I am miserable. I have just looked through a window into my backyard and surveyed my domain. The yard is an uneven checkerboard of sickly gray-green turf, alternating with patches of bare dirt and wisps of buff-colored straw. This is hardly the velvet green carpet for which I have yearned, lo these many years. After more than a decade of study, I have reluctantly concluded that the grass is always greener . . . in everyone else’s lawn.
Why can’t I have green grass, I’d like to know? What is the flaw deep within my character that causes chlorophyl to shrivel in my shadow? Kentucky Blue, Creeping Bent, Zoysia, Rye —doesn’t matter. I’ve killed ‘em all. I’ve watered too little; I’ve watered too much. I’ve overfed grass; I’ve starved it. I’ve hacked it with dull, uneven, rusty blades. I’ve had grubs, silver dollar spot, you name it. All I ever wanted was to be a friend, but lawns fear me.
Like Captain Ahab after the White Whale, I have become obsessed with the Green Lawn. But I wasn’t always this way. Once I lived in a nice, laid-back neighborhood where folks were content to keep their weeds whacked, and everybody inwardly smiled when the summer drought hit, causing the turf to brown up nice and toasty and flop into dormancy.
The rumble of power mowers then would be replaced by the soft, sweet ffffffffwwtt of pop tops, accompanied by the rustle of pages turning in novels and magazines, as hammocks gently swayed in the soft summer breeze, filled with leisurely gentlemen. It doesn’t get much better than this, we all knew.
Then I made the mistake of moving to a neighborhood with higher community standards. And I have been ruined ever since. For the first time in my life I bought a spreader and began (shudder) watering when the inevitable summer dry spell arrived. I am so ashamed.
I convinced myself that my past lawn failures were due to “bad attitude.” In the old, laid-back neighborhood. I just didn’t care, and there was no peer pressure to make me mend my ways. On those rare occasions when I did perform life-enhancing activities for my lawn, like watering or fertilizing, I was inconsistent and half-hearted, and it showed. The turf knew I wasn’t fully committed to it, and so it wasn’t committed to me.
When I moved to a new house last May, I was ecstatic because I knew everything would be different. I knew because I had inherited the perfect lawn. The backyard looked like a green on Notre Dame’s Warren Golf Course. There would be no need for corrective re-sodding, no rototilling required, no restorative hydro-seeding. All I had to do was not muck it up. I could do this.
Like Cool Hand Luke, my attitude was adjusted. I had my mind right. I would not blow it. I would do everything by the book. Just to make sure, I hired a professional outfit called Lawn Physicians. Instead of me haphazardly laying down an uneven swath of Weed & Feed, now Doctor Jim, a guy in green surgical scrubs, comes out four times a summer spreading the right prescription of chemicals to keep my lawn happy. In the early fall he has promised to perform a core aeration, a lawn surgical procedure in which tiny plugs of turf are yanked out, “preventing thatch buildup” and allowing nutrients to flow to the roots.
Yet for all the care and attention Doctor Jim has lavished, the patient still languishes. Actually, my lawn may look even worse under his care. Just as the old doubts were creeping back, Doctor Jim took me aside during a house call and offered some words of encouragement.
“Wutcha got here is a mixture,” Doc said. “See these funny, twisted blades? That’s bent grass. Likes to be mowed nice and short. But this here is blue grass. You should keep it mowed higher. What’s right for one is wrong for t’other.” He assured me that it was this incompatibility that doomed the lawn, certainly nothing I did, said or thought. A transfusion of blue grass seed, he said, would eventually dominate the lawn and solve the problem. Since he absolved my guilt, I wrote him a check for the procedure.
Anyhow, I was feeling pretty good about all this until the other day when I drove past the old homestead. When I was caretaker of that parcel of God’s green earth it was, of course, brown. So in my heart of hearts, I really wanted to see that familiar taupe turf when I rounded the corner. Instead, an emerald carpet sprawled accusingly before me. “It is you,” it said.
That’s when I had one of those liberating peak experiences you always read about. As I gawked at my old lawn in all its radiance, one sound, like a mantra that held the secret of all happiness, kept reverberating through my mind: “Ffffffwwtt.”
And I knew for sure that the hammock must be around here somewhere.
John Monczunski is an associate editor of this magazine.