Sunday, May 25, 2008

Order in the Garden of Good and Evil

The yard was nothing but a fence
The sun just hurts my eyes somewhere
It must be time for penitence
Gardening at night is never where
--REM, "Gardening at Night" (all lyrics approximate)

Nature is not an orderly thing. It’s unruly. It’s messy. Life and death usually are.

It’s about competition and dominance. It’s about procreating to the fullest and elbowing out all competition through strength, growth, and offspring. How does the European starling come to be so prevalent on a continent it never even saw until the 1880s? By copulating like mad and storming every nest they see to evict the owners and set up their own residences. That and the enviable ability to ingest everything from seeds to French fries.

Monkey and I have set up our own residence, as you know, in a house that is, ostensibly, our own (held in a minority partnership with a mortgage company already several times removed from the one we originally drew up a contract with, but, I digress). In the past, our living arrangements have been of the rental variety: apartments in giant complexes, beater houses in “less desirable” neighborhoods. (In the interest of full disclosure, there was a short period of time that involved a sort of squatter arrangement with her brother, but that really is irrelevant to my thesis.) After one year of ownership, it’s still a new experience for us. And, it involves a lot of work that I never expected myself to be doing and, dare I say, enjoying.

The upkeep of our former residences involved minimal effort. The cracker-box apartment (labeled so because it was small, not because it contained any crackers, metaphorical or otherwise) was on the second floor. We had no property at all, and no house plants to worry about. There was no mowing, weeding, whatever. The bungalows of the past demanded a slightly greater demand, usually a weekly mow in the growing season, some shoveling in the winter. In the interest of beautification, there was some experimentation with container planting, but the maintenance of those was not even enough to warrant consideration as labor. The high mortality rate of flora in and around the Monkey House was evidence enough that not even the minimal amount of care was being provided to those poor plants that had the misfortune of crossing paths with this dude. But, this is a different story, and, like all stories, we need to understand some back story in order to see where the protagonist (that would be me, for those of you with less acute skills of inference) stands philosophically.

I have railed in the past about the waste of water and the contamination of the soil that many homeowners engage in an effort to keep their lawns and yards looking beautiful, tidy, and ordered. I always thought it was stupid to water grass simply to encourage growth that required one to mow more frequently. Why would someone want to make more work for herself? Also, it seemed to me that gardens were attempts to bring some of the diversity of nature into one’s own little patch of earth, but, in the natural world, the beauty we appreciate isn’t a rose bush all by itself surrounded by cedar mulch and a few pansies playing ring-around-the-rosie at its base. Nature was a mulberry bush muscling out some joe-pie weed all in the midst of a scruffy clutch of ferns and a patch of wild onion pushing up through seasons-worth of leaf litter and other detritus. My mother, spending hours on a Sunday to pull everything that was deemed a weed was the most ridiculous thing I could imagine.

Yet, here I am, out in my own yard, slowly and systematically restoring order to patches of border that have been “overgrown” with who-knows-what kind of ground cover. What is wrong with me?

One thing, it seems, is the influence of others. Our neighbors on either side have beautiful yards and enviable landscaping. I don’t want our house to be “that house.” You know, the one that people look at and say, “What kind of trash lives there?” I’ll leave that to someone else. The goal here is not to compete with my neighbors. I don’t need my yard to be something out of Southern Living, I just want it to fit in with the rest of the neighborhood. I’m not about to weed and feed the lawn, although I have watered a few bare patches where I reseeded the grass. But, I am pulling weeds (a lot of them) and I am laying mulch (and, dammit, it looks nice). Not only that, but, this morning, I am off to the garden center to buy some hostas to fill in a few spaces once overrun by some unseemly gang of miscreant growth.

And, you know what, while I am out there violating every philosophical belief I used to have about the insanity of unnatural nature, remaking beautiful chaos in the orderly (and, somehow, more beautiful) image that I want, I am going to be enjoying every minute of it.


comoprozac said...

It's better to really soak your lawn only when it needs it. If you water superficially all the time, you encourage weed growth. Of course, it sounds like you're watering very judiciously.

I always feel like we're done doing stuff to the yard...then R takes over. She does her share (not this year, oddly enough), but I have a bunch of work I never intended.

I actually agree that you don't want to waste too many resources on the yard, but you also don't want to be that house.

Enjoy the wonders of yard work...yard grooming...yard worship...yard masterba...That was over the line. Sorry.

La Fashionista said...

I have many unfortunate memories of being overwhelmed by the vast lawn and gardens of my former CoMO home. If it hadn't been so overwhelming, I would have enjoyed it more. One day, I hope to give it another go, with a lovely hammock and definitely lilacs as well as a vegetable garden. In the meantime, I'll live vicariously.