As a writer, it’s not unusual for me to have an “ah-ha” moment or two as I’m working on a story. But as I spoke with lawn expert Greg Harris of Leap Frog Landcare, the experience was closer to an epiphany, an absolution of all my grass-growing sins.
Two of his remarks stood out like tall fluffy dandelions: “It’s torture to grow grass here,” and “Oak trees in [the] front yard, …pretty much shade out the grass.”
When my husband and I moved to the Triangle two decades ago, we left behind the smog and traffic of Atlanta – along with our first home together. Our cozy house may have been perfect, but the yard was another story. The builder had scraped off the existing trees, leaving us with skinny maples, crape myrtles and Bradford pears. The blazing summer sun kept my toddler and me indoors most afternoons, or we sought shade at a nearby park.
In Raleigh, I wanted a yard with trees.
My husband and I were touring the neighborhood with our real estate agent, looking at a property down the street, when we spotted the house with the huge oak tree and a For Sale by Owner sign. It was perfect for our growing family and a couple of rambunctious pooches.
In those early years, I planted azaleas, day lilies and hellebores, and my husband tried to grow grass. He dutifully seeded, aerated and watered, even roping off areas of tender green sprigs to protect them from rampaging children and dogs.
We had a beautiful yard — until summer hit. It would get hot, we’d go on vacation, and the grass would suffer.
We surrendered first in our shady back yard, planting hardy ground cover and mulching the rest.
In the front yard, the natural areas around our trees have gotten bigger every year. We still have patches of grass, but mostly we’ve given up the idea of a lush suburban lawn.
On some level, this always seemed like a failure. Maybe we just didn’t work hard enough at it? But Harris’ comments dissolved any vestiges of guilt around what a yard ‘should’ look like. Now I see that we were never going to have grass — not with that majestic oak tree reigning over the property.
And that’s fine with me, because we didn’t buy our house for the lawn. We bought it for the trees.
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