Tuesday, July 25, 2006

No Noggin, No Bloggin; Or, Why Jammer has not been blogging

I apologize for the lack of posts. I've basically had bloggers block. I've been staring at this piece about yard work for weeks now.

Luckily my lovely and talented wife has graciously stepped in with a piece of her own not unrelated to the one I was working on. So without further ado, take it away Trish:


In case you're wondering why the blog has been quiet, this is why.

At our previous house, we didn't do much with the garden. We put in a few raised beds to try to deal with problem areas--the line along the fence where the dogs ran barking at the neighbor dog (a continual source of muddy paws--a non-trivial issue when your dog poundage equals around 250 pounds); an area along the sidewalk right on top of limestone, so the grass was essentially being pan-fried; an area that would not grow grass under any circumstances. Gardening was basically unattractive for several reasons. Our neighbors all had two-story houses, so you're talking private as a fish bowl. There was no shade (although by the time we left the trees we had planted were beginning to help), so it was as pleasant to sit in the yard as the hot box in Coolhand Luke. I generally left the house at seven in the morning and got home around six at night, and night gardening is not really my long suit, whereas Jim was putting hundreds of miles on his car running errands (traffic flow is so badly designed in Cedar Park that even a short trip involved fighting major congestion). And, most important, we were always sort of camping in that house--it was not really explicit, but somehow we both knew this was not where we were going to stay. (So, for instance, we carefully placed trees so that the next owner could still put in a pool--when your planning is based on the next owner, you know you aren't thinking in the long-term.)

Then we moved to this house.

It's a classic sixties ranch-style house, although one of the nicest of that breed (dang close to Prairie Style, if you ask me). There is a magnificent, awesome, extraordinary, red oak in the front yard, but otherwise no real landscaping to speak of. The classic sixties Texas landscaping--St. Augustine grass, hedges against the house--had been only mildly modified by some previous owner, who tore out a bunch of hedges (yay!) and planted or allowed to grow various invasive exotics, including Chinese Tallow, Red-tipped Photinia, Ligustrum, and Nandina. I'm not criticizing them, as people still recommend many of those plants, including people who sell books with words like "Natural" and "Organic" in the title. (I am, however, criticizing the people who write those books.)

If you live in Texas, and someone recommends that you plant Nandina, cover your ears and sing Yellow Rose of Texas as loud as you can until they go away. Cast that person into outer darkness, perform a personal exorcism, and wash out your ears. (This is one of many reasons I think Howard Garrett's book is vastly over-rated--anyone who recommends Nandina to a Texan is a spawn of the devil.) It is not just that it sends up runners all over the place--that would be bad enough--but that birds eat the berries and then plant Nandina all over parks and preserves. And, it's a royal pain to try to get out of your yard. Okay, you think I'm exaggerating. Well, it took Jim (with some help from me) about an hour to pull out one Nandina plant about two feet big, which required, iirc, a pick, a shovel, and a saw. We had an entire fence lined with Nandina--something like thirty or forty feet. We paid people to pull that out.

I'll spare the long description of the next three months, but the short version is like this: the coffee table begins to fill up with gardening books, pamphlets, and magazines; I keep showing Jim pictures and asking, "What about this?" "Do you like that?" till he starts to get that hunted look; I arrive home with a car full of plants at least once a week; I start talking about selling blood in order to get more money for plants (I even used my book budget for plant-buying); I place them around the yard and Jim plants them; Jim digs up a fair number and puts them in the next spot I think will work better (not entirely my fault--the magnificent tree fills out and turns full sun spots into full shade); he builds me a raised veggie bed; he builds me an arbor (I painted it--badly); he assembles an arbor; he builds three more veggie beds; he puts out something like sixty bags of mulch; he spends hours digging grass out of an area that, when it was grass, wouldn't grow anything but dirt but, now that it is supposed to be flowers, is growing grass like a mofo.

This business of digging out grass and digging holes is no trivial exercise. The soil (I use that word loosely) around here is called "clayey," but that really isn't strong enough. It is not quite as hard as concrete, well, not really well-pored concrete anyway. I couldn't get anywhere with a shovel, so I have to use a pick to dig anything. After I took out a sprinkler head, my shin, and my elbow, I resigned as chief digger. Jim's tenure as digger has not been without incident--when he threw his strength into a particularly hard bit of dirt, the dirt threw back, and Jim lost. Once he picked himself up from the road, and assessed that he had not actually broken anything, he declared himself done for the day (Ibuprofen, a heating pad, and a Margarita helped the healing).

Jim never wanted to be a rancher, as he says he doesn’t like hard physical labor in the heat. But this isn't work, I tell him--it's a hobby!


DSK said...

As you probably already know, the answer to all yard problems is always "more mulch." Invasive grass? Mulch. Rock-hard clay? Mulch. Wilting foliage? Mulch.

(This message brought to you by the Texas Hardwood Mulch people...)

Mike said...

oh no, my cow orker is commenting on your blog!

I've been gradually digging out our own grass and replacing with less watery stuff too - and man, are you right about the clayeyieyness.

As for our own mulch situation, Ethan and I walk over to our Future Park Any Day Now and steal rocks off the ground, then bring them back and put them in the flowerbeds. Now that's sustainable!