I finally did it. My weed whacker and ten-dollar spools of nylon twine are history. So are the rampant armies of exotic weeds–bristly ox tongue, burr clover, Bermuda grass, cutleaf geranium, and who-knows-what–that send in understudies to replace them as fast as I can remove them. The cascades of Eugenia berries from the neighbor’s untended giants will no longer mound in unmown winter grass tufts to sprout a million little Eugenias each spring; goodbye to hours of knee-aching grubbing out of the tenacious tree-lets until my fingers are numb. Farewell to hidden cat plops that unerringly locate my unsuspecting shoe soles. No more prostrate tug-of-war with Bermuda grass rhizomes in a race to claim every inch of garden soil. I am done with all that. Today is the last day of Lawn.
For years I have imagined the digging up of the green sod, smashing through the green netting embedded in grey adobe soil that allowed the grass carpet to be sown in a land far away, carried on a flatbed truck many miles, and deposited on my front slope over a decade ago, when we first moved into our little bungalow on Bayview Avenue. Being renters we had little say in the matter. We did not have to worry about home resale values or whatever it is that requires homeowners to roll out green carpeting on every available surface of their property.
Of necessity I ignored the front yard for years, concentrating on making of the small enclosure at the back of the house a gardener’s retreat and folly. But as the years went by the front yard, with its southern exposure and lack of obstacles–rotting garage and old metal clothesline, cement driveway, precipitous incline, and chainlink fencing–grew into an oasis of native shrubbery and pleasing cycles of seasonal beauty. All except for the useless patch of lumpy lawn in the middle of it all. Nobody sat on it or played on it or even noticed it. It was just something I had to attack once a month or whenever the neighbors made comments, or the “mow/blow/go” guys pestered me to pay them to blow my eardrums out with their gasoline mowers. I’d suit up in long pants, ankle boots, long-sleeved shirts, gloves, bandana head-wrap and plastic safety goggles and let loose with the electric weed whacker, two spools of heavy green cord snaking from the front hallway to the far corners of the front yard. And whack away until the nylon string was gone. $9.99 and an hour later the lawn would look about the same except for the mounds of whacked stuff that I would then have to rake and haul to the green bin. You couldn’t even compost the stuff – it would just go anaerobic and slimey.
In my wildest dreams the front yard would become an extension of the living room, french doors replacing the picture window and opening onto a terra cotta tiled patio with tinkling fountain and potted dwarf citrus, all enclosed by a low wall over which the ceanothus and live oak tree would drape their canopies. Such is the stuff of garden magazines, not the Bayview gardening budget.
This is a drought year. We have had barely five inches of rain since last July – and almost none this January, the most reliable rain month. The front lawns of Oakland will go brown by late spring and it will be a struggle to keep most garden plants alive unless they are genetically tuned to the dry cycle – the wild lilac, manzanitas, buckwheats, oaks, and California buckeye trees will be fine. The rhododendrons and azaleas will struggle. The old roses will survive. The hydrangeas may not. It just seemed like the right moment to exorcise the green demon and make magic with a bit of crushed granite, a few tumbled bricks, and a nice rock for contemplation–a little space under the wild lilac tree for a simple bench where somebody might sit and watch the sunlight play.