I can’t believe I am spending money on grass!

Gaze at the majestic grass in the sunset, said no one...ever.

Gaze at the majestic grass in the sunset, said no one…ever.

For years, my secret plot has been to rid myself of as much lawn as possible (oops, not so secret anymore, huh?) I have mulched, and created shrub beds, and laid out veggie beds, and perennials, and even sneakily scooted the edging bricks out, expanding the width of every bed by 4 inches each year.
I hate grass- hate mowing, hate fertilizing, hate the amount of water it takes, hate the judgement of people driving by who see my dandelions and shake their heads.
And yet, I just spent 30 bucks on “Revive” an organic, Colorado made fertilizer/soil amendment/wetting agent. Wetting agent sounds gross- it has chelated iron in it, and “pure chicken-shit” as my brother says. (The label actually calls it DPW, which stands for dehydrated poultry waste, which means my brother is right.) The idea is that water will be able to soak in more deeply, and we will be able to water less frequently, but the grass will grow better.
It won’t kill dandelions, but maybe the grass will be able to out compete them? Those judgey people driving by will just have to find something else to judge me on….What will that turn out to be?

(Sorry to anyone who has missed me- the day job plus gardening has left me less time to write…no disasters on the home front, just normal busy-ness.)


Dead Junipers- what next?

The new edge of the bed in the front yard- we’ll be adding some compost and lots of mulch.

Most people who know me would agree, that I don’t seem like the kind of person who would pound stakes into the ground, stretch out string between them, and then follow that string as a guide when making the edge of a  garden bed. I was a s surprised as anyone when I found myself doing just that this afternoon.

Yesterday evening, I was cleaning up the edge of the area where we took out the junipers (link) and I used the garden hose to kind of make a gently curving, voluptuous edge, nipping it in close to the faucet, easing it out near the corner of the house.

Then I thought about mowing that line. I thought about all the other curvy, sensual edges in the yard that have to be mowed, then edged. I decided it would be easier to make a straight edge, and let the plants be curvy.

The bed is about 20 feet long, and the outer line is 8 feet out from the house wall.  (when I said I was going to make the bed about 8 feet deep, DH had a moment where he thought I meant 8 feet from current ground level to top of bed.  No.) I bought 40 brick pavers, because I didn’t want to get out the measuring tape and then do math, so of course I have to pay for my laziness with another trip to the big box store.


So, the plan:

buy more bricks

when there’s grass inside the line, pop it out and transplant it outside the line, when possible

pile on 2-4 inches of shredded wood mulch

when the weather cools, start transplanting the plants I want to move from the backyard

order bulbs

snake soaker hose around the bed

Plant list

Hazel bush (transplanted from nursery bed)

Sedum Autumn Joy (thanks, Sharon!)

Purple coneflower (divided from back yard)

Bearded Iris (divided from back yard)

Yarrow (divided from back yard)

Lamb’s Ear (divided from back yard)

Thyme (divided from back yard)

Comfrey (divided from back yard)

larkspur (seeds)

columbine (seeds)

lily (ordering- probably dark reds and oranges)

tulips (ordering, probably red and yellow triumph)

daffodil (basic yellow)

Most of these plants I already have, so this is a very cheap design for me. I also know they do well here, so I am not taking much risk that everything will keel over and die. The exposure is a little different- the north end of the bed is pretty shaded from the ash tree and the house, and the south end gets morning sun. The coneflower and lilies will go that direction, because they need the light to flower.  My “largish” plant is a hazel nut bush, and I want it to form one corner of a triangle with the ash and the Korean dwarf lilac under my window.

The plan for the tuteur- the exact measurements will depend on the wood I find.

I am also planning some structure- as you can see in the picture, there is a big expanse of plain wall, so I will put in at least one trellis, and some containers,  and am thinking about building some tutuers, which are french teepees- using lumber,rather than round wood or sticks. And, you know my policy, it should be done with the wood that is already piled up, going to the lumberyard is cheating! There are still some 1×2’s sitting behind the garage left over from taking down the playhouse, so I will start with those.

Resilience- you can grow that!

Purple Coneflower and Yarrow, extremely drought tolerant herbs. They’re loving the heat.

It has been hot here. Crazy hot. Typically, in June we get nice moisture, soaking rains, heavy thunderstorms, nice misty days when it’s just cool and gloomy. Not this year. I realize it is hot pretty much everywhere right now.
We went LA on vacation last week, and it was cool and pleasant- too cool for the ocean almost. Then we ended the vacation in Las Vegas, and it was ridiculously hot. You expect that for Las Vegas, but we kept watching the weather for home, here on the front Range of Colorado, and it was ridiculously hot in Colorado, too.
The guy who mows our lawn was checking in on the cat, and a friend popped over to water the container plants and the tomatoes, but otherwise, we didn’t provide for sprinkling. I expected the worst when we got home, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The grass in the front looks awful, of course, but it almost always looks awful. It’s on the list for future projects.

The beds in back, though, look pretty good. They have plenty of mulch, to hold onto what moisture they get. They have plants that are drought tolerant, or native, or both. I designed them that way so they wouldn’t take much water, and would attract bees and birds and butterflies.

The golden currant is dripping with fruit, the lavender is blooming like crazy, the yarrow and coneflower and chamomile are standing tall.  They look better than I do, dripping and drooping, and praying for rain.

Plan for resilience- xeric doesn’t have to mean rocks and cow skulls, it can be dragonflies and birds and fruits and berries. It takes less water and other resources, and it bounces back from hard times. Resilience is a trait we all can use.

This is pretty much the same shot, from the same angle, as I took 3 weeks ago. It’s been watered once with a soaker hose.

Two books that influenced me tremendously are “Herbs in the Garden” by Rob Proctor, and “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway.  Both books helped me learn to think beyond “vegetable garden here, lawn everywhere else.”

Chives- you can grow that!

One of the first perennial edibles to pop up in spring, good old reliable chives.

Do you have a tiny amount of space, and want some herbs? Or, do you have a lot of space to fill and are looking for something cheap that will spread? One of the most reliable edibles that come up this time of year is chives.
They belong to the onion family, but the greens taste much milder than green onions- not as sharp. To start from seed, dump a whole packet on the soil of a small pot, water regularly. Very fine grass like leaves will start to come up, with a sharp bend in the end, and the seed coat still attached to the shoot. Leave it alone, it will fall off on it’s own. If you are starting the seeds inside, harden them off by leaving them outside for an hour or two per day- if you transplant them straight to the outside they’ll burn and die. Moment of silence…
Okay- if you buy a pot at a nursery, they will most likely be hardened off already, and you can plop them into the ground or into a container. They have such a shallow root system they can go into a container with other things.
Snip off individual shoots and flowers- the flowers are edible, and have a funky texture- funky in a good way. Eat them with potatoes, obviously, or deviled eggs. That reminds me, we need to get eggs and mess up the kitchen…there is still dye on the tablecloth from last year.
If you wind up not eating the flowers, let them go to seed, that way your patch will spread. As I said, chives don’t need very deep soil- in fact, when I build my dream shed, I plan to plant chives on the green roof. We just have to tear down that playhouse, mwah ha ha ha!!!

I have also considered the possibility of a chive lawn- it looks so grassy, and doesn’t take much water…and just think of the fragrance when you mow…yeah, maybe not.


Edited to add- I keep forgetting to mention that “You can grow that” is a meme created by C.L. Fornari, genius garden writer. If you came here via her site, welcome.  To find more blogs with growing tips, go to C.L.’s site! http://wholelifegardening.com

I don’t believe in jinxes. However…

A couple of weeks ago, I bragged about how awesome it is to have the kid up the street mow my lawn, and it’s such a bargain, and he mows around the ripening bulb foliage and blah blah blah.   His mower has died. Like, seriously died.

I’m not superstitious, but I somehow think it is my fault.

I was in denial for a good week and a half, thinking it was just a part that could be replaced, and while I was in denial, the back yard just kept silently growing. And growing.

You might be thinking, what’s the big deal, just let him use your mower, or mow it yourself, you big baby.

Maybe if we gave it a name, like "Ol' Bessie" it would be more pleasant...

Well,  when we moved to this house, we were feeling very green, and we bought a reel mower. It’s really hard work to cut grass with a reel mower- I used to consider it my workout and use it as an excuse to lie on the couch the rest of the day. In an unspoken agreement, DH always did the front, and I did the back- bit by bit shrinking the amount of grass.  Trees, shrubs, flower beds, stone patio have replaced the lawn back there, but not fast enough. Last year, when the kid up the street offered to mow, I was happy to give up the reel mower and let him pollute the air. It’s not easy being green.

Yes, that's a ruler, and the grass is taller than it....

Maybe it’s not a jinx, maybe it’s karma. I worked on the back today-  ankle-deep grass, much of it just flopping over when the mower rolled over it, some of it getting cut. I’ll go the other direction in a couple of days to get the tufts- it’s like when I used to try to cut the Boy’s hair with the clippers- it looked terrible, and we both wound up crying.

The goal- get them before they go to seed.


Plenty of nectar for bees, deep roots that accumulate nutrients, salad greens for the adventurous. What's not to love?

It does not fail- whenever my mom comes to visit, she comments that there is an excellent product called weed and feed, and it kills all the weeds, and fertilizes, too, and there’s even a generic version, if I think the name-brand is too expensive.
Argh. I’m polite, she is my mother, after all, and I say something like, “Oh, yes, we’ll have to look into it.” I don’t tell her that I don’t use pesticides because my kids play on the lawn, or because our storm sewers drain to the river, or because lawns are the leading cause of non-point water pollution. Saying that to her amounts to an attack- didn’t her kids play on the lawn? Her storm sewers drain to the entire Eastern United States (she’s in the mountains- headwaters of the Arkansas river…)
She doesn’t have any dandelions, though.
We’ve got enough for everyone.
Since I won’t use poison, I have to work on weeds the old fashioned way- with a paring knife, or sometimes a digger, or sometimes just bare hands. I have filled buckets this spring- they go into the compost pile, with a layer of dead leaves on top, and a scoop of soil. I am not sure if my compost gets hot enough to kill dandelion seeds- I haven’t been too scientific about it.
This year, for the first time, the kids have helped. I demonstrated how to lever the plants up at the crown, and offered to pay a dollar per bucket. It worked for a while- although I did see the boy blowing the seed heads off one that we missed. I don’t know what he wished for. More dandelions, I guess.

I realize that just popping them up out of the ground doesn’t get rid of them- they’re perennial, they have deep roots, they’ll keep coming back. But after May, they aren’t so bad- no yellow flowers bringing down property values, just green leaves. They aren’t prickly like thistle, or annoying like bindweed, or crazy making like mallow ( my least favorite weed) they’re just green.

Edited to add: My mom is really quite wonderful. Aside from a blindspot to herbicides, she is super smart, nice and caring. She also has dial up internet, so it’s possible she will never read this.  Also, I noticed today that some dandelions in the front yard have gone to seed. Curses!

$15 well-spent

I texted the kid up the street today-“can u mow? we r desperate!” Moments later he called, “did you get my text? I asked. Um, no I just wonedered if you needed your lawn mowed. Gotta love this kid.

He came down, pushing the mower and carrying a broom, and started to negotiate. I was worried- but I shouldn’t have been. “I’ve been thinking…about the price…” he chewed on his lip.

 I jumped in, “Well, last year it was 15, and that seemed fair.”

“I know, but I think 10 is more fair.”
My lawn is kind of a pain to mow- the front is pretty straightforward, but in the back I have carved out serpentine beds around the trees, and there is a swingset that can’t be moved, and a frisbee golf target, and a teepee, for crying out loud, that have to be moved. And this kid wants to charge me less, because it turns out he’s afraid that if it’s too expensive, I’ll mow it myself. There is no way I want to mow this disaster!
So, I insisted on 15, and asked him to set it on the highest setting, even though he commented that it hardly looked like anything was cut off. I told him that it was okay, I could tell.

Here’s how great this kid is- I showed him where the squill is planted, and showed him the seed heads that are ripening, and asked him to mow around it because I wanted it to spread, and he was totally okay with it- no eye rolling, no questioning looks, no wondering aloud why a person would want flowers where the grass is supposed to be. He is a prize in the lawn mowing world.


worm's eye view of the blooms

In my never ending quest to eliminate lawn (well, I guess it will end someday, when there is no more lawn…) I have planted Siberian Squill in the back yard, next to the hillbilly goldfish pond. I bought  48 bulbs from McClure and Zimmerman, and stabbed into the lawn with my trowel, opened up slits, and placed the bulbs in.

 I’d like to believe it was by design, but I love the way the flowers in the bed by the pond look as if they have just spilled over the sides, and there are little blue flowers mixed in with the grass. They are supposed to spread over the years, and this is the space where the grass is worst- no shade at all, and I don’t water or fertilize. I spread some of my precious compost on the area last year, and I dig out the perennial mallow, but I have to say, the lawn is never my top priority.
Squill has pretty blue flowers, and there are variations- like blue with white stripes and white with blue stripes. Sigh. I just got my new McClure and Zimmerman catalogue, which means they’ve already got me thinking about a new order. I hope to let squill self-seed, and naturalize on its own. To get it to spread, I need to  let the foliage go yellow, which means don’t let the kid from up the street mow for a couple of weeks.

 The kid from up the street said to me today, “can you just give me the money?”

ahahahahah… No.