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Mulch ado about yard work

Ah, spring — time for a woman’s fancy to turn to … yard work. (You thought I was going to say strappy summer sandals, didn’t you?!)

After weeks of activities and celebrations, yesterday finally offered a short window of time to make an earnest start of cleaning the yard. Like just about everything we do around here, this project will move along in phases.  Working around laundry and errands (and a delightful lunch with a friend), I had only about three hours to devote. And so I rolled up my sleeves and dug in.

Basil tackled the lawn while I went to work in the flower beds, raking away the dried leaves and spent mulch, pulling out the weeds and trimming off the plants’ dead fronds and branches. Four of our six beds sit ready for their top coat of mulch, but with today’s predicted rain and need to pack Basil and Catherine for their trip to Disney later this week, it looks like that job will wait for next weekend(ish).

There’s something about yard work that always takes me back in time — the scent of sun-warmed grass making me wish I’d made more of those lazy childhood afternoons.

The smell of the dirt reminds me of childhood digging expeditions, that unfortunate day when I “weeded” Mimi’s flowers (oops), and, well, the time in 1969 when a cousin threw dirt in my eye, requiring a trip to the ER after which I briefly rocked a fashion-forward “pirate” look.

The scent of fresh-mown grass, too, evokes memories. While Basil embraces gadgets — the gas-powered mower and a collection of leaf blowers that wait their turns on hooks in the garage ceiling; the “grass-o-matic,” (his word) trimmer; and even a lawn vac (don’t ask) — I grew up on manual tools. Nothing wrong with a good rake, broom and a little elbow grease.

Mom used a push-mower for years before finally getting an electric version. And for a long, long time, my summer job was to take the hand clippers, their handles slightly too large for my petite hands, and edge the perimeter of our yard. Like the Grinch‘s heart, that damn yard seemed to grow four times each week.

In our yard today, the plantings have been streamlined with perennials — the working mother’s answer to do-it-yourself gardening.

In our early days of home ownership, I spent way too much time and money planting annuals only to have my horticultural inexperience come back to haunt me.

These days I rely on container gardens to add color and whimsy. Each one is a small canvas unto itself — a doable project among the chores, laundry, errands and emails. That task will wait a few more weeks, to when I can be sure the weather will hold.

(Thirteen years ago, a tiny Catherine would don her teeny gardening gloves, grab her pint-sized watering can and follow me around the yard. Now? The plants could drag their pots to the door for a drink and she’d not notice.)

The yard has evolved enormously since we moved in. Then, there were seven huge “beds” of Pachysandra (and various interlopers) taking over the yard. After the great mouse incident of 1998, we spent weeks pulling it all out, dreaming at night about those tender, whitish Pachysandra roots, which seemed to go on and on and on.

Most of those beds are now much more presentable, or replaced by lush lawn. However, there is one area of the yard still like that — we’ve ignored it far too long, always planning to get to it some day.

Yesterday I decided I’d had enough and waded in, hauling out thigh-high weeds, fencing with the pricker bush that stands taller than me, and starting to think about what will come out and how we will save the honey suckle, forsythia and cork tree.

It felt good to use my hands, to put my muscles to work somewhere other than on the Jazzercise stage. I didn’t mind the scratches on my arms, the bugs in my nose or the pollen that sifted down on me like a dusting of confectioners’ sugar. So wrapped up in my work was I that I even managed to haul a rotting tree stump out of the earth with my bare hands — leaving a foot-deep, tooth-shaped hole in its place.

And while my tenaciousness (stubbornness???) didn’t surprise Basil one whit, he was a little taken aback by my strength.

You might even say he was stumped.

About Terri S. Vanech

Wife, mother, communications specialist, Jazzercise instructor and recently reunited adoptee. I'm living out loud -- and trying to make it all work -- in midlife. Having a sense of humor sure helps.


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