• “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. Dr. Suess

Friday, June 3, 2011


The house next door on the north is a rental. As tenants move in and out usually the grass gets watered - at least once (and some times twice) per year and in the spring gets mowed - at least once.

On the south, our neighbor has a beautifully manicured green lawn. Well - had. She moved in about 15 years ago and her lawn was always beautiful and well kept.  I asked her what her secret is. She said it is to mow the grass once a week whether it seems to need it or not - and to use a specific fertilizer once a year.

We started following her example (sans fertilizer that costs money) and our lawn improved immensely. But sometimes we only mowed every 10 days.  We eventually tried the fertilizer and discovered that it
a. turns the lawn deep green,
b. makes it need a lot more water,
c. requires more mowing and
d. needs extra care in other ways (we think the weeds do better too and we never had clover before using that brand of fertilizer and couldn't seem to get rid of it until we stopped using that).

Mowing once a week seems to be the secret to a decent lawn - and giving some water.

About 2 years ago South Neighbor started a new job and now only mows and waters on irregular schedules. Her lawn looks a lot like ours now - not bad but not always as terrific as previously.

North Neighbors sometimes complain about the terrible condition of their yard. They also complain that their landlord won't listen to them and reseed the back yard (that is dormant and weed infested).  They further bash the landlord for giving them notice to water because that costs more money and causes them to have to mow more often and they already got a notice from the landlord this year that if the lawn is not mowed by a set day that the landlord will have it mowed and charge the cost to them. "It is so much trouble to live here," they explain, "it is so much work and no matter what we do it never improves the yard or makes any difference."

Really? Did they really think that leaving a tiny sprinkler running all day and night for 3 days (so that a giant puddle formed in a low spot and eventually ran off like a river to the street) would make the lawn grow better and magically be a groomed, manicured yard? They did not move the sprinkler or turn it on except on the day they got a notice to do so or pay. Did they really believe their yard would look like paradise by mowing only after the grass was taller than their knees and left 'hayfield stubble' that became dormant from that lack of water? And why wait until the county notifies you to remove the noxious weeds or pay a fine and the cost of having them sprayed and removed?

I began to notice a pattern - for both neighbors.

 On the north it was "only do what is required and that compulsory means mandate.  And only make the minimum effort specified - or perhaps a little less if it can be gotten away with."  They ask how we get our grass to grow but they don't want to do any of the things we try.  They are happy to let David spray their weeds when he sprays ours! The few extra pennies of prevention is worth many pounds of cure on our downwind side of the fence.

On the south it was "make time and effort to do all the can be done - even before required - and take personal interest and responsibility for life and surroundings. And always do something - just try."  Even the dark green and yellow stripes of improper fertilizing were just a learning experience not an excuse to quit trying - just a new chance to learn and become better.

My parents taught me you only need to pull a weed once if you get it before it seeds.  There may be many weeds but each one only needs to be removed once if you prevent seeds and roots from being established. My father was particularly vigilant about thistles and burdock.  Mother hated thistles too but was quick and poison death to morning glory and anything else with invasive roots.  They instructed us carefully about getting the 'root'.  Ragweed, red root and mallow just had to be hoed or pulled. Even a kid breaking off the top was preferred to letting them go to seed.  And what kid wants to step on a thistle with bare feet?

I notice habits can be a bit the same.

Some of mine are somewhat like the barefoot kid
trying to avoid thistles.

I try to 'walk' my entire garden and yard once a day and no less than twice a week.  When I do, I see problems when they are small and more readily resolved. I can pull out the weed hiding among the daisies or dahlias or see the seedlings sprouting from bird droppings.  I notice when it is time to spread Preen on the stone path or gravel driveway as just a few sprouts show themselves and can be hoed out quickly. I see a diseased leaf or twig or a new bug infestation.

My yard and garden are a good analogy of life. Some weeds come no matter what I do and I have to pull them out before they can become established or cause other problems. Some good habits prevent the growth of other less desirable habits that, like weeds, seem to always show up and choke out the grass or vegetables or flowers.  And sometimes even good things can (like calendulas or columbines) become invasive themselves in such overabundance that they are like bad habits or weeds with negative impacts and consequences.

Calendula is a drought tolerant edible flower/herb that can grow in almost any location and has many good uses. It's pretty daisy shaped blossoms (in yellows, oranges, and reds) make prolific seeds several times a season that will grow even in sidewalk cracks. When it bushes out nearby plants stop growing or die back (nice for weed prevention) and a better balance must be regained. Calendulas grow easily and can be removed easily.  Just break a plant off or hoe it out and it is gone. No invasive root or tough unbreakable stock and the seeds stay dormant if not watered and seeds or small plants are easily moved to new locations.  I love them on all counts.

I struggle for balance in all areas of my life. I try to learn new things each day (like what is that and why is it growing there?) and try again to apply some advice or counsel that may change something for the better (wow - why didn't I get a quiet, battery operated, electric lawnmower years ago?)- and I 'walk' the property.  I enjoy the sights and scents and pick a few vegetables or herbs, water something a little, and ALWAYS watch for the weeds - and stop to pull one ...

at least once or twice.