Thatching Your Way to Neighborhood Prominence

It’s almost summer! All across the Northwest folks are furtively peering out of their houses in search of spring. If you’re like me, the thought has crossed your mind that if the rain lets up you may actually have to go outside and attempt to do yard work. This may be particularly important this year for two reasons. First, I have a new neighbor, Warren, who seems convinced that the weeds in my lawn may become the source of at least one of the plagues of the apocalypse. Secondly, Judy has started making her annual “hints of the vernal equinox,” such as, “Max, would you cut the grass? I’ve lost sight of the lawn furniture.”

I’ve been meaning to get serious about the lawn since Lady Bird Johnson called upon the nation to plant shrubs. This season, after doing extensive research in the form of looking at pictures in a Burpee’s seed catalogue, I have developed a strategy for making any lawn the talk of the neighborhood.

Renovating a Tired Lawn

First, before you can have a beautiful lawn you will need to erase the pitiful tar pit you call your yard and start over. As a homeowner, you may not know that, year after year, grub infested gunk has been accumulating in the roots of your grass in the form of “thatch.” This is best removed by a machine called a thatcher (or D-thatcher, where the ‘D’ stands for ‘D-STROY’) which is a motorized lawn tool that looks vaguely like a lawnmower, but has the destructive capacity of artillery. A thatcher removes thatch by means of a bunch of rotating wires that essentially rip the snot out of your lawn leaving you with a ton of grubby root remnants and a lot of explaining to do.

After renting a thatcher and reducing your lawn to the consistency of cannon fodder, you should cram the dislodged thatch into 150 humongous paper bags purchased at your local garden store and stack the bags at the curb. This is a key part of your spring yard strategy because when Bruno the Curbside Rubbish & Unwanted Debris Specialist (CRUDS) refuses to pick up the bags because they each weigh 300 pounds, and a rainstorm saturates the bags so that they fall apart, releasing a ton of soggy thatch onto your parking strip, there will at least be a barrier against angry neighbors led by Warren armed with a weed-whacker.

Once you have hauled away the thatch, you will immediately notice that your lawn looks like the winter feeding ground for a herd of Water Buffalo. It is at this point many homeowners decide to quickly cover their lawn with black plastic and have a truckload of bark chunks dumped on it.

Pretty Stuff

Once you’ve concealed the damage done by the thatching process, you will need to consider beautifying your yard by means of flowers and shrubs.

Flowers fall into three categories: annuals (which bloom once and die); perennials (which are supposed to come back every year, but will probably bloom once and die); and dandelions or other colorful weeds, such as an aggressive creeping plant with purple flowers that I think is really pretty, but that Judy thinks is yucky and should be destroyed with toxic chemicals or lethal doses of radiation. Judy feels that anything with flowers on it should behave itself and not roam at will all over the yard. On the other hand, I think that such plants give the yard a “natural look” and have the further advantage of growing with no help from me.

A shrub is (and here I’ll turn to the dictionary) “a woody plant of low stature,” which is to say, a bush. Shrubs are generally indignant about being belittled for their “low stature” so they make up for it by being hardy. This means that, like some flowers, shrubs are perennials, especially camellias (camellia carnivoris) which will be one of the few plants to survive nuclear winter. I chopped down the camellia next to my garage and stacked firewood on it, only to have it grow back the next year. From the look of things, our camellia was especially offended about being cut down. It is blooming with unusual hostility this year. For this reason I recommend shrubs that are not particular about amputation, such as blackberries.

Once you have decided what kind of flowers and shrubs suit your gardening style, you should spend the first sunny Saturday of the spring driving stakes randomly in the ground and tying bright yellow string on them. This not only gives the appearance to the neighbors that you have a landscaping plan, but it helps confirm your suspicion that wherever you drive a stake or plunge a shovel into the ground there is a rock. After this is determined you should visit your nearest lawn and garden store and buy a roll of black plastic.

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People are living books. The real library of life is community.