Non-Adventures in Eco-Landscaping

Bee on chive blossomI have been trying for awhile to figure out how to get this blog going again. After planning to document my eco-landscaping adventures, my dad died unexpectedly two days after my first post. My plan to fight the pesky dandelion was to remove sod and plant drought-tolerant groundcover. Two-thirds of my sod had been removed prior to my first post, the area was mulched and waiting for planting. However, instead of a summer of gardening, my landscaping plans came to an immediate standstill. Fresh mulch became overgrown with weeds while days turned to weeks, and then months went by while I sat on my back steps in a daze.

During this time, plants had started to grow amidst the weeds. The yard was overtaken with self-seeded Morning Glories, weird corn-like stalks under the bird feeders, and a hodgepodge of unidentified perennials I planted after the sod removal. Fruit was ripening on the raspberry, blackberry and strawberry bushes; and contrary to popular belief, tomatoes actually flourish when completely neglected. While the yard grew out of control, I watched feeling helpless and disinterested in doing anything to bring order to the chaos.

Last weekend as I sat on my back steps drinking a can of my dad’s Miller 64, I saw new life in this vast jungle of disorder. Mice. There were mice frolicking under the bird feeder. Two of them raced at a frenetic pace for fallen seeds, hid in the corn-like stalks and then raced back to the safety of the neglected jungle. I have since named them Bonnie and Clyde. No matter how hard I try, I still can’t tell them apart but I don’t think they mind. And there’s more. In addition to Bonnie and Clyde, there is also a chipmunk – and yes, I named him Chip. I have never seen a chipmunk in my yard since moving in four years ago, this was really something. He raced from shrubs to berry patches to the safety under the central air conditioning unit. We had new residents and my overgrown, sod-reduced yard had encouraged it.

So, while my adventures in eco-landscaping ended up being more of a non-adventure this season, the process has begun nevertheless. I find myself wanting to hang a sign saying, “I’m sorry I started this when I did, Neighbors, I hadn’t known my dad would die and interrupt my plans but I promise there IS a plan, you just won’t see it until next summer.” That said, I’m heartened to see that my meager beginnings have laid the groundwork for a habitat for city wildlife. So far it is a tangled mess of plants, weeds and a whole lot of mulch but there is more wildlife already – fewer dandelions than ever – and I look forward to future adventures.

Image of mouse
Bonnie (or Clyde) in the urban jungle.

What I Learned From Grandpa’s Weeder

I suppose in hindsight, the warning signs were always there. At an early age I registered horror at the realization that people were eating Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. I once told my mother that if I got married, I wanted it to be barefoot and outdoors with flowers in my hair. As a teenager, there was a short period of time where I wrote letters to oil companies at the behest of PETA, imploring them to change their ways because they were endangering migratory birds.

Fast-forward to today and you have a 35 year old vegetarian with a worm bin in her basement. I should clarify. I know just enough about most of my passions to be dangerous. There must have been a point in my development that I took the “go boldly where no one has gone before” concept a little too much to heart, because often times I learn the basics and jump in with both feet, deciding I will figure out the rest as I go.

My husband became more prominently aware of this a few years back when I marched into the backyard with a shovel and started digging a hole for the patio I had decided we needed. I knew the general area of the yard, the approximate size it should be and had bought some supplies. When it came to start placing the pavers, he asked, “You did measure, right?” HAHA, yeah. What? That does not compute.

This tends to be the way that I learn best, and what I may have convinced myself is an endearing trait of my personality: being a woman of action. Sometimes the outcome works, sometimes it works well enough, and yes, there are times it doesn’t work at all. It is fairly common for tears to be involved along with moments of extreme panic where I pace and wonder what in the hell I’ve just done. But through it all, I remain committed to this process that has nearly lost me a few fingers and toes but usually gets things done.

That brings us to this summer. Since we moved into our house 4 years ago, I have been waging a war with our lawn. Not only does the hippy in me refuse to water grass, but I will put no chemicals on my yard. Each summer that has passed, the lawn has grown worse and worse. It wasn’t until last year that things really started going south and the comment of a passing stranger, “I just knew there had to be a new person living here because the lawn USED to look FANTASTIC” nearly made me go ballistic. At that time, I had purchased myself a new tool, cleverly named “Grandpa’s Weeder.” Ah, the anticipation with which I waited to start fighting those weeds. Grandpa’s Weeder promised to be “the most effective, effortless weed puller since 1913” and “would remove weeds and their roots with no bending, no pulling and no kneeling.” It had a lifetime guarantee and I had a lifetime, those weeds were toast. I put on my sunhat and stepped into the front yard, Grandpa’s Weeder shining in the morning sun.

This is the point in my story that I should point out that we have a modest little home in south Minneapolis with an average city yard. I jumped into my task with my characteristic confidence, Grandpa’s Weeder was a force to be reckoned with. I was pulling those weeds systematically with most of their roots but there was some definite bending going on. As the minutes ticked by, I started to realize that Grandpa must not have had as many weeds as I did – but I also took the “eye of the tiger” concept too much too heart in my formative years, so I pushed forward. Those weeds were going down, I would show everyone how awesome my yard could look with a little elbow grease and nature’s natural resources. Eight hours into the weed pulling, I still had a large portion of my yard left and was on my third biodegradable lawn bag. My hands had taken on the forms of claws and I was tipped from the waist at a 45 degree angle. Everywhere I looked I saw more and more dandelions. This was the point that I started to cry and tried to give Grandpa the finger but my hands were frozen claws. Effortless, my ass. I would need another tactic to outsmart these suckers. It was at that moment that the weed (ahem) was planted in my mind. I just had too much grass….

To be continued….

The ramblings and adventures of a self-proclaimed tree hugger

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