Despite a bad patch, this grass is ready for its day in the sun


April 16, 1994|By ROB KASPER

This may be the year that grass grows. I made this optimistic prediction the other day standing in the back yard. I was drawn outdoors by the appearance of a great fiery ball in the sky. I think it is called the sun.

It had been a while since I had seen the sun, and even longer since I felt its warmth on my skin. And, as I stood in the sunny back yard, feeling both dazzled and drowsy, I took inventory. I checked to see what had survived the winter.

The two small fig trees, which I had covered last December with a "parka" made of leaves, cloth and plastic bags, had made it.

The big trees were fine. The cherry tree was blooming; the dogwoods, budding. The holly tree had leaves but was mystifyingly short of berries.

I wasn't sure about the bushes. Bushes are not my sphere of influence. I just dig the holes and plant whatever my wife, the bush woman, has purchased.

I am rarely certain of their names. The one I call "the big bush near the back door" looked alive. Later, my wife confirmed that it was in good shape and that its name was viburnum. She informed me that the bushes I knew as the "smell-good bushes" were pink summer sweet and were also alive. The camellia, however, was struggling.

My bailiwick is growing grass, or attempting to. Most yards have a "brown patch," a place where the grass has trouble growing. For most guys who grow grass, the brown patch is a challenge. It is a mountain to climb, a river to ford, a fastball to hit out of the ballpark.

Years ago, when my wife and I were child-free and lived in the suburbs, I battled a brown patch that stretched out under a big oak tree. I raked, I fertilized, I seeded. And day, after day, after day, I watered.

Eventually, the once-dusty track of ground became a carpet -- well, maybe a throw rug -- of verdant green.

Often I would walk outside and, in the soft light of a summer evening, simply admire the beauty of the grass. That was about all the grass was good for, admiring and mowing. But it was mine. It was proof of accomplishment.

Now, however, the unpaved portion of my rowhouse back yard is in a state I would describe as total brown-out.

I have put up a good fight. But over the years, whenever brave clumps of grass have appeared, a string of predators has wiped them out.

The first grass-killer was the big green turtle. It looked friendly enough. It was a wading pool for little kids. It was made of green plastic and shaped like a turtle.

But in mid-summer, just as the grass had found a happy home, the turtle moved in and destroyed it. The turtle wasn't big, but neither was the yard.

For hour after hour the kids would sit in the water-filled turtle. The heavy turtle would, in turn, sit on the grass. Occasionally the dTC kids would get out and dig holes and little roads in the wet ground. The kids had a great time. But the grass under or near the turtle soon perished.

Another summer, the grass was flooded out of existence. That was right after one of the kids learned to operate the garden hose. He tried out every sprinkler, and became especially adept at manipulating the pistol-grip nozzle. Holding this nozzle in its full-throttle position, the kid would send a stream of water out that peeled off the top 2 inches of topsoil and most of the grass. I would arrive home at night to the sight of grass, topsoil and wood chips floating down the alley at a clip that rivaled the Mississippi at flood stage.

During other summers, the grass fell victim to the "practice field syndrome." As the kids repeatedly practiced kicking a soccer ball against a nearby brick wall, the grass next to the wall withered. As interest in soccer faded, the grass rebounded. But it was soon flattened by a new predator, a would-be shortstop who endlessly bounced baseballs off the nearby wall.

The other day, as I watched the sun warm the bare ground, I was filled with a sense of hope. The turtle had been sent packing. The nozzle was no longer considered a plaything. And the kids had become too big to play ball in the back yard. They now played ball in the nearby school yard, or in the alley.

So I told myself there is a slight chance that, if I once again go through the routine of raking, seeding and watering, grass will grow.

It is, after all, springtime. And in the spring, hope, like grass seed, springs eternal.

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