Thursday, June 12, 2014

Death by Yard Work

Winter in Alaska... not a good time to judge a yard

Just before last week’s post went up my sister sent me an e-mail asking if I had writer’s block. To quote her: “What’s the problem, run out of ideas? First you have someone else write your blog for you, then you give us three posts of old crap. Or maybe you’re just getting lazy.” Obviously, my sister is not a gifted motivational speaker.

My prompt response set her straight by explaining the post by Suzanne Lucas had been in the offing for quite some time, and a big deal for me, personally. The explanation for the three-part series on mining was quite simple and told in strictest confidence: my wife has been attempting to kill me with yard work. 

“Gee, I don’t know officer. He was just over there digging up a lingularia and keeled over. He seemed fine just before; the perfect picture of health. Why, just this morning he carried over thirty bags of mulch into the back yard and moved two yards of gravel with his hand cart.”

The attempted murder is the culmination of two years of planning that led up to my wife’s retirement. Mrs. Poynor has always said that when she retired she was going to devote herself to creating a beautiful yard and garden. Little did she know it would lead to a major war on weeds and nearly becoming a widow. 

One of the reasons we bought this house was because the previous owner had been a “master gardener.” The back yard was landscaped with raised flower beds, and it was rumored (realtors are good at spreading rumors) the front yard was also landscaped using gravel paths and “native flora.” The prospect of working on such a yard provided visions of idyllic retired life for Mrs. Poynor. We first saw the house in January, obviously not the best time in Alaska to evaluate a yard. The raised beds in the back were discernible, but the front was a barren field of deep snow.

Four years of neglect

What we failed to take into account was the yard had been totally neglected for almost four years following the master gardener’s death. (Hmmm… lots of yard work… previous owner died. Okay, I’m officially creeped-out.) Our lack of deductive reasoning led to a slogging ground war on weeds in the back yard. The front yard was a completely different story. The war in front was over, and our side was utterly crushed. The “native flora” had apparently been driven entirely from the field by wild stuff running amok. 

Mrs. Poynor led the initial charge against the weeds in back screaming, “Damn the horsetails! Full spade ahead!” while I led a flanking movement in the front against a surly, spreading stand of spiraea and entrenched fitzer shrubs. We got our asses kicked two summers in a row.

The initial assault on back yard weeds

The battle raged on with little ground gained by us. As fast as weeds were plucked, new volunteers jumped up. No matter how much the spiraea was hacked and cut in front, it spread and grew with renewed vigor. (As a personal aside, I hate spiraea. It spreads perniciously. It is the equivalent of your yard having fungicidal-resistant jock itch.)

Upon retiring last October, Mrs. Poynor spent the winter formulating a new battle plan. “I have a new plan for the spring offensive,”  she announced in late March. “We’re going with newspaper and mulch.”

“That’s it? Newspaper and mulch? Kind of lacks panache, don’t you think? I was thinking more along the line of calling in a coordinated airstrike with daisy cutters and napalm.” 

“The newspaper gets laid down to act as a biodegradable barrier, then we put mulch over the top. I read about it in a copy of Homes and Gardens Way More Beautiful Than You’ll Ever Achieve. For the front in front, you’ll have to go mechanized.”

I hate spiraea

That last part of the battle plan caught my attention. A toy! I would get to play junior heavy equipment operator! Instantly I was all in. “I saw the perfect little excavator at the rental place just down the road,” I gasped. “Always wanted to play with… I mean run… one of those.” 

“And with the front cleared,” she continued very quickly, “we can extend the retaining wall, lay down ground fabric, bring in gravel, and widen the path around the house.”

Lost in a reverie, wherein I held immense hydraulic power at my very fingertips, I missed that last comment.

And the conclusion

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