This just might be the year when I start to lose my lawn. I can't afford to do it all at once but I'm thinking... maybe a three-year plan. After all, I've never had a sprinkler system here, and I'm fairly certain I may be the last house in Park Meadows without one. At least digging up pieces of my yard won't mean hitting pipes.
Most of the land where my house sits is occupied with grass. The house part is pretty small compared to the wrap-around lawn. It was all planted and growing with tiny saplings in the ground when I moved into it in 1980. No fences divide the yard to keep children or pets in or out. That was always by design. On the corner of a cul-du-sac, the circle of houses, always had a kind of spillover effect on lives and activity. And though all the houses have now changed occupants, some multiple times, I have remained to watch it all unfold like some crazy time-lapse photograph.
For most of my years on this land I have planted, with varied success, a tiny vegetable garden and separate herb garden. The fall harvest of root vegetables and squashes and snow peas and the occasional half-dozen tomatoes, produce enough for one interactive meal with The Grands. Which always seems like reason enough to work towards that one memory-maker dinner.
So I plant a few things in May and more in June and even a few in July. I hand water, when I remember, when I'm home, when I look at the plants and they look lifeless and forgotten. There is no system to my system.
Right now if you passed my house you would see a lush green lawn and bulb flowers blooming. You couldn't imagine how quickly this all changes with a week of hot sunshine and no sprinklers and my neglect. And more and more all the grass seems so wrong in the mountains, which are in the desert climate, really.
I love the pictures of homes where the front yard is actually a garden in full bloom. Crazy vines fall over raised beds and others shoot for the sky on lattice ladders. Bright flowers are mixed between colorful curly kale heads and leafy lettuces. But those glossy photos belie the careful drip systems that exist under the foliage. You don't see the hired hands who weed and feed and march insects and rodents away. And in the fall and winter, when nothing blooms there, well, there are no lovely photos of abandoned raised beds.
Down the street from me, there is a home that has added some rooms and pulled up grass and created a single raised bed and it looked great all last summer and early fall. So I drove slowly past a few weeks ago to see how it was looking. It was looking like two young boys had gathered boards from various places and they were building not quite a tree house, since it doesn't appear to have any real elevation, but a clubhouse of sorts. Right there in the corner of the front yard in the shade of a tree. I have been watching it develop now and last weekend I saw the boys taking boards into the driveway where there was an adult with a table saw cutting them in half. It appeared to be the mom. And I had a bit of power tool envy, just for a moment. But what struck me was how versatile she was making their yard. How the living and growing spaces were being fully utilized and not just by the formally useless grass that had needed such constant, clipped attention.
I'm thinking maybe I will take thyme to start my project. First, replacing a small patch of grass on the side of the little walkway out front. I will remove the grass. (Who am I kidding? I will hire someone to remove the grass.) And I will plant thyme there and see how that works out for a year. Since it grows so beautifully, unattended, out back between the stones in the patio, and it is filled with sweet bees certain times of the year, it seems like a smart thing to plant. And I will get the kind with tiny little purple flowers that come and go and come and go all summer long.
If I can manage that, then I'll add another plot of non-grass next year and by year three, I can remove the giant patch in the back and create a labyrinth where herbs outline the circles. And while it won't be as cool as a tree house or a clubhouse, it might just be the perfect place to feel a bit lost whenever I, or a passerby, needs a moment to reflect. It is something to imagine in hues of green and purple, this gloomy Sunday in the Park...
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.