Todd and I aren’t really yard people.
If you live on my street, this will not shock you.
But we do like for our yard to be decently straight, not hazardous to children, and kind of pretty from a distance. So during the last month or so, I’ve been devoting at least one morning a week to my neglected yard, so that it will quit it with the tugging at my pants leg and giving me pitiful glances every time I go to my car, holding out its weedy hands, begging for alms. I’ve spent most of this month spreading mulch because I didn’t know what I was doing and ordered half a dump truck full, which didn’t sound like that much. But when they pulled up to my driveway and dumped out enough to bury my car, I whispered, “Oh dear.”
Anyway, as I’ve spent the last month hauling wheelbarrows of this mulch and raking and planting and raking and spreading and yanking weeds out of ground, my yard has been raking me over too, telling me things I need to hear. I thought I might share them with you. Maybe it will save you some trouble.
1. From a distance, clover looks just as good as grass.
It’s green and rustles in the wind, and as long as somebody mows it, it won’t have those little puffy white dingle-ball flowers that wave at people passing by and say, “HEY Y’ALL, I’M CLOVER! DON’T MIND ME, I’M JUST TAKING OVER THIS HERE YARD.”
Why kill yourself yanking out clover when it does what grass is supposed to do? It’s green and covers the soil, gives your feet something cool and soft to step on when you’re getting the Sunday paper in your PJs and bare feet, and from a distance it looks like a socially acceptable living carpet rolled out in front of your house.
Yes, someday we’ll kill all our clover and assorted weeds, take a fine toothed comb to the soil beneath, and then sod or spread grass seed and watch a perfect carpet of fescue or zoysia rise up before our eyes. (Or maybe we’ll skip that and go to Vegas.) But not now. We’ve got other things we’d rather spend our time on. Perfection isn’t necessary. Good enough is plenty good enough.
2. If someone doesn’t deal with the dog poop, it’s not going anywhere.
It’s nobody’s joy project, but some gross things just have to be done. Or else you get unpleasant surprises that follow you everywhere you go and make you suspicious of other people’s hygiene until you figure out that the odor is coming from you. Yes, it’s true that organic things decompose and make the soil richer, but do you really want to have to step over dog dirt (as my kids’ British teacher used to call it) for weeks until it’s one with the earth? Deal with the nasty stuff first, even if you don’t want to, so it’s easier to enjoy life.
3. Sticks fall.
Why did the huge branch fall from the maple in my front yard? The tree isn’t sick- it’s in great shape. It was minding it’s own business, living its happy tree life, when suddenly a whole branch fell off.
And while I’m at it, why is there a half eaten chipmunk on a stepping stone in my front yard, with a single chipmunk eyeball neatly set an inch to the side, as if my cat decided to eat his meal in courses?
Sticks fall. Plants die. Cats eat chipmunks- or parts of them. Sometimes bad things happen that aren’t fair. (At least to the chipmunk.)
Life is brutal and doesn’t care a fig about fairness.
4.Don’t let a person with ridiculously long legs decide where your stepping stones go.
I noticed it the first time I walked up the hill with the realtor. Trying to match my feet to the stepping stones felt like a game of Mother May I- “Take eight giant steps to the front door.”
“Mother May I?”
“Yes, you may.”
Set your path yourself. You know best what your legs and mind and spirit can manage.
Lovely little dandelion, I know what you’re up to. You look so inviting- and who doesn’t want to make a wish? But before you know it, you have an invasion on your hands!
Watch your shoulders (and your mindset) for seeds that others scatter. Decide what you let germinate on your fertile ground.
6. Pruning is a very good thing. Unless you ask Ben to do it.
A little thinning out helps the sunshine get in. But some people (cough, my middle child) shouldn’t be given pruning shears because they can’t quit clipping. Ask the yellow jessamine on the trellis above my garage. Oh yeah, you can’t ask it because it’s dead. Murder by pruning.
But for most people and plants, it’s a really good idea.
When left to our own devices, we can get carried away with saying yes. A little pruning in our lives helps the sunshine (and God’s goodness) get in.
7. Don’t put a peony where a camellia ought to be.
I used to have big watercolor dreams of me flouncing about the garden with my best friend Elizabeth Bennet, both of us carrying baskets full of peony blossoms which we’d arrange in vases in the sitting room as we snickered about Mr. Collins. Now I know it can never be because a nursery man crushed my dreams. Peonies require full sun and I live completely in the shade. But that’s okay. I’ve made my peace and have moved on, mostly. Plus I have a lovely pink camellia which is almost as nice. I haven’t killed it yet, probably because a nursery lady told me when to plant it and where in my yard it would do best. I love to talk to people who know things.
Find people who’ve done what you want to do and know what works and ask them for help. It saves heartache and brings cool people into your life.
9. Don’t plot the mass murder of squirrels if your plants disappear overnight.
I promise it’s true. One day I had a garden bed full of hosta plants and the next day they were gone. I’m generally a peaceful person, but “gray squirrel, gray squirrel, swoosh your bushy tail” was about to have a target on his back.
Not really, but it did make me furious. I had bought those plants at $11 a pop and had taken such care when I planted them last fall. I added compost to each hole and watered them gently and nestled mulch around them, taking care not to bruise a single leaf. And then I turned around and they vanished! I was sure the squirrels had dug them up and sautéed their tender bulbs with some acorns in their squirrel kitchens. I complained to my husband and to my friends and my mother, all of whom said, “Maybe they’re just dormant.”
“Well where did the leaves go then, Sherlock?” They think they know so much.
But then this spring, guess what?!
Be patient. Wait. Don’t hyperventilate. Sometimes problems solve themselves.
10. Some green things firmly insist on growing.
(Okay, so I added the last part.)
I’ve done my share of spraying Round Up, and I might buy more tomorrow, but right this minute I think I’d rather put a gold frame around that weed and tell it, “More power to you, Weed!”
May God make me into a weed like that, insisting on growing into my full fledged self, no matter where I land.
Be a weed. Insist on growing.
Happy gardening, y’all!