The picture provided by Magical Realist / Impressionist Garden Lady clearly showed a dividing strip of mulch between two of those black plastic divider strips, four nice little round bushy ground cover things in the next divided space, then a crop of baby lettuces and tomato cages surrounded by marigolds and maybe a catmint plant or two. The garden is nicely mulched and weed-free. But all that was a dream that happened at least four years ago, before By Owner made his pledge to ignore all of these efforts, and before the Spring when we took ownership.
In the intervening years, three neatly divided spaces merged into one through the industrious growth of a hardy grasses (I’m looking at you, Bermuda) that formed both a waist-high sea of tangles above ground as well as a densely-packed network of underground roots that formed a single massive organism covering several hundred square feet. At one point in early summer we watched as our dog Finnegan, a hale 60-pound adventurer, walked into the grasses to pee and became so suddenly and helplessly tangled that he toppled over and had to be rescued. It was like the tentacles of a sea creature had reached up and wrapped themselves around his legs.
Not on my watch. The well-intentioned experiment of letting the yard just do its thing for a season was over. Malicious grasses had begun attacking innocent travelers and needed to be brought back a peg or two. For the next few weekends, me and the shovel got down to it. Starting in the strip between the “Xeri” area and the “garden” area, we turned the Earth over, shoving the blade deep, making satisfying incisions through dense inches of a healthy root system. Less than one square foot at a time I dug in, bent down and choked my grip on the shovel, lifted a few pounds of roots and soil, and flipped the parcel 180 degrees to expose roots to the sun. When a few square feet were turned, I’d go back, turn the blade, and lance the root balls into smaller chunks.
One weekend trashed my back and one old broken shovel on an area the size of a hallway, about 4 feet by 25 feet. The next weekend I started on the “garden” plot and turned a similar sized area. But there, the grasses were so dense that I had to first pull and tear grasses by hand before I could get the shovel through to the surface, then each turned chunk was more grass and root than earth. So I let those chunks lie in the sun for a day. Sunday, I returned to the scene of the melee with a bright blue yard bin, grabbed and shook each chunk to let good soil fall free, then deposited the offending grasses and roots. I kicked the chunks across the yard. I threw them high in the air and let them crash and explode. I picked them up and Hulk-smashed them into each other. They resisted like rooty, stubborn bastards. There were many more weekends before the tide of this battle would be turned in my favor, but a system had been rendered.
The next day at work I was in the IT guy’s office sharing some talk, gesturing with my hands. He says “Oh man what happened there?” and I’m confused. “What?” I says. He says “Your hand. What happened to your hand?” I hold it up to see and the connections where my fingers meet the palm were full of open, swollen wounds. “Oh,” I says, “Huh. Haha. I was doing a lot of yard work this weekend. Wow.” “Yeah I guess,” he says, chuckling. That was when I had first started that job, and since then, the IT guy and I have found common interest in gardening war stories, folklore, wives tales, and a fair bit of practical wisdom. We don’t talk about the blood, the battles lost, the comrades who fell. We turn our thoughts to new growth, tips on technique, shoring up the lines, and sales at Home Depot. You don’t talk about the wounds or the glories with the ones who know. But knowing there are others like you helps to return to the fields and resume in earnest.