Last-ditch attempt to solve the unsolveable

I can grow sunflowers and potatoes. I can propagate perennials. I can coax along a sapling into a tree. I’ve also had pretty good luck with cultivating infants into people.

I am unable to keep a front lawn alive.

On beautiful Sunday, I took the first step at solving this persistent problem, which has followed me to this house on Puddingstone Road from our old place on Davis. Following the soil sampling instructions, I dug up several 4″ cores of soil from various points on our front dirt patch, mixed them evenly, and put them aside to dry. Today I’ll mail a cup of this soil in a zipped plastic bag to the UMass Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory.

A diagnosis will be the first step toward getting to the bottom of this guessing game.

Years ago, Jimmy and I were quite taken by Barbara Damrosch‘s advice on gardening: It’s “very simple, really. You just have to learn to think like a plant.”

But thinking like a lawn? How does one do that? I, lawn-like, drink a lot of water but can barely remember to take my own vitamins. This may be connected to my failure to properly fertilize the lawn as needed.

Perhaps I want my lawn to be neglect-able, and it is very needy. I need to learn to think “needy,” to be high maintenance, which I think a lawn is.

I am willing to give it one last try. Why lawn? Why not a xeriscape? I do like that look, and two years ago I blanketed the front yard with sunflowers. But I like a little grass too.

And the thing about grass is that you don’t really need a design. You just plant it, and it becomes big green blank space.

Uncluttered, that’s what a lawn is.


P.S. to my father, a lawn master. Dad, I know what you’re going to say, “Water.” I do. And, in fact, the lawn in the back yard is alive. Why does our front lawn die off — and I do mean die, not just go fallow — every year? Help.

2 thoughts on “Last-ditch attempt to solve the unsolveable

  1. I am writing in regards to your Dad’s lawn. As you know, there is a Master Gardner living on C.C. and she has a Saturday morning talk show. Invariably every Saturday people call asking for advice for having a healthy lawn. In addition to fertilizing each season following the 3 steps below will help in establishing a healthy lawn.
    1. A deep watering of at least 1″: 1x per week, will help your lawn to have a deep root system.
    2. Allow 2 1/2″ to 3″ blade length when mowing.
    3. Cut often enough, so that no more than 1/3 of the grass length is removed each time.

    C.L. Fornari the talk show host talks each Saturday about the importance of a deep watering. She says that most times people have irrigation systems that may water several times a day, but never deep enough.

  2. I, too, am no fan of grass. If I’m going to fuss over something in the yard that much, I want a payoff: flowers, beautiful branches, interesting texture and color. When we lived in Colorado we got fed up with watering (and had come to feel increasingly guilty about wasting the state’s scarcest resource on something so trivial). We ripped up the whole lawn and put in xeriscape perennials, and are in the process of slowly getting rid of the grass here, too, though it handles neglect way better here than it did in the high desert.

    If you go that route, there are a couple of wonderful books I’d recommend, both by Lauren Springer: _The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-Resilient Beauty_, and _Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens That Honor Plants, Place, and Spirit_. She is kind of a xeriscape guru, but in both of these books talks about ways to adapt that concept to other climates–and how to do it with interesting, beautiful plants that won’t make you feel like you’ve sacrificed anything.

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