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Lawn murder, gravel, and oh my aching back

The kid didn’t show.

The 13-1/2-year-old boy whose father said he’d be glad to help with some shovel-and-wheelbarrow work is nowhere to be found — though he lives next door.

I don’t think Dad forgot to tell him about the potential gig; Dad’s a hyper-responsible mill supervisor and a very involved, but traditional father. He’s eager for his oldest boy to take responsibility.

As soon as I knew it would come to having to chase the kid down, I knew it wasn’t worth chasing him down. Maybe next year.


Now I have this large area, about 30 x 30, that needs building materials, furniture, and other crap removed from it and bricks and broken concrete dug out of part of it. After that, at least a rough leveling, black plastic cover, and a couple loads of the local basalt 3/4-minus gravel.

This is to keep the area outside my kitchen door from turning into the Dead Marshes this winter. But there’s a huge aesthetic triumph to it, too. Mere gravel it might be, but it’ll be clean and uncluttered. A place to put the porch swing. Eventually a great area for raised-bed planters. The result of five years work.

So anyhow, I now have to clear this myself.

The Wandering Monk is, as usual, superb at shovel work. He’s tireless and I swear I’ve never seen such smooth, level ground as he can create. But this is his high season and I don’t want to take him away from other commitments or overload him. Anyhow, hiring him would be overkill.

A girl can do this.

Barely. But I was out there tonight lifting concrete blocks and knocking the slugs, worms, and pillbugs off the bottom of old marine 4 x 12s that have been waiting for years to find their renewed purpose in life.

I may yet ask the Monk to come to the rescue when I reach the stuff that’s either too heavy for me to move or that I wouldn’t be good at. Meantime, it’s me.


This is all part of my Evil (as the Monk sees it) Plot to murder the lawn and replace it with more useful, lower-maintence spaces.

Grass and weeds used to grow smack up to the walls of the house. It has become my mission to push useless greenery back. Everywhere we work on the exterior, we create the grounds for gravel paths or patios to be.

All the lawn on the house side of the property, I plan to replace with wildflowers, bulbs, native forest plants, and so on. This is a very long term Evil Plan. And gardening isn’t my forte so it won’t be easy.

But I hate lawns. Whoever thought they were the thing to have?

Sure, a little 12 x 12-foot patch for sitting on on warm summer days is nice. If you’ve got a gardener or a park maintenance staff … lawn away to your heart’s content. But was anything ever more labor for less reward? Other than bragging rights — which, trust me, I’m not aiming for — what does all that lawn maintenance get you?

The only lawn I want is that patch of grass from Lexington Green that a friend sent. And it stays decently in a pot.

So I’m on a campaign, advance by advance, to slaughter the lawn. In the last month or so, I’ve gotten very aggressive with the Round-Up.

Now, I can’t afford to execute any of those grand return-to-nature plans this year. so I may be creating further seas of mud if I’m not careful. But I could not allow that wretched lawn to live.

Parts of it still survive, but I feel the vile little blades of grass trembling as I approach. The murdered areas, I’ll try at least to cover with black plastic with big rocks or bricks (more carrying!) to weigh it down.


Thing is, the Monk — who as I say, does everything well — also mows lawns. At least two days a week, he has to leave construction jobs to go mowing.

Which seems a little crazy, as skilled as he is. But lawns are what he prefers. He enjoys the nearly mindless walking back and forth because it gives him free rein to think.

He’s promised — without being asked — to stick with my house projects to the end. But after that, he says he’s done with construction except for very occasional weekend project for a few of his favorite clients (which he says includes Neighbor J and me).

Murdering a lawn to him is eeeeeevil.

I think he occasionally runs over a fern with his mower just to keep the changes from happening too quickly.


  1. fred
    fred August 6, 2018 9:44 pm

    Bulbs.yes Bulbs.even my wife cant kill a bulb…..they even multiply! Yup,I see bulbs.

  2. larryarnold
    larryarnold August 6, 2018 11:10 pm

    But I hate lawns. Whoever thought they were the thing to have?

    [Devil’s advocate]
    Grass catches rain. (I know, not something you’re short of.) Rain falling on gravel/plastic runs off to the street, then downriver to the sea. What soaks in recharges our aquifer, keeps our wells flowing.

    Historically, grass was the first wealth. It was the crop we first domesticated. It fed the animals we first domesticated, cows, sheep, goats. Grain and hay weren’t just foods, they were foods we could easily store. We could store them not just through the winter, but long-term, for lean years. Grain was easy to transport, to sell. It was wealth. It was bread; the staff of life.

    Today, 70% of all crops grown are grasses. Three cereals—rice, wheat, and corn—provide more than half of all calories consumed by humans.

    The first survival book I read, back in 1956, was John Christopher’s No Blade of Grass. A very simple, natural disease spreads; and all the grass dies. So what? Grass is wheat, corn, rice, barley, rye, all the grain crops. All the major crops that feed people, and animals. I’ve never seen a fictional plague since that can compare.

    The Monk knows whereof he speaks.
    [/Devil’s advocate]

    OTOH, lawn care sucks. It’s close to the top of the list of chores I’d rather pay for than do.

  3. Pat
    Pat August 7, 2018 1:03 am

    OTOH, edible grasses (wheat, corn, rye, barley, rice, oats, etc) are now being proven the #1 enemy of our bodies, and have caused more dis-ease than any other food product in human history — far worse than fat which doesn’t make us fat and was our original basic energy source before carbs took its place.

    Lawn-wise, the only good grass is ornamental grasses. They are hardy, offer minimal care, and combine with hardscape to produce some of the most beautiful private and public areas in the history of landscaping. Over a neighborhood, ornamental grasses can furnish an integrated pattern, serene and earth-connected, while offering individual styles to each property. (Most people utilize only one or two ornamental grasses for emphasis, but there are many available, native to each area in the U.S.) I have seen several entire yards of ornamental grasses, tall, medium-height, and short, replacing trees or fences, hiding unattractive elements in the yard as well as private areas from passersby, while keeping the soil firmly in place in windy, wet, or excessively-hot or-cold areas.

  4. Arthur M
    Arthur M August 7, 2018 2:23 am

    He enjoys the nearly mindless walking back and forth because it gives him free rein to think.

    Short story long, but quite a few years back a patent attorney friend was at his child’s high school for an event, and noticed one of the names, that of a school janitor, on the program matched what he had seen on some patents, figured it was a “different person, same name” thing. Until he bumped into the guy and mentioned it; the janitor somewhat reluctantly admitted it was him.

    The janitor worked nights because he said the solitude of mindless mopping and cleaning provided time and space for thinking about stuff, and he could request interlibrary loans through the school library without drawing attention to his research (this was many years pre-internet). Turned out the “janitor” had multiple degrees and was worth a couple million.

    Incidentally, RE: your gravel project: Consider some sort of weed barrier below the gravel, otherwise you’ll be buying Roundup by the barrel; don’t know if it’s still available, but years back the local utility co. used Triox to maintain growth-free areas under their overhead lines in hard-to-reach rural areas. Stuff kills everything and remains residual for quite some time, while Roundup biodegrades in 7-10 days, so after 2 weeks a Roundupped area is (supposedly) safe for even vegetables. Long term, a double overlapping layer of water-porous weed control fabric is probably cheaper and less time consuming. And, while flat is great, a little bit of slope is necessary for drainage.

    UPDATE: Just checked AlGore’s Intertubes, seems fed dot gov banned Triox, due to being a carcinogen and water supply contamination from runoff.

  5. RickB
    RickB August 7, 2018 3:33 am

    My lawn is a crop that supports my garden. Clippings are used for mulch and provide nitrogen for my compost bins.
    Besides, I like the mindless walking behind a lawnmower.

  6. Claire
    Claire August 7, 2018 5:13 am

    Oh, definitely to each his own on lawns. They’re pretty, and yes the clippings and moisture holding and all can be useful.

    Just not for me.

    I do plan to put plastic or landscape cloth under the gravel, Arthur M (I have both for different areas), but also (don’t worry LarryA), I’m not going to pave over the whole property. I’m pushing vegetation away from the house and creating useable graveled areas, but the vegetation that replaces the majority of the lawn will still catch water, hold soil, etc. Plus my property already contains whole hillsides of water- and soil-holding trees and native plants.

    As to whatever purpose grasses once had in agriculture … I’m not sure how that morphed into the standard suburban lawn. But whatever happened, I remain not in favor of it.

  7. Claire
    Claire August 7, 2018 5:37 am

    Tremendous story about the janitor, too.

    I’ve often thought that being a janitor, delivery driver, or something along those lines could be a good job for a smart introvert with an active brain.

  8. ILTim
    ILTim August 7, 2018 6:19 am

    “Consider some sort of weed barrier below the gravel, otherwise you’ll be”

    No no NOOO! NO!

    I have 5/8 an acre of weeds growing out of gravel (which I didn’t even know was there until I dug) with weed cloth under. The woods reclaimed my lot from gardeners past, and the cleanup SUCKS. Its awful to remove the stuff. Hard to dig through. And some plants don’t get enough water through the stuff and die. The new soil on top is wet, but dig, cut, and curse through it and the dirt under is as dry as an Egyptian sarcophagus.

    I have THOUSANDS of square feet of that awful scourge everywhere. Don’t you dare!

  9. Jolly
    Jolly August 7, 2018 7:05 am

    My very first paying work was lawn mowing when I was 7. I was big for my age and an older boy –
    Jesse – had a business where he’d mow the old people’s lawns. This was Fort Myers, Florida, so there were lots of old people, and lawn mowing was required year-round.
    Jesse would give me a quarter to do most of the mowing – away from the house where I couldn’t accidentally run into the flower beds. He, in turn, would use a gizmo expressly designed to trim grass off the edge of the sidewalks, giving it space and a channel for rain.
    The mower was a 3-wheeled “Yazoo” ( IIRC ), and it was a struggle to push it around, but I got a quarter!
    At that time, I could get two candy bars and 8 pieces of 2-for-a-penny candy plus 1 cent sales tax.
    After about six months, I was sick of candy bars, and accidentally started to save money.
    All was ok until somebody saw this little kid mowing, and said it was dangerous or something. Jesse had to fire me and he said he didn’t want to.
    I heard later that the complainer was a competitor moving in from next subdivision over and Jesse was too cheap to compete against.
    I still enjoy mowing – as I get sunlight ( vitamin D ) – and time to think – or listen to a book-on-tape. Around here, there are about 5 acres of grass to mow, so it’s a constant thing in summer.

  10. Desertrat 1
    Desertrat 1 August 7, 2018 9:24 am

    “OTOH, edible grasses (wheat, corn, rye, barley, rice, oats, etc) are now being proven the #1 enemy of our bodies…”

    I guess that’s why my parents and grandparents died so young; only made it into their nineties. Me, I’m merely eighty-four, so I’ll likely keel over any day now.

  11. James
    James August 7, 2018 12:57 pm

    “OTOH, edible grasses (wheat, corn, rye, barley, rice, oats, etc) are now being proven the #1 enemy of our bodies, and have caused more dis-ease than any other food product in human history — far worse than fat which doesn’t make us fat and was our original basic energy source before carbs took its place.”

    “Bread makes you fat, and is the cause of all the obesity we see around us:” that seems to be what everybody knows these days. And it has a lot of plausibility (and I certainly agree that fat has gotten a bad rap). But what I keep thinking, as a kind of amplification of Desertrat 1’s comment above, is that humans have been making bread and eating it for well over two millennia. But, somehow, we didn’t all get fat until the last 50 to 75 years. Hmmmmm. I’m thinking that something else has changed. It could be that the mass-farmed wheat that we turn into flour bears little resemblance to historic wheat (or maybe not — I really don’t know). Maybe our old (new, really) friend High Fructose Corn Syrup has something to do with it. Maybe it’s all that devil’s brew of unpronounceable ingredients we can try to read on the labels of our highly-processed foods. Possibly, it’s the fact that the closest your modern American comes to physical exercise is thumbing his teevee remote to go from one sportsball event to another, before prying open the next bag of Cheetos.

    I really don’t have the answers. But I think the most plausible dietary advice I’ve heard in recent years is, “eat only that which your great-grandmother would have recognized as food.” And I’m pretty sure she’d have considered bread to be food.

    Just my thoughts …

  12. ellendra
    ellendra August 7, 2018 4:41 pm

    As I recall, lawns became a fad because of paintings that showed people frolicking in fields of short grass, which were only short because of overgrazing. So, what started as a problem became a fashion, which is now every property-owner’s problem.

    Personally, I think lawns are a stupid thing to grow.

    It’s one thing if you actually use them, but just for the neighbors to look at? Nope. Plant something either more useful or lower-maintenance. Possibly both.

    I’m working on planting the mown areas of my farm with low-growing perennials or self-seeders. Creeping thyme, alysum, that sort of thing.

  13. Jorge
    Jorge August 7, 2018 5:41 pm

    Didn’t Schopenhauer write something about the lawn being the ultimate status symbol? It has been a while but the underlying argument was that you had a piece of land that you could afford not to put to productive use.

    Regarding grains as part of diet, yeah well, the last 50 or so years have really screwed us up in so many ways food wise. It may be that the anti-nutrients in grains (and legumes) are causing wide spread problems now because of all the other crap we have been ingesting.

    Lots of people, myself included, do a lot better without grains but I strongly suspect grains have become problematic due to other factors.

    However grains are evil for other reasons: They are the foundation of the state. See James C. Scott’s _Against the Grain_ (Clarie please add the appropriate Amazon link, I tried but it did not work).

  14. kentmcmanigal
    kentmcmanigal August 7, 2018 5:53 pm

    I despise lawns. I don’t live in the middle of a golf course, and I don’t want it to look as if I do. I hate mowing, and I hate the results of mowing when it leaves an ugly green monoculture carpet behind.

    I live on a corner lot, but the house is scootched off to the side closest the next door house. Which leaves me with a large lot-sized corner. I’ve been planting native plants in that lot ever since I moved here. Just added a few sagebrush sprigs last weekend. Even my lawn-loving mother says the corner looks nice. And it looks wild, even if I know it’s kind of an artificial wild area. It’s a lot harder work than a lawn, but at least it gives me something I like.

  15. Joel
    Joel August 8, 2018 4:49 am

    Kent, you must not have much of an HOA to cope with. There are places where doing anything so radical and unamerican as plant an individualistic yard will bring down the wrath of the lawmaker-wannabes upon your seditious head.

  16. kentmcmanigal
    kentmcmanigal August 8, 2018 7:14 am

    There is no HOA here. Just a pecksniffian mayor and his gang of (3) cops who go around looking at homes and yards for things they don’t like this week. So far they haven’t said a word to me. It has been suggested (not by me) that they are afraid I might rake them over the coals if they start poking me. I doubt that’s it, but who knows.

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