We spotted a small, unambitious “For Sale by Owner” sign stuck into the lawn of a cute little house on the far edge of what we considered our “We Will Not Live Outside of These Boundaries” area. In a neighborhood where houses sell for 15% above asking price the same day they go on the market, this was a sort of Golden Unicorn. Long weird story for another time, we got the Unicorn. Thing is, the “For Sale By Owner” we purchased the Unicorn from had left the old owner’s pictures up on Zillow for the two years he’d lived there. And the lady who owned this Unicorn before By Owner had clearly not had any sort of life commitments because the Zillow pictures showed that she had spent 100% of her free time on gardening and yard work. She’d curated the back yard of this place into a trimmed, zoned, clipped and tied, frequently mulched, formally mannered Impressionist painting. And in the two years since this Impressionist Unicorn Yard had been under the care of By Owner, it had totally gone to shit.
During the sale process, By Owner had given me two tours of the yard, once explaining the eleven-zoned watering system in great detail, and another time walking me through the grounds sort of pointing at dead brown things and vaguely naming them: “This is a peach tree I think but it hasn’t bloomed in a while,” “There’s a garden here with some stuff that comes up in the summer,” “These are flowers here in this area.” His parting words to me: “You probably want to get yourself an edger.” In the letter we wrote to By Owner to convince him to sell the house to us (a common house-buying suck-up tactic), we praised the elaborate landscaping and vowed to honor it. He must have gotten a little chuckle out of that.
If you leave a yard unattended for two years, things get hairy. This Unicorn had not had a decent brushing out for a long time. There were literally two years of leaves piled up around the fence line – that’s about a dozen Home Depot leaf bags jammed full. In the Spring, things started growing in: the “garden” area – about 400SF, became a sea of various invasive, deeply-rooted waist-high grasses. The Peach tree turned out to be a dead Peach tree. In the back was a 90% dead Bartlett Pear tree that produced one final, sickly fruit the size of a plum. The Crabapple tree was in solid shape (until I’m pretty sure I helped to kill it a couple years later). Some kind of tall green plant/weed had spread all over the semi-xeriscaped south section, turning it into a head-high forest with a floor of choked-out flowers. Creeping Charlie was threatening to consume everything else. An edger, indeed.
The summer we moved in, about when yards were becoming glorious, we were coming back from walking our dogs and there was a lady standing on the sidewalk staring at our house. Turns out she was the original Magical Realist of our Unicorn, and she’d come by to see how the grounds were coming along. She politely asked to see them and we politely turned her down. “Dogs,” we said. But we assured her that we’d take good care of everything and not to worry, order would be restored.