Wednesday, August 26, 2009
An Illusion of Perfection
To casual passersby, my front lawn is an admirable feature.It has the apparent uniformity of a green felt surface on a billiards table. Some of the neighbors who know me well admire it because they know it is achieved largely without the benefit of chemicals or fertilizers. I never fertilize it, and only the dreaded crabgrass ever gets a treated with spot spray of a selective herbicide. Never, ever, does the entire lawn get broadcast with a layer of any chemical. The fact that it is so green and smooth puzzles the folks who can't acheive anything like it, no matter how much modern chemistry they bring to bear.
My secret is quite simply this. The lawn is horribly imperfect, by design. As any avid amateur landscaper knows, a lawn isn't a uniform culture, but is a hodgepodge of many different types of grasses, and also includes a fair percentage of non-grass species. Over the years, I've become quite familiar with my lawn. At various places, certain types of grass come to the forefront. In a spot in front, a large expanse of fine fescues prosper---my very favorite grass, fine to the touch and easy on the eyes. In other areas, hardy bluegrasses are dominant. In some areas of my back yard, very short bent-grasses dominate. While bentgrasses are very good on golf course greens, they aren't quite so fine for lawns, as they are rather hard to care for in the heat of summer. These small isolated colonies of single species are the exception rather than the rule, and they are in fact susceptible to tragedy.
Most places, though, you will see that the lawn is a mixture of things--bent grasses and blue grasses and fescues. And it isn't all desired grasses, by any means. Much of my seemingly perfect lawn is horribly imperfect. Small spots of wild violet can be seen many places, as well as creeping charley here and there. There are a few plantains scattered about, the occasional dandelion, some oxalis, a bit of chickweed. Overall, though, the effect of all this imperfection is a pretty perfect looking lawn. When weeds sometimes get dominant, I extract a few by hand, with a hand operated core plugger that both removes the weed and root, and also takes a core plug out of the ground which helps with aeration. I never, ever strive for a perfect lawn, though.
The lawn looks great exactly because it is diverse and imperfect. Years ago, I once tried to acheive one of those perfect golf course lawns, and I found that the effort to create singularity and uniformity was disastrous. I reseeded a large section with one very expensive grass seed, which failed miserably. Such attempts are also disastrous in the garden, as any gardner quickly learns that the healthiest garden is not one free of all pests and diseases, but one in which many, many different pests exist in small numbers that keep things in balance. Try to keep black spot fungus off roses entirely, and you open the door to devastation from aphids, for example.
In the backyard near the raspberry patch, there is now a patch of lawn where the fescue is dominating. It's very pretty for the moment, but I won't be at all displeased if a bit of creeping charley or a few violets join the party.
Similarly, time has taught me that my inner landscape is a happier and healthier place when a few weeds are accepted as part of the plan. A bit of sadnes occasionally, a sprout of temper once in a while, an occasional outbreak of pride---nothing to worry about really. Perfection, I think, isn't the goal at all, but the enemy of peace.