Saturday, July 7, 2007

Lawn Be Gone

In the spring of 2006, I moved back to the house I grew up in. Along with the memories came almost an acre of lawn carefully carved out over the course of 53 years by my father’s hardworking hands. Dad took great pride in his home. As long as he was able, he tended to the house and surrounding yard with tireless devotion. At times he’d look around at it all and tell me, “One day this will be yours,” to which I’d reply that when that time came, the lawn would be gone. He had to see it coming – all those plants and shrubs and, yes, trees given to them as gifts over the years that ended up polka-dotting that perfect carpet of green. Then, over the course of a few months both he and mom were gone and the house (and lawn) was mine.

During that first summer, the press of work, sorting through my parents’ belongings, and unpacking and organizing a new household made it physically impossible for me to mow all that square footage, so I hired someone to do it for me. A year later, a little less pressed for time, I chose a more environmentally friendly solution. I said goodbye to the lawn guy and the two riding movers and three (or was it four?) walk-behind, gas powered machines waiting in the garage. Instead, I opted for a manual, push-it mower, one of those old-fashioned (but newly purchased) ones that generated you’ve-got-to-be-kidding looks from anyone I told. Initially, it worked wonderfully. The rotary mower moved flawlessly across the lawn while I enjoyed bird song and the fragrance of the freshly mowed grass (no roaring engine or gasoline smell to spoil the experience). I was joyously communing with nature, and I got great exercise walking in time to the rhythm of the rotating blades. So what if it took several hours scattered over two or three days to get it all done?

The so what crashed down on me during weeks of rain and higher than usual spring temperatures. The grass loved it; I cringed as I looked out the window at its enthusiasm. During my second round of mowing in five days, the realization dawned that I couldn’t maintain the lawn and manage to make any progress landscaping the yard. Rather than call the lawn guy or exchange my rotary mower for a gas guzzler, I came to the conclusion that the time had come for the lawn to go. Or at least a good chunk of it.

And so began my quest. Some will call it an obsession. I prefer to think of it as a plan born of compromise. I still mow a small part of the lawn around the house and sitting areas – this I can manage in a reasonable amount of time. The steep parts of the banking and the upper lawn have taken on a life of their own with the grass grown nearly knee high, and wild flowers (weeds to the unappreciative) have appeared seemingly out of nowhere. It really is rather pretty to see what nature will do when left on her own, even if it is a temporary reversion to wildness.

Bit by bit the lawn is shrinking and the gardens are growing. Small patches of bulbs planted last fall bloomed beautifully this spring. Their beds have been enlarged to contain summer blooming bulbs, along with perennial and annual flowers. And slowly but surely the overgrown meadow that used to be pristine lawn is being reclaimed and repurposed with new plants and mulch – and a tiny bit of lawn suitable for walking barefoot on sunny summer days.