Category Archives: Gardening

I’m that guy.

bkgrnd color fill (linear burn) background copy (darken)Recently, Becky and I were out for a walk around the neighborhood when we got into a conversation with one of the neighbors who was out in his yard. They have one of those Dutch Colonial houses that are reminiscent of a barn and were in the midst of putting on new red siding. Becky had given the color selection a minor eye-roll, but I thought it was a big improvement over the faded blue that came before. We stopped to introduce ourselves and I complimented him on the new look. I mentioned that someone had told me he was a musician and we talked about that a bit, it turns out he plays the vibraphone and teaches a McPhail, so he’s got some serious cred.

He asked where we lived and I gave him my standard answer, if you are driving north on Zealand and cross 40th you will hit my house. It didn’t seem like that painted a crystal clear picture for him so he asked, “Is that by the guy with the weird rocks?”

“Do you mean the people who did the stonework on their exterior?”

“Yeah some kind of weird rocks, he turned half his yard into a garden.”

“Oh… That’s us.” I said with a chuckle, not wanting him to think I was offended. But he didn’t even seem to notice, and after a few more comments about the strange guy with the rocks the subject changed.

When we got back to the house I looked at my garden and it is indeed unconventional, at least for the burbs. The border is limestone slabs that I scavenged (with permission of course) from a neighbors collapsing retaining wall. The slabs next to the curb have been pulverized by cars and snowplow blades. I’ve used a random selection of rocks and bricks and concrete border thingys to landscape, well really mark plantings. The plants look a bit like they’ve been planted by random chance rather than design. A couple of falls ago I spread some cone flower seeds in the front garden. Now there’s a very healthy stand of cone flowers that look great, except that they’re right in front of the fancy day lilies that I planted, crowding them out and blocking them from view. Whether it’s laziness, ADD, or lack of care the weeds are threatening to overpower the plants. Another factor is that things come up in the spring and I can’t remember if I planted them or they’re just some new weed.

And then you get to the lawn. To paraphrase the old blues tune, if it wasn’t for crabgrass, I wouldn’t have no grass at all. I think the U of M Horticulture Department should tour my yard so they can identify every noxious weed known in the state. I did Chemlawn for awhile and it worked but I didn’t like the environmental problems, it was expensive, and I didn’t trust their applicators to not spray my plants. I was going to do it myself (no help for the environment there) but that requires remembering to do it on a regular schedule, which has never been one of my skills.

I try to rationalize that the garden style is informal, that the style I’m going for is “eccentric old folks next door.” And as far as the lawn goes I tell myself it’s because Americans obsession with lawns is crazy and that mine isn’t so bad, it’s just that the next door neighbor’s looks like a velvet carpet.

Yup, I’m that guy. The guy who’s yard is dragging down property values, who’s inept at the basic skills of home ownership. The guy that folks shake their heads when they walk by and wonder what form of mental illness leads to such degradation. About the guy down the street that called my rocks weird, cripes, he makes his living playing the xylophone!

Adventures involving landscape materials

As you may know, I’m working on a garden renovation. It’s a work in progress. My vision is of a fairly primitive look, old rocks and bricks and the proper amount of kitschy gee gaws around. I’ve found that rocks are fairly expensive. So I’ve been making an effort to find free rocks. Those of you with a rural background might be saying, “Rocks? Aren’t those what farmers dig out of their fields and deposit in piles on the roadside? You pay for rocks?” But I’ve found  that in a more urban setting the free market has put a rather high price on rocks.

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny, cool day so I decided I’d start my day with an endorphin blast, I grabbed my trekking poles and set off for a brisk walk. As I wound my way through the neighborhood, I came upon a pile of rocks stacked up  near the street at the side of a corner lot. At a passing glance it looked like mostly useless rubble with a few good rocks. I rounded the corner and saw the owner out front working in her yard and talking to a neighbor. Not wanting to interrupt, I poled past with a neighborly hello, she returned my greeting with a bit of a smirk, I suppose that, in my flat cap, cruising along with the aid of ski poles, she found me an amusing character.

I proceeded up the Boone Avenue hill to 36th Street and then headed East to the first left turn, several blocks down, that put me on a road that wound back down hill to meet up with Boone again. The route took me past the rock pile neighbor once again, she was still out in the yard working so I stopped to exchange pleasantries. After the usual talk about the endless work of home ownership, I popped the question, “Are you planning on doing anything with those rocks piled over there?” She answered, in a defensive tone, that they were going to get rid of them soon, she must have thought I was going to complain about the eyesore. This being Minnesota it wouldn’t actually be a complaint, but a passive aggressive sideways hint that they’d been sitting out there for a long time. I assuaged her fears, “Can I take some of them?”

“Sure, take them all.”

“Well I probably won’t take them all.” I had no use for the broken concrete and other rubble.

“Help yourself, you can take all of it.”

“Thanks, I probably won’t take all of them though.”

“Yah, go ahead and take whatever you want.”

So I went home, showered, had lunch, got some work done and then jumped in the car to pick up what I thought was a few rocks. When I backed up to the pile and examined it more closely I realized it was a treasure hoard. There were nice sized field stones, flat limestone steppers, and old bricks, all the perfect accessories for the eccentric old couple garden. Since I was thinking that there were only a few rocks to move, I hadn’t really come prepared to work, I was wearing loafers, no socks and clothing that I didn’t really want to get filthy. I piled the back of the car with as many rocks as I thought it could haul and headed home. I changed clothes, donned appropriate footwear, grabbed my wheelbarrow and, in four trips unloaded the rocks in the back of the garden.

As I was working on the first load I got the feeling I’d just fleeced the rubes. I’m sure that if they had advertised on Craig’s List with the stipulation that the purchaser would have to take the bad with the good, they could have had it hauled away for free, or even made a few bucks on it. I started to worry about her husband coming home and pitching a fit that she’d given all the good stuff away. I decided that if anything was said I’d tell them they could certainly have them back, but they’d have to come get them. I started imagining all sorts of scenarios in which my rocky windfall would evaporate. For all I knew I was dealing with an insanely jealous husband who would come home and beat me to death with a paver for playing in his rock bed. I remembered that she had mentioned that hubby was in the Naval Reserve, so I thought that I could build some rapport by wearing an old ARMY t-shirt I had. Not that I was ever in the Army, but I have relatives. I could almost say I come from a military family.

Mrs. Rock House came out to the pile as I was loading up my second trip. She was probably even more convinced that I was a goof ball, since I had exchanged my cap for my Panama hat. So here’s this skinny, sweaty old guy hefting rocks into his station wagon wearing a very practical, but not exactly fashionable hat. She still seemed perfectly happy to get rid of whatever I wanted to take. She asked if I was interested in bricks, “We’ve got tons of bricks in the garage.” It seems as if she and hubby were recently married and that he is a retired Navy lifer who’s never owned a home. She said she told him now that he owned a home there would be no more trips and vacations, just working on the house. I knew then that I had nothing to fear concerning him wanting to keep the rocks. I realized she was completely in charge, she’d found someone who was used to having a commanding officer and was more than willing to fill that role.

So I got free rocks, met a neighbor and got way more endorphins than I had bargained for at the start of my walk. Rebecca informed my that I had enough rocks now and I wouldn’t be going back to get the bricks in the garage.