05 May 2008
Green green grass of home
I've been in New Mexico, eating green chile (that is not a typo, that's how they spell it) and admiring the xerescaping. My friends live in a little adobe house and proudly showed me around their new drought-tolerant plantings. But I noticed some homeowners still clung to the ideal of a smooth green front lawn, jarring next to their sunbaked houses. Back here in North Carolina, despite the drought, we have The Lawn That Can't Be Stopped, roughly 700 sq. feet of rampant, untamed vegetation, complete with scrubby bushes and a pecan tree that scatters nuts far and wide. Witness it here:
If you look closely, you can see that the grass variety spurts up in little clumps, leaving bare patches of dirt in between. You will also notice that the grass is rather - robust? - for grass that was mowed as recently as last week. It is the unstoppable lawn. And the question became, how should we stop it? And why?
I'll start with the "Why" first. We are renters (and this informs a lot of the How later too...) and several Very Concerned and Houseproud Neighbors can see into our yard and likely care how we are keeping it up. We have a nice landlord who has a habit of just dropping by, which drives me crazy, and he inevitably sees the back lawn too. And also, I don't like bugs much and they seem to lurk in the longer grass.
But again, we are renters. The many things I would like to do to this yard - ripping it up into a raised bed veggie garden with fruit bearing trees surrounding it being my chief choice - isn't really worth it. I just don't want to put a bunch of sweat equity and real equity into making this a better property for my landlord to sell or rent. And partially because we are renters, I also really really didn't want to do the obvious thing - buy a lawnmower.
We looked at lawnmowers but my spirit resisted them. Little shiny motor machines, needing electricity or gas, noisy as all get-out, and pretty damn expensive. We don't have a shed or even a very deep overhang so any lawnmower we bought would be out in the open, rusting and caking and feeling mostly unloved. Also, I wasn't convinced that a mower could deal with the scrubby shrub or the layer of pecan shells that litters the lawn. Even a push-mower, if I could find one in decent shape for a good price (I couldn't, by the way) seemed like it would be stymied by those shells and saplings.
So we waited and thought and the lawn got positively jungle-like. Then I had a brainflash - a scythe. A scythe! Those curved blades that you usually see the Grim Reaper sporting.
I started doing some internet research and got progressively excited. Look at this company The Marugg Company out of Tennessee, a family based business that has been making scythes for over 100 years. I was extremely tempted by one of these beautiful sounding scythes but even though they are cheap, especially compared to mowers, I thought I would check my local garden store. Stone Brothers and Byrd is one of my favourite places in Durham. They've been in business since 1914 and amongst the gardening goods they also have homemade preserves, smoked pork products, seed bins behind the counter and the nicest workers ever. So I went on a scythe mission.
When I said I was looking for a scythe, I got a blank look. Maybe it's my Northern accent. I described it and the clerks face cleared. "Oh you mean a slingblade!" Right, a slingblade, I'd forgotten about the Billy Bob Thornton movie murder device. He found one for me and when the clerk rang it up, she asked me "What's the price on that sickle?" Right, a sickle. There are so many alternate names. The price, incidentally, was $24.95. I knew it wouldn't be as good as one of the Maarugg scythes but it was worth trying. Here's the scythe/slingblade/sickle in question:
The next morning I got up at 6 in the morning and in the early light, the birds chirping, scythed the lawn. (Can you imagine what your neighbors would think of starting your lawn mower at 6 am?) It was a workout, which I wanted, and gloves were necessary to avoid blisters. And it worked! Kind of. It worked amazingly well on the scrubby brush and tall vines and weeds. It didn't cut as closely on the weird cluster grass we have but enough to remain
semi-respectable. I took pictures, of course. The Before and the After. This was maybe 5 minutes of scything. You could collect up the cuttings but I'm using them as an informal version of permaculture, discouraging the weeds from coming back.
I realize this isn't making something from scratch, but it was my low-cost, low-energy solution to my lawn issue, at least until my neighbors learn to love the unkempt look.