Lawn And Order

THE REAL DIRT

May 29, 1994|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

There is a lush new lawn outside my house, a thick green carpet that would knock your socks off, or at least your shoes. A soft lawn made for bare feet and free toes. A lawn to lie on and watch the drifting clouds.

A nice lawn outside my house? There must be some mistake.

An attractive lawn doesn't fit here. The grass and I have barely spoken in 20 years. My idea of lawn maintenance is to routinely clean up doggie piles. I haven't time for more. I rarely fertilize and seldom lime the lawn. I can barely stand to mow it. There's not enough time to tend flowers and vegetables, much less waste it on plants that don't bloom or bear fruit.

My lawn has always been a mess, and looked it. There were a dozen things growing in it, only one of which was grass. Weeds and moss were rampant. Also, anthills, mole mounds and mushrooms.

Sometimes I've regretted this casual approach to lawn care. Come spring, the neighbors' verdant yards made me green with envy. But I've fought the urge to make repairs. Only a disaster would make me address my lawn woes. A flood, perhaps. Or a twister.

Or plumbing problems.

Recently, we had some underground pipes replaced. This means we gave a man all our money to tear up the front lawn and then put it back, upside down. When he finished, the soil and stones were on top of the ground; the turf, buried far below.

The entire lawn, 1,500 square feet of it, was gone, save for a 2-foot swatch of grass in the middle of the yard that somehow escaped the backhoe's wrath. The rest of the front yard was a moonscape. I longed for my scruffy old turf -- a golf green, by comparison.

Enough was enough.

"It's time to fix the lawn," I declared.

I'd forgotten how much fun it is to prepare a lawn for seeding. One day of removing large rocks. Two days of raking up stones. Three days of recovering from a sore back.

At last, time to plant. A 20-pound bag of grass seed -- more than was needed -- cost $40. But I sowed it thickly, hoping the extra grass would choke out any weeds. I also made certain the seed contained a mixture of different grasses, lest disease threaten .. any one variety.

The best way to sow grass seed is with a mechanical spinner-spreader, an inexpensive and lightweight device that hurls seed in all directions when the hand crank is turned. I tiptoed across the bare soil, cranking away like a berserk organ grinder, while singing a song for good luck: "Green Grass," by Gary Lewis & the Playboys.

I then raked the seed lightly into the soil and covered the bed with a thin blanket of straw. A straw mulch protects the grass seed from scavengers, prevents erosion and helps retain moisture. (Never use a mulch of hay, which is loaded with weed seeds.)

Finally, I set about watering the lawn with a sprinkler attached to the garden hose. This particular sprinkler has a rotating head that sits atop a 5-foot aluminum pole which can be pressed into the soil.

The sprinkler worked fine until the ground beneath it became soft, and the pole fell over. I found the sprinkler lying on its side, twitching wildly and hissing like an angry snake. Water was gushing from its head and rushing down the hillside, with the grass seed in hot pursuit.

Time to change sprinklers. Next up: the oscillating kind that rests the ground and "fans" a soft spray back and forth. A more gentle sprinkler you'll never find. So why did it soak the front seat of my pickup truck the one time I left the window down? I drove to work that morning, perched on a half-dozen beach towels, sitting up so high that my head scraped the roof.

Meanwhile, back home, the birds were having a good time stealing the straw mulch to feather their nests. The birds' antics excited Patrick the cat, who tried to chase them through the seedbed. Patrick's antics excited Katydid the dog, who . . . well, you get the picture.

Despite the intrusions, the grass began to grow . . . and grow. It is now 2 inches tall. I can't believe it. Another inch and it will be ready for its first haircut.

I think I'm going to cry.

Weeds are sprouting up here and there, but I don't care. For the first time in decades, my lawn and I are pals.

My wife understands my feelings. "The grass must really like you to put up with all that," she said. In fact, she bought me a T-shirt to celebrate the occasion.

The shirt reads:

I fought the lawn, and the lawn won.

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