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Done with the Yard

It’s been almost ten years since I woke up in this house and looked out the window at the humble landscape I planned to turn into the yard of my dreams.

Here we were, freshly minted homeowners, and my mind was already running wild with visions of the multi-hued paradise I would create. Plus, I had a stack of back issues of Southern Living magazine I’d kept for just this moment. They practically whispered in my ear, egging me on and making me drunk with Master Gardener ambition.

In my imagination, I could already see the gentle paths that would meander through fulsome purple hydrangeas. Trellises would swell with red clematis creeping ever higher, rung upon rung. A bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables, cultivated by my own loving hand, would spill from the sturdy planting beds I would build in the corner of the property. And yes, there would also be an arbor, inspired perhaps by the soothing architecture of Japanese gardens, with a bench situated underneath for moments of deep reflection.

Now, standing here all these years later looking out at the idle trees, indifferent shrubs and unconquerable English ivy sneaking relentlessly across the backyard lawn, I just shake my head, turn away, and wonder why none of it ever came to be.

Yes, I could have been a landscape contender. But I didn’t have the chops.

Of course, I started out with every wide-eyed and noble Harry Homeowner good intention. I dutifully haunted garden stores and nurseries every weekend, taking baby steps at first by focusing only on the task of growing better grass. I learned about the weed content in hardy blends of fescue. I parsed the oddball formulas for different kinds of fertilizer. I bought monster bags of pelletized lime, and I spread it liberally. I briefly entertained the thrilling notion of “total lawn renovation” – using Roundup to kill everything in sight and start from scratch – but then chickened out.

But it didn’t take long for me to figure out that pulling together every tool and chemical needed to make my small patch of God-given land something worthy of a glossy magazine cover was going to take more time, muscle, and cash than I could ever hope to muster.

Those huge swaths of hydrangeas I planned to put in? In the end, I did buy two decent-sized plants and plopped them in sunny soil. But to achieve the stunning purple and bushy countenance pictured on the tag that comes stuck to the container, you have to smother them in mulch year-round and make sure the aluminum content of the soil is just right (and even I was not geeky enough to send soil samples off to the county for testing).

I did manage to get the garden up and running. After all, what dad wouldn’t jump at the chance to impress his wife and kids by creating a self-sustaining food supply of lettuce, tomatoes, beans, and broccoli for endless summer salads? The children even helped do some of the digging and planting. And we did reap the bounty for a while – until it became clear that the rabbits, squirrels, and birds were planning to invite themselves to the table, too. Also, it turned out the kids didn’t particularly care for a diet built on this particular building block of the vaunted food pyramid. Who ended up eating the bulk of the produce the animals didn’t get? Me.

You might think I’d feel some shame and prefer not to talk about all this in public. How I faithfully downloaded the ultimate guide to successful lawn care but then never bothered to stick to the schedule. The way I let invasive honeysuckle wrap itself around an innocent cherry tree for so long that it nearly strangled the poor tree to death. Or how the family beagle, on a tear to root out moles and voles she could smell underground, dug enormous trenches all through the yard. We still haven’t filled them back in.

But I guess I have to admit the truth about keeping up the yard. Now, after all these years, I just don’t care anymore.

There was a time when I pictured myself in a floppy sunhat and knee pads, faithfully clipping the forsythia, mahonia, and nandina while trimming out “old wood” (whatever that is) to ensure better blooms next year. I once even aspired to that ultimate honor awarded by the neighborhood association – yard of the month – that would recognize my talents and devotion with a placard placed at the end of
the driveway.

But now I don’t care that the weeds managed to fight off multiple assaults of killer chemicals year after year and now live in peaceful coexistence with the fescue I tried so hard to grow. I don’t care that the once-well-tended compost pile now bristles with a slew of scary looking plants I can’t identify. And I don’t care anymore if the tiny fishpond next to the porch keeps filling with leaves that clog and break every filtration pump I buy. The fishpond is also now devoid of fish. I have no idea where they went.

No, our humble quarter-acre has gone from what might have been the cover of Southern Living to the opening credits of The Addams Family. My wife suggests hiring professional landscapers to restore some modicum of dignity to our curb appeal. But I will see your ten and raise you twenty. I could happily give all this up for a tidy condo where the yard is no bigger than a king-size bed, other people take care of all the maintenance, and I get to eat out in restaurants every night.

Give me one tropical hibiscus in a pot. Now that’s my kind of paradise. The rest of the yard? You can have it.

Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. The father of two, Tony has written the DadZone since 2009.
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