Meanwhile, our lawn was--well, it was pretty good. But side by side with Mr. Glaser's deep, gorgeous glade of green, ours was a little thin, a little on the yellow side, a little like Herb Sendek when you're living next to Roy Williams and Coach K. Oh, sure, our side would be looking pretty sharp, weeds in retreat, grass newly mowed ... and then old Roy, er, Bob Glaser would set up the croquet wickets and roll right over us for the championship.
I'm sure I wouldn't have cared, except that my father cared--cared deeply--and searched year after year for a way to level the playing field, as it were, notwithstanding that he did work every day, riding with the carpool at 6 a.m. up the Garden State Parkway, back at 6 p.m. At which point I might be pressed into service as weed-removal aide, edge-improvement specialist, or raker-assistant to the chief mower. Evenings, weekends, we fought from behind, a valiant struggle, it's not whether you win or lose, but could you stay in the ring with the champ and weather the blows, and maybe, just maybe, catch him with your best power-fertilizer when his pH Factor was down?
Oh, yes, my father was sure that the answer was chemical--not surprising since my father was a chemist, but surprising to me that with all his professional training he could never find, at the hardware store, the exact formulation of nitrogen-neptunium-whatever needed to photosynthesize our grass past Glaser's amateur, hand-tended variety. Or rather, it surprised me that the Scott's corporation, maker of lawn chemicals, could never find it and relieve my father's pain.
Because I hated yard work, hated the futility of our situation, and yet there's no denying it: deep in my subconscious there's a desire, a longing, to have dominion over a field of grass.
Which I do, sort of. In our 1920's-platted neighborhood of small, efficiently arranged lots with tallish houses, we somehow own a one-story bungalow set well back onto a corner lot, with a big front porch that overlooks quite a large--relatively speaking--front yard.
I often say I'd rather live in a condo. But briefly in the spring, before the pollen drops, and especially in the fall, that inchoate lawn-urge is strong and must be quenched. Out come the tools--the rakes, the weed-jabbers, the spreaders, and the all-important power mower, which can whack off, at least for a day, the most obvious evidence that your estate is not weed-free (sorry, Frank Hyman, but I don't have a "lawnlet" [see Hyman's lawn story on page 23]). And the hardy yeoman within asserts control over his surroundings.
Mine is not a long story. My lawn comes and goes. Except in the fall, if I've thrown out some seed, I don't water hardly at all. So unless it's a rainy summer, the grass goes so brown in the heat that, once, an unkind friend suggested I should give up and bale it. But dead as it can look in July, in September it comes back faithfully, and with a little fertilizer turns green and grand for, oh, three weeks or so.
Same thing in the spring.
Weeds? You bet. So what?
Our good landscape-architect friends, who over the years have turned their own once-grassy yard into a veritable nursery of flora, have suggested that my wife and I should follow suit and replace our grass-and-weeds with "beds" and "plantings" of various kinds, much as Mr. Hyman has done.
No doubt they're right. And yet, my wife has all she can handle with her business; as for me, "plantings" don't just put themselves in the ground, and once established, they need tending and watering and pruning and who knows what, because I sure don't.
Here's where I differ with my friends, and with Frank. They all say, replace your grass and save yourself a lot of work. But to me, grass is the cheapest, easiest way to cover your soil, unless you obsess over it.
Just scratch the ground a little once a year, make sure you lime (I have never tested for acidity, and around here, I doubt you could ever over-lime), and throw some seed out in the fall. Fertilize spring and fall, or twice in the fall (yes, three times is best, but I don't think I've ever managed to do that), and every five years or so, hire somebody with an aerator. Mow when necessary. You're not supposed to chop off more than one-third of the grass. I keep the mower setting high, but I rarely chop off less than one-third.
As for weeds, grass out-competes them, so when the grass is strong, the weeds fade. But when the grass is weak, the weeds fill in nicely--just keep 'em mowed.
But the most important rule of all is, if there's a Mr. Glaser next door--move.