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!