Lawn Overdue

Commentary: Alphabet Soup

by Kristina Campbell
Published on July 6, 2006, 12:00am | Comments

Two of the more ominous communications my partner Kim and I received when we became homeowners in 1998 involved the abundant flora surrounding our abode.

Our friend MJ passed along this succinct prognostication: ''Grass grows really fast.'' Meanwhile our friend Heather drove by the house we were buying and reported back, ''It's going to take a whole crew of Lesbian Avengers to maintain that front terrace!''

I scoffed at MJ's silly warning and felt only a slight chill at Heather's observation. The truth is, the landscaping surrounding our chosen house terrified me. It was beautiful, meticulously maintained, deliberately designed. But I was able to quell my fear with the knowledge that Kim and I had an ironclad deal: I would tend to the grass, and she would tend to the pretty things along the edges and on the front terrace.

My job seemed easy enough. We'd inherited an electric mower from the sellers, so the only remotely intimidating scenario I faced was running over the cord. Kim's job seemed insurmountable by comparison, but that wasn't my concern. Besides, she comes from good breeding -- her German grandmother should have been featured in Better Homes and Gardens. The soup at Oma's house was made from vegetables from her garden; if there were flowers on the table, she'd probably picked them from her yard.

In fact, when we moved into our new home, our housewarming gift from Oma was a set of high-end gardening implements. Kim was pleased; this would sure make her job easier.

We moved into our house in December and quickly learned that the sellers had not kept their word when they said they'd clean up all the leaves dumped by the numerous trees that pepper the perimeter of our property. They did not do this, and the yard was covered; the last date for leaf collection was about three days after we closed the sale of our home. So our introduction to lawn care involved raking, bagging, blowing and dragging. We collected the millions of leaves and piled them onto a tarp, which we then had to carry down our front stairs to the street. It was a monumental undertaking, but eventually we finished and were able to rest.

The resting has, so far, lasted about seven and a half years. I learned that MJ was right: Grass does grow really fast. We learned that Heather, too, was right: We did need a team of Lesbian Avengers to tend to our landscaping.

The demands of a large lawn are neverending. The grass grows and when it's not properly cared for, weeds overtake it and then they grow -- even faster than the grass. Every year, the same trees that we cursed in 1998 repeat their ritual of dropping millions of leaves in our yard. The azaleas -- we have somewhere around 15 bushes, I think -- whine about not getting properly trimmed and shaped. Plants emerge that we have never seen, and there is a recurring panic-filled investigation of whether that new growth out back is poison ivy or poison oak or the creepily named poison sumac.

Our division of labor wasn't even remotely fair. Her job requires Herculean effort and intensive knowledge of all types of plants and flowers and shrubs. Mine just requires diligence. And yet we both fall far short of the desired goal, which is keeping the lawn nice enough to not mortify the neighbors and to not embarrass ourselves when friends and family visit.

To add to the excitement, the sellers had installed a fish pond in the back yard. It's lovely when it's all cleaned up and taken care of, but that only happens when my mother, a backyard-pond enthusiast, comes to stay with us at a time when the weather is conducive to her getting dirty. We have two fish in the pond, and god only knows how they have survived. They've been in there at least a few years; it's been a while since my mom has been here in the right season. We find ourselves thinking from time to time that all of the fish surely have perished, and then a little orange patch will catch our eyes. It's not clear what they are eating, but they seem well-fed.

A further complication is that we have the worst luck of all time when it comes to hiring contractors. The guy who took down a tree in our yard last year and was supposed to reseed our back lawn just stopped showing up mid-job and won't return our calls anymore. The company that was supposed to clean and repair our gutters about a month ago still hasn't shown up, citing various reasons when I quiz them. The people we called about our broken front-door lock sent out two different locksmiths at two different times, but our problems persist. We did have dreamy experiences with both a plumber and an electrician last month, but they were the exception, rather than the rule.

But my faith doesn't wane -- if I see a sign touting lawn care, I write down the number. Every once in a while I get the Black & Decker Lawn Hog out of the shed and cut the weeds down to a reasonable length, making the yard look almost respectable. I pitch in sometimes when Kim tackles the ivy out front, and I bring home big, long, expensive gardening tools designed to help us cut the shoots off the holly tree in front that is way too tall to trim normally, even with a ladder.

We joke about our ironclad deal. I still am the only one who mows the lawn because of her grass allergies, but it doesn't happen often enough for me to hold it over her head, and it also is a drop in the bucket compared to what she does for me on an ongoing basis. I try not to hassle her about the unfortunate state of the landscaping, knowing our arrangement was uneven to begin with.

I guess that's our new deal: Shut up and live with it, or get outside and change it. Or -- the best deal of all -- find a reliable contractor who will make it pretty again and come back regularly to keep it that way.

Kristina Campbell's overgrown yard is in Takoma Park, Md. Her neighbors almost certainly hate her, especially the two on the cul-de-sac who are trying to sell their houses. She can be reached at kcampbell@metroweekly.com, and contractor referrals are always appreciated.


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