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World’s Worst Gardener award

August 19, 2015

Look at this travesty. This used to be my beloved front triangle garden. Now, it’s just a crabgrass farm.

A gray tuxedo cat walks up the sidewalk past a weedy garden.

Our neighbor, Curveball, strolls past the jungle

People love this garden and it gets lots of compliments. But not this year. How did it get to this sorry state? Let’s see how many excuses I can come up with … all of which are at least partially valid. We’ve been busy with a couple of family-reunion vacations, as you know. Work gets in the way Monday through Friday. It’s been so miserably hot—in the 90s much of the time—I haven’t been able to stay outside to do projects, or even to take our evening walks. We Northwest mossbacks aren’t used to this heat!

Plus, something horrible has happened: Crabgrass has invaded our neighborhood. I have lived here 32 years, and we never had it before. It showed up a couple of years ago and now it’s taking over everything! Several years ago, long before the crabgrass appeared, we quit using chemicals in our yard, and now I can’t keep up with the weeds. They are winning. I really don’t know what I’m going to do. Gardening has become so much harder. Having a touchy back and getting older don’t help, either. Do you feel sorry for me yet?

On another record-breakingly hot weekend, I waited for the sun to go behind the big tree across the street, then I began hacking back the crabgrass jungle. I started at the broad end of the triangle, where I had planted an herb garden.

Closeup of crabgrass

There are herbs in there!

I had three things going for me: Our valley soil is soft and rock-free, enabling me to dig and pull weeds with ease. Crabgrass looks fierce on the top, but it has fairly puny, shallow little roots. And, weeding in an herb garden smells great, especially the curry plant. (I recently was surprised to learn that curry plant [helichrysum italicum] doesn’t have anything to do with Indian curry, which is made with a variety of spices. It has a wonderful, pungent curry-like fragrance, though.)

Silvery-green curry plant

Curry plant (helichrysum italicum)

I’m embarrassed to admit that as I ripped out the crabgrass, I uncovered 13 plants still in their pots, that I never got around to putting in the ground. Most of them are dead … the rest wish they were. Fortunately, I think I can still resuscitate a few that didn’t croak.

Several pots of dead plants

Poor things never had a chance …

As satisfying as it was to pull out weed after weed, I knew that with each pull, a fragment of root remained underground, quietly laughing to itself. This is the third time I’ve had to do a major weeding since spring. I occurred to me that we hadn’t mulched this spring. I asked Eric if we’d mulched last year. He held up three fingers. Three years ago?? I think I’ve identified the problem! But that still doesn’t explain why we have crabgrass now, when we never were bothered by it before. Hmm …

I did a little research about my new nemesis. Invasive species are opportunists. They invade because the conditions are just right for them to thrive. If you didn’t used to have a pest plant, but now you do, it’s because something in your garden has changed. If you pay attention, you can learn a lot about what’s going on in your environment. So I listened to my crabgrass, and this is what it told me.

“Hey, lady,” it said, sounding a little like a snarky Jerry Lewis, “You got an awesome lawn! It’s mostly clover, ajuga, buttercup, and dandelions … nice sparse grass—brown and short. The soil is nice and warm and gets lots of sun. And this garden—no mulch to fight through! My parents lived in the West,” he nodded his seed heads across the street. “I thought it looked nice and quiet over here … the kind of place where a grass can really put down roots, where nobody would hassle us. Man, this is exactly the kind of neighborhood we were lookin’ for! My family loves it here! Well, talkatcha later,” it said with a snicker, “I was just about to go to seed.”

And then I yanked it out by its damned roots. Look at this monster digitaria sanguinalis. Who’s had the last laugh now?

Large crabgrass next to my foot for comparison

Take that, you brute!

Indeed, the smart-ass grass was right. Since we quit using chemicals, we’ve pretty much ignored the poor lawn. It used to be nice and thick, but year by year it’s grown patchy and thin from neglect. Weeds blew in from the neighbors’ weed farms. The front yard gets the prevailing wind, while the back and side yards are protected by the house and fence, and have little crabgrass. We water the garden areas a couple of times per week (despite the drought, we have no watering restrictions—yet) because we have hundreds of plants, and we don’t want them to suffer and die. The lawn just catches what it can.

Grass with lots of ajuga mixed in.

Sorry excuse for lawn, but it looks green from afar

The past two summers have been warmer than usual, and this one has broken heat records left and right. We have had two days of rain since sometime in May, and more days over 90 degrees than ever before. El Nino, a warming condition of in the Pacific Ocean, is responsible for this. It’s climate change in action. The perfect storm for crabgrass.

Recently I saw an article about how to avoid this kind of weeding marathon. I leapt on the story, eager to learn the password to lazy gardening. The secret? Get a razor-sharp hoe and go out and weed every day!! Thank you SO much for this tip … as if I have time to do this every day! (Of course, I know they’re right. You’ve got to cut ’em down when they’re tiny and not let the weeds get so big that they can arm wrestle you.) But somehow it pissed me off to read that, just as it does when my investment company suggests I continue working until I’m 70 to maximize my retirement benefits. Oh, don’t get me started!! Any fool knows that a person can’t work full time and weed full time!!

Crabgrass infestation in midst of ornametal garden

Yet more crabgrass

So Eric and I have a plan. First, we will mulch the gardens! We normally do this in spring, but this is war. Then we’ll aerate the lawn and apply a top dressing of compost. We haven’t done that for several years. Come fall and cooler weather, we’ll apply an organic fertilizer and weed control, and overseed the lawn. By spring we should have better grass coverage that’ll help crowd out crabgrass and other invasives.

You might ask why we have a lawn at all. Fair question … We have consciously worked at reducing lawn area over the years by creating more garden space. Our front lawn is smallish, but because we live on a corner, we also have grass parking strips (the part between the sidewalk and the street) on two sides of our property. We need some grass in the backyard for Duke’s benefit. I probably will carve out additional garden beds again in the spring. For the past few years, my MO has been “more garden, less lawn,” but now the gardens are becoming a burden to me. I’ve even been thinking about converting to a clover lawn (heck, we’re half-way there!), but I need to do more research. I’m not sure what comes next … do you have any ideas? Moving to a condo and paving the lawn are not options!

Update

I wrote most of this post a week ago, and with the help of more moderate temperatures this past weekend, we got our butts in gear and mulched the triangle garden and the rose garden.  SO much better!

Even though I hesitated to plant anything right now, I picked up a few flowering plants, both annual and perennial, to fill in some blank spaces (previously inhabited by digitaria and his extended family).

Temps this week are breaking records again, so we won’t get much further until we cool back down. But it’s a start! Someone walked by and complimented me on the garden, so I’m optimistic that we’re on the right track.

Finally, I’d like to thank my hard-working landscaping crew, below. Couldn’t have done it without you!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

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From → Garden

18 Comments
  1. Beautiful end results! Our weeds are out of control but it’s just too hot… 😦

  2. I know! How is it that the weeds are the only plants that seem to be enjoying this heat?!

  3. Your landscaping crew is beautiful. Too bad they seem more interested in preening than taking care of the grounds. Don’t feel too badly about your gardens. Mine look awful, and I haven’t done anything about it because it’s too hot for me as well. Yours look much better now. I vote for the clover lawn. We planted clover. Just make sure that you get white and not purple.

    • We already have patches of white clover. I like it, but Eric votes against the clover because it attracts lots of wasps and bees. This wouldn’t be a problem in an area where we don’t walk, but it might be bad for the cats, who are always out in the lawn. Still thinking on this one!

  4. Love the landscaping crew! That’s crazy about the crabgrass sneaking it’s way in! I hope the mulch inhibits it’s expansion. Your gardens look wonderful! It’s too hot here, too.

    • Thanks, Alison! I always swear I won’t let it get away from me again, but I never follow through!

  5. I love what the flower beds look like now that you’ve gotten rid of that grass with attitude. I feel your pain, our backyard lawn looks terrible. This spring we assumed it was because the lawn wasn’t getting enough sunlight due to overgrown trees. We had the trees trimmed and reseeded…the results have been dismal. I’m using the California drought as an excuse, and I’m sticking to it. Never mind that my blog is titled Garden, Home and Party. I could get along with just Home and Party since I like both, but I never shrink from a challenge. I’ll figure out a way to have my lawn and a low water bill too and when I do, I’ll let you know! 🙂
    xo,
    Karen

    • Hi Karen … I think after years of drought, the water going brown (it would look out of place if it were emerald green!), but darn it, we won’t let the landscape plants die … we’re too invested. I blanched when we got our water bill! Can you spell xeriscape?? 🙂

  6. Anita permalink

    Your lawn used to be the most lush lawn I’d ever seen. I’m sure that was with chemicals, though. It’s sad that it was invaded. Still, with your efforts, the area does look very nice! I love to see lawns and gardens like this but I definitely don’t want to put in the labor anymore.

    • Yep, those were the days! We had to mow twice a week. I’m sure organic fertilizer will help … it’ll be interesting to experiment.

  7. Tom & Judy permalink

    Your hard work paid off. The triangular garden looks great now that you can see the herbs. The roses are exceptional and looks like there was an enormous amount of weed you got out of the beds. We have been running 100 to 105 everyday for the last month anyway. We have watering restrictions and we are fighting to just keep the roses, trees and lawn alive. I know the work it takes to keep things in half way decent shape, so my sympathies to out to you.

    • Thanks, Judy! It’s a challenge all right. We have another two months to go before our normal rains start. Hope all the plants make it. Still have more weeds to eradicate!

  8. WEEDS! Your front triangle looks so nice with the herbs and grasses. I wish there was an easy solution to keeping plants under control. We have a relatively big yard and each area needs its own special help. You’re right about this being a tough year for gardening in general and weeds especially. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

    • There’s no easy solution in the best of times, but it seems like everyone’s struggling more than usual this year. Having more land like you do is nice on one hand, but a lot more work on the other.

  9. haha funny post in the beginning 🙂 and I LOVE the cute cats I have two myself.

    Check out my new Londoner fashion post 🙂

    have a fab weekend dear.

    LOVE Maria Inredning – it’s Swedish for decor

  10. Africadayz permalink

    Your roses are looking gorgeous. Well Done! Also love your kitty crew. Alarmed to read about your extra hot summer this year. We’ve got off to a very warm spring start down here. I hope we’re not going to have an exceptionally hot summer too.

    • Hi Jacqui! The weather in the whole US has been strange this year. We ‘ve had an abrupt change to fall, and the winter’s supposed to be a warm one in the NW. Hope you’re doing well!

  11. D’Arcy,
    Happy Friday. I loved your recent post on the salvage place. I love poking around places like that, looking for a treasure.
    I wanted to let you know that I had to read your latest post from my email inbox, your site kept giving me the message that the site no longer exists. Same when I tried to go to comment from the email link. Just thought you would want to know…maybe it’s on my end, but still.
    Have a great weekend…it’s felt like I’m living in the Gobi desert. Hot! It’s supposed to cool down this weekend.
    xo,
    Karen

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