T kill the lawn? Holy shit. USA! USA! USA! Lawn perfection is possible after all.

During year 2 of “Chemicals changed my life for the better”, I woke up one morning and to my horror, saw a perfectly straight line of yellowing dead lawn smack dab in the middle of the front yard. It was clearly from one pass with the fertilizer spreader. And it looked awful. I felt awful. This was supposed to be easy, just follow the rules and the grass will stay perfectly green for life.

At that same time, we got our first dog, Casey.

caseydog14

After we brought her home and took her outside for her inaugural pee, I started to panic. As she set-up for urination #1, she started to sniff and chew on the grass. Up until that point, I was in denial that I was placing a foreign substance, of unknown origin, into my grass 4 times a year in rather large quantities. I couldn’t let this puppy, who relied on us for survival, to get anywhere near the stuff.

On top of the burnt lawn and new pet, I’d also begun to take an interest in shrubs and roses. The shrubs to fill in along the foundation and other bare spots and the roses in honor of my grandfather who was a serious rose whisperer.

I attacked the roses first and against my better judgment, decided to show you exactly how I first planted them.

lawn2

Spare me the laughter.

I know it looked hideous with six of them in a perfect line and all a different color by the way, but it was progress. I quickly educated myself on pruning techniques and how to care for them during all seasons. While I have no photos to prove it, a few of them thrived and produced oodles of beautiful flowers. It was more rewarding than the lawn ever was and a lot cheaper and less labor intensive.

A few different shrubs were then added and my gardening passion was on fire.

lawn3

lawn

That would be two different hydrangeas in the first photo and two butterfly bushes in the 2nd photo. I also believe the writing on the 2nd photo included future garden expansion plans, but I can’t say with certainty. It may just have been my son scribbling with a pen he shouldn’t have had.

Suddenly an immaculate green lawn lost its luster. And in summary, here’s why:

  • I saw how easily the powerful fertilizer could burn the lawn. What the hell is in that mix?
  • It wasn’t worth the risk now that we had a dog we were solely responsible for keeping alive. What the hell is in that mix?
  • Shrubs and roses actually took less effort and were more rewarding.

We eventually moved into our current home a few years later with 2 acres of property and a monstrous lawn to contend with. My obsession with plants only continued to grow and eventually evolved into the blog you are reading right now. But that imposing lawn still had to be addressed.

I wanted to maintain a lawn so my children had a large place to play but had no interest in putting forth a full effort, smarting from my days as a Scott’s disciple. I decided to seed in year one (it was a patchy mess) and then take it from there after witnessing the results.

By the following spring, the grass had filled in enough to make it a true blown “yard”. Was it perfect? Not at all, but it was so overwhelmingly large that I didn’t bother trying to come up with a plan of attack. Actually, that’s not true, I followed the age old adage to cut the grass it at its highest setting, leave the clippings in the lawn and let nature take its course. I even convinced myself to enjoy the fact that the clover provided green cover and a flower source for the bees and that the dandelions were “flowers” and should be honored rather than branded as evil.

dandelions

And to this day my lawn has never looked better. I literally do nothing other than cut it once a week in spring/summer/fall. That is it. And it works. All of the saved time is dedicated to the garden and plants where I have a chance to weave my wand and make beautiful art.

e3

EPILOGUE 

  • I came to grips with Home Depot by making my brother in law or father in law come with me whenever the need arrived. I just nod and agree with whatever they say and steal tidbits from them to use in future social settings. “I find that the higher r value of the insulation works wonders in the attic.” At the same time, I’ve stopped buying any and all plants from Home Depot. Beyond the fact that their selection sucks, I also did so in protest as they were admittedly selling bee killing plants – plants that were grown from seed using pesticides that can actually kill the same bees the plants are supposed to attract. It may have since been corrected but I’m already too far gone.
  • I like flowers and I don’t give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks about that. No, I am not into landscaping (manscaping maybe), I am a gardener. Deal with it.
  • Each and every year I am slowly eradicating part of the lawn to turn it into more garden space. And guess what? I’m not spraying the lawn in order to kill it. Cardboard works just fine.

new bed 2

  • How much more do we have to read about the harms of Roundup/pesticides before we draw a definitive conclusion about its harmful effects. Read the following:

Pesticides harm bees

Roundup probably causes cancer

Roundup labeled as carcinogenic

 

 

 

What green means to me

Admittedly, I am cynical to a fault and should probably tone down the sarcasm as well (maybe it is a New Jersey thing). I’ve started to see this rub off on my children and know that I need to tone it down a bit. I’m not looking to change what I believe is in my nature, I’m just looking to scale it back a notch or two for the benefit of those around me.

However, one area where I’ve seen cynicism grow to levels beyond what I would have ever expected is with the “green” movement. Maybe it is politically based more than anything else, but to deny that there is an issue with global warming, as an example, is simply naïve. There may be a number of different ways to address the problem, but you have to first acknowledge that it is truly a crisis.

The corporation where I work recently installed water-less urinals that save upwards of 40,000 gallons of water a year. While recently using said urinal, a colleague said to me “You know they installed these because they wanted to save money, it has nothing to do with the environment”. My cynical nature wanted to take over and say “You’re right my friend” but after quick reflection, I realized, who cares what the true purpose behind it was, it is a good thing – end of story.

I’m probably going to bother some of my readers with this next topic, but I have no use for synthetic fertilizers of any sort for a lawn and have never used them. I don’t need a perfect lawn like the Scott’s commercials will sell to you and the sooner you realize the whole Scott’s program is a marketing scheme, the better off you will be. I don’t even use natural products on the lawn. I simply cut the lawn at a higher setting as it will aid in blocking out the weed seeds from germinating and will put much less stress on the grass leaves. Standing over the lawn with a hose and just spraying it haphazardly doesn’t help a bit – it just wastes valuable water. Your lawn does not need as much water as you think. In fact, I never water my lawn and just let nature take its course.

So back to those same kiddies mentioned earlier. My son is 7 and my daughter is 4. They are at a very impressionable age right now (well not always with my daughter … there’s the cynical John sneaking in again) and my wife and I have accepted the responsibility of taking advantage of that. If you read my blog you know I only recently installed compost bins. I am late to the game, I know, but better late than never and man do I feel strongly about it. Each night after dinner, we evaluate the scraps left over and determine what can be composted. Once that is done, the kids march the scraps out to the compost bins and throw them in. Both kids have asked us more than once why they are doing it and I guarantee they can tell you, very eloquently, what the benefits are. Chalk one up for Mom and Dad.

I am very proud of the gardens I’ve created and the flowers that are abundant as a result. This results in high bee traffic which obviously is a very good thing … except to my son. He is terrified and doesn’t want to hear about all the so-called benefits. But as any good parent will do, I continue to hammer home why he shouldn’t be scared and why they are crucial to the environment. He may not care right now, but I know it will click eventually and that will be a happy day.

I am not claiming to be an angel when it comes to being an environmentally friendly guy in all ways possible. But I am making it a top priority to educate my children on what we all can do to make our world a better place. If they can be more responsible in their lifetime than I have been, then I have done my job.

I’ve written this post as part of the Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living Project, which is a series of blog entries written by garden bloggers (much more prominent than me to say the least) in anticipation of Earth Day on April 22nd. I urge you to do even one thing that will benefit the environment and I guarantee you won’t stop there – and that my friends is not cynical.