April 12, 2021
The sun now rises high and warm nearly everywhere, making the flowers and plants explode from the soil to paint the land with the brilliance of the season. As I’m sure some poet has said, Spring breathes life into the living. Walking through parks, any parks, or driving through towns and cities, any town or city, and inhaling the delicate aromas of Spring lightens the heart of every human person. The sensations may seem superficial or trivial in the face of deeper concerns, they may be short-lived, but they are real and undeniable.
What also is undeniable is the work about it. Spring in its loveliness is a signal to the suburbanites, or many of them, to head to Home Depot and Lowe’s and stand in line to buy new tools, seed, nursery-raised plants, and fertilizer, and deploy for the lawn wars. A lush spread of grass outside your front door is why you moved to the burbs, isn’t it?
I resigned from most lawn duty a couple of years ago. Other than mowing my modest front-yard plot to keep the neighbors happy, I gave up caring what it looked like. For years earlier I laid down new seed in the spring and straw on top of the seed to keep it from washing away, then watched the crabgrass and other stuff devour it by mid-July.
You can avoid that by hiring a lawn-care company to tend your patch of green, meaning seed, fertilize, mow, and snip it. Our Virginia neighbor across the street does just that. Once a week for half the year, around 8 AM, a team of lawn manicurists arrives in a pickup truck, wheel out their giant sit-down mowers, and inside of 15 minutes blast neat new swaths in her lawn. Then they head to the next customer. It’s a volume business, after all. We understood. I never asked her what it cost, whatever it was, it was more than I wanted to pay. Her lawn was beautiful. Ours resembled a World War I battlefield.
Every man who slaves away at his lawn knows what those who don’t also know: lawn care can be addictive, like sugar or caffeine or worse things. Nightmares are made of the sums of money otherwise sane adults allocate to seed, “pre-emergent” herbicides, lime, and the various seasonal strains of fertilizer. Isn’t it necessary, the homeowner asks himself, to use all of them? In their season? Scott, Vigoro, Pennington, and other corporate giants rule their own aisles of the hardware stores. That’s the software, then there’s hardware: the spreaders, mowers, sprinklers (or in-ground sprinkler systems), and wheelbarrels; the power tools—blowers, vacuums, clippers, trimmers; and the hand tools: grass rakes, thatch rakes, leaf rakes, hoses, edgers, weeders, hoes, spades, shovels, pitchforks.
I owned all those things.
A homeowner’s desire to keep his place presentable exerts powerful pressure to acquire a lawn-care warehouse. The thick green lawn is a component of everything else. You have to spend money, after all, on painting, powerwashing, repairing brick facings, vinyl siding, and shutters, cleaning windows and replacing broken ones, cleaning gutters, and so on, with the understandable goal of not letting your house look run down or abandoned. Because the grass or other vegetation that fills the space between the front door and the sidewalk is alive, it requires constant attention. The lawn-care compulsion grows (heh-heh) from that. Hence the lawnmower, for starters. Then the rest.
My recovery started with failure. The soil on our property was naturally poor. Without commercial fertilizer and hours of watering—positioning a sprinkler or spraying with a hose—the expensive grass seed I planted grew feebly, then died. Eventually I decided the weeds that replaced it were green enough. Mowing gave us a minimalist level of suburban acceptability. That was the front. The backyard I surrendered completely. Because it was a steep hill and not visible from the street, when I got sick I quit even occasionally trimming it and handed it over to the weeds. Here, nature was kind. The chickweed, etc., grew sparsely and slowly, giving us the gentle, calming look of a meadow or pasture.
I braced myself for lawn care here, at the new place. We now face a new enemy, a Homeowners Association (HOA) which, in its rulebook, demands lawn accountability. The seller, Miss Jean, bequeathed us a rake, a hoe, a couple of spades. But since we gave away our entire lawn-care arsenal, including the mower, we’re unarmed.
Then I noticed something. All the lawns in the neighborhood look brown and neglected. Unlike our Virginia neighbors, nobody here, even in mid-April, was frantically fertilizing, seeding, aerating, trimming. The thick, heat-resistant zoysia that predominates in local lawns has not yet stirred to green. Its tough, wirelike clumps seem to limit weed growth to dandelions, which dapple our front lawn with their yellow flowers and fluffy seed pods. Once established, they never go away short of a massive herbicide assault.
Lowe’s is teeming with anxious customers who know the territory better than me. But I called off shopping for lawn tools.
When I moved from Jersey to Nashville in 1975, I took some time getting used to certain Southern peculiarities, even after marrying into a Southern family. The “Lost Cause” thing never worked for me, although it’s still alive and well in Tennessee and in South Carolina. But the slower, more genteel pace hereabouts is okay for us now, as we figure out things more complicated than lawn care. But lawn care will still matter. Ask the HOA.