No splendor in the grass

Kevin Cowherd

April 24, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

It is a fine spring day. The sun is shining and birds are chirping and I am sitting here wracked with lawn anxiety.

I can see the lawn through my window now. It squats out there like some kind of horrible giant toad, brown and pitted and ugly beyond all conventional description.

All the other lawns in the neighborhood are green and lush. I hate the people who tend those lawns. They think they're so cool with their rotary tillers and their exotic fertilizers and their seeders and spreaders.

Did it ever occur to them that some people might like a lawn with lots of bare spots and crab grass infestation?

No, I suppose not. I suppose that's just not an option anymore.

When we bought the house two years ago, the lawn was vibrant and disease-free.

"Take care of our nice lawn!" said Paul and Carol, the previous owners, at the closing.

"Absolutely," I said. "You can count on me."

But even as the words left my mouth, I could feel the fear welling up inside. By the time they handed me the pen to sign the mortgage agreement, my hands were trembling badly.

After all, I had killed every other lawn left in my care. There was no reason to believe this one would be any different.

Well, I took care of Paul and Carol's nice lawn, all right. By the end of the summer, the grass had turned a dull, dishwater gray, the color of Lake Erie.

This development seemed to unnerve the neighbors. Had there been some sort of chemical spill? they inquired anxiously.

I assured them there had not, at one point going so far as to rent a sophisticated instrument that measures the amount of radioactivity in the soil.

"See?" I told them. "Just some low-level gamma ray emissions, probably from the weed killer. I wouldn't even bother with a Mylex suit and gas mask, unless you're a real worry-wart."

Oh, the neighbors tried to help me with my lawn. One man moseyed over and conducted an impromptu 45-minute seminar on preparing the soil and the proper mixture of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium needed for a healthy lawn.

Ten minutes into his remarks, my eyes started to close. I must have dozed off at some point in the conversation.

" . . . such as Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescues, which do well in light shade," he was saying when I awoke.

Dutifully, I followed his instructions, at least the ones I'd heard before falling asleep.

Three days later, the lawn turned an eerie shade of yellow. The scorched earth was not unlike that found after the government detonates a small nuclear device in the Nevada desert.

"It's not you, it's me," I told the man the next time I saw him. He was gazing in horror at my lawn. "I . . . I killed another lawn. Look, you can see the blood on my hands."

"Too much fertilizer," he said softly. He seemed badly shaken.

Last year, with the lawn containing more holes and bare spots than the Ho Chi Minh Trail circa 1968, I decided to call in a professional lawn care service.

Two men arrived one day in a bright green truck with pictures of happy talking shrubs painted on both doors.

They were there, they explained gravely, for a "preliminary assessment." After studying the lawn carefully and taking a series of measurements, they huddled briefly.

I stood in the driveway the whole time, nervously jiggling a pair of stainless steel balls in my hand. (You can't imagine what lawn anxiety does to the central nervous system. My first thought every time I look at my lawn is: "I wonder if smoking is really as bad for you as they say.")

"There's not a whole lot we can do," one of the men said finally.

"I understand," I said.

"We'll put down some weed killer," he continued. "Thing is, you got carpetweed, chickweed, dandelions, crab grass, red sorrel. Plus three different grass diseases raging out of control."

"Is that a problem?" I asked.

Whatever it was that he sprayed on the lawn, you could really notice the difference. Within weeks, the color of the lawn changed dramatically from dark brown to light brown. Or Swiss Moca, as I liked to call it.

Last week I went out and bought a book called "New Life For Your Lawn!"

It's one of those relentlessly upbeat books that promises to help you grow a thick, carpet-like lawn that's "trouble-free!"

Although you get the feeling their definition of trouble might be a bit narrower than mine.

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