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Lawn Gone


My neighbor just paved over his front yard.

For those of you who are already doubled over in laughter, saying, “That wacky Nowak! Where does he come up with these things?” all I can say is, “No, really. He paved over his front yard.” By the way, I really was called “No-Wacky” in high school. Is it any wonder that I’ve never been able to hold down a decent job? And the fact that my neighbor just paved over his front yard isn’t all that funny, anyway. At least for a gardener.

Don’t get me wrong. I like my neighbor, especially since the house next door had been the clubhouse for the Insane Counter-Productive Ne’er-Do-Wells for several years. If that isn’t a real gang name, it should be. Anyway, Mr. Good Neighbor has already replaced the back porch and made notable improvements all over the place. Yippee yea! Property values!

Then, a couple of months ago, I heard weird noises from the front of the building. Investigating, I saw that he had tilled the soil and was crunching stones with some kind of, er, stone-crunching machine. I went outside to chat. His English is about as good as my Spanish, so it was our usual ad-hoc sign language conversation.

“What are you doing?” I inquired, hoping that the crushed stones were all about awesome soil preparation. Instead, to my dismay, he spread his hands flat and spread them from the middle of his body outward, the universal sign for “paving from sea to shining sea.”

“No plants?” I asked, hoping that we were simply dealing with a failure to communicate.

He laughed. Not a good sign.

“Plants are good,” I proselytized pathetically. “They grow and look nice.” I used the universal sign for “growing,” moving my hands up and spreading them like a lush canopy. It’s possible that he thought I was assuming a yoga position because he laughed again, shook his head and went back to spreading out his flat hands, which I’m almost certain is also the universal sign for “no drainage.” It’s also the universal sign for “safe” but something tells me this conversation didn’t have anything to do with baseball.

I slunk back into my own house, hoping that I had completely misunderstood him and knowing that I hadn’t. “Oh, well, he’ll have room for lots of containers,” I thought. Then I panicked, secretly fearing that our pseudo sign language conversation really was about baseball and that he was going to use his front yard to charge for Cubs parking on the weekends, even though we’re at least five miles from Wrigley Field and the space would hold only one car.

It got me to thinking about all of those folks who call me on my radio show because they don’t want to deal with a lawn, but they want something functional where their fussy lawns used to be. It seems to me that I’ve been approaching this the wrong way, suggesting the usual suspects (low maintenance fescues and native plants, mulch, groundcovers, etc.) when I should have been forging ahead with bold ideas for replacing that Oh-So-Nineteenth-Century look in their front or back yards. And I don’t mean with Astro-Turf. Here are some modest examples.

Plastic Patch—It’s a snap. Literally. This is the next generation of window insulation kits. You lay it down over your yard, snap it into place using plastic edging along the perimeter (the first real use for plastic edging ever), then blow it with your hair dryer to remove the wrinkles…which should take only two or three days, as long as you don’t attempt it in the rain. Produces a shiny, happy lawn substitute. Once this baby takes off, designer colors are only a matter of time.

Trouncy House—Who wouldn’t want a 2000-square-foot multi-colored bouncy house with a FUN castle theme where their lawn used to be? You won’t be able to get the mail carrier to stop playing on it. ‘Nuff said. I’m ordering one TODAY!

Trampoline Turf—This requires a little more work, as the ground needs to be excavated below the trampoline, which covers the entire expanse of yard. Hours of entertainment watching your dog run out into the yard to do his duty, only to be propelled into another yard three doors down the block! Watch squirrels jump from branches and end up right back in the trees without knowing why!

Lava Lawn—The special drill bit digs deep–all the way to the earth-heated core. Molten rock is brought up and spreads over your yard. You’ll never have to worry about pulling weeds or chasing kids off your property again!

Quicksand Box—Oh, c’mon, you people are way ahead of me. Kind of like the Lava Lawn–no weeds or kids to worry about. In fact, they’ll never bother you again!

Hmm. I may have crossed some kind of dark line here. Think I need to practice my “growing tree” yoga position on my neighbor’s new concrete front yard…before the baseball season starts.

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questions

We are first-time gardeners and have planted Brussels sprouts and green and red cabbage that we are trying to grow organically. There are black egg sacs and small green worms eating the leaves. Is there an organic product we can use on the cabbage?

What causes black spots on my orchid leaves?

I received a beautiful flowering azalea plant during the holidays. I would like to continue growing it over winter. Will I be able to bring it into bloom next year?

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