On Mulch, Quite Miserably

Apparently, when you buy a house, you’re supposed to do a whole bunch of adult things to maintain said house, including, but most certainly not limited to: furnace filter changing; gutter cleaning; garbage disposal replacement; regular sewer pipe scraping; and landscaping.

Alas, landscaping has escaped me for the better part of half of a decade (whoa, has it really been that long?), and now I’m faced with the fight against the slight gentrification of my neighborhood, meaning that I have to step up my lawn game to avoid being the most Englewood-looking house on the block. “Englewood” is herein defined as a term of locale, endearment, and subtle commentary on the fact that most Englewoods are exactly as you imagine them to be: charming; possessing the issues of small suburban governments; and well, Englewood-y.

I have come to adore this place, and yet, I do recognize that it as a whole is a fantastic embodiment of the word “quirky.” I’m right at home. Literally. But also figuratively.

For reference, and for those of you who imagine I sound like an elitist asshat, when we bought our house, the people who lived in the house next door had a treadmill or a refrigerator or some giant appliance just chilling on their front porch, and as such, I felt as though we were in some way insulated from any judgement passed by the locals about the state of the exterior aesthetic of our abode.

It’s not like that anymore. There’s currently (and has been for some time), a clear distinction between our property and the property of our next door neighbor. Granted, he has a sprinkler system and apparently expendable free time, while he clearly chooses to spend on his lawn. As a result, it’s green and glorious, everything you might imagine that a suburban lawn should be. Mine is exactly the opposite, dead and dry, and full of weeds that I can’t fight no matter how hard I try.

The house on the other side of us is currently inhabited by renting college bros, with their cases of Keystone Light and annoying friends who can’t seem to figure out how to park correctly. Before they moved in, the man living there did a complete overhaul of his backyard and turned it into a magical space for entertaining. There’s now a fire pit, adorable lights, and a new stone patio area. It looked amazing. Even the young couple who overpaid for their flipped house two doors down have done yard things that have made their house look adorable.

For this reason (and many others), even slight gentrification blows.

My friends had a house in what used to be considered a rougher area of Denver (I have a lot of thoughts about what constitutes a “rough” area, but that’s for another day), which has since been horribly gentrified. After the hipsters moved in, with their horizontal fence boards and their remodeled kitchens, the neighborhood changed. Last year, my friends were issued a ticket from the city because the weeds on their front lawn were over the city’s stated legal height requirements. No matter that the lawn was mostly dirt (and overgrown sad pumpkin vines from an attempt to grow crops), and had been for as long as anyone could remember, the city (acting on instruction from whichever new-build neighbor called in the complaint) felt compelled to issue that ticket. So we spent the better part of a day pulling the weeds and cleaning up the fifteen feet of side-of-the-sidewalk space so people with too much money and time on their hands could walk past without being offended by the existence of the space. (I should have taken pictures. It seriously wasn’t that bad at all. And I guess that should have fallen to the landlord to address if he was so concerned about it anyway.)

I know, it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s the same overreach as the new-build neighbors who called in to the city to try to remove the street light that illuminated the housing across the street. They were bothered that it shone into their windows. Their request was denied. But seriously? You buy a million dollar house in a gentrified neighborhood and then presume to impose upon the existing implements of illumination? (….I understand I have no real argument here, I just like “existing implements of illumination.”) But it’s annoying. I’m all for getting to know your neighbors, but I do think that at some point, let everyone maintain their own island in the middle of the world.

Anyway, my neighborhood isn’t quite like that – yet. A few years ago, the neighbor across the alley from me told me that if I cut my bush in the backyard back, it would allow her to see into my backyard better so she could keep an eye on me, just in case something bad happened. While I have some belief that she may have meant well, I took it as a veiled threat (I’ve been to the South; I know what “Bless your heart” means), and promptly fertilized that bush as much as humanly possible so that it could form a sort of forest-like fence and protect any of my weirdness from cross alley voyeurism.

However, in the interests of maintaining the appearance of adulthood, I am now taking an interest in the landscaping. As it turns out, this is ridiculously complicated. One of my married friends has what I always call a “Pinterest” backyard because of its well-manicured nature and absolute perfection, and now I realize how many actual man hours went into that damn thing. I will now always bring him beer because I suddenly understand how horrible it is to maintain the semblance of gracious hosting that comes with said Pinterest backyard.

So….in the interest of disclosure, I am mostly a moron when it comes to things of adulthood and the nature of home care, and was completely unprepared for the maintenance of said home. I have learned, however slowly, to mow a lawn and care for my two beautiful rose bushes, which bloom in hues of pink and purple.

Last year, I attempted to edge properly, keeping the lawn and concrete at an amicable distance. I did not achieve this, but in the interest of the attempt, I am satisfied.

I now realize that lawn mowing alone is not enough. I have, to date, ripped up multiple odd bushes and annoying overgrowth, and last summer attempted to plant bushes and plants to replace them. Those plants died. I am concerned that I have inherited (or in this case of adoption, osmosis-ed) my mother’s inability to care for live plants. But alas, this year, I have begun again, with the vigor of a new homeowner, and the determination of someone faced with the prospect of utter failure but blessed with the refusal to quit. I have planted a new rose bush, a blackberry bush, three strawberry plants. I am now in the process of doing the mulch.

This whole post began with a thought about mulch. Where in the manual of man (human, whatever) does it tell you that you’re supposed to mulch annually? I guess this is a thing, but how was I supposed to know?

They should give you a booklet of things you ought to know, or better yet, bring back Home Economics so that we might have a leg up once we’re set loose into the world. Mulch should be included in that booklet, or covered for at least a day in Home Ec. Mulching is miserable, but necessary. (Honestly, that’s all it really has to say.)

As I’ve dug through the indignity that is the dirt at my house, I’ve learned that it’s quite tightly packed, full of clay, and not at all like the happy, soft dirt you see in gardening commercials. I jump on the shovel, the shovel goes in a couple of inches if I’m lucky, I put my weight into prying said shovel up and out of the ground, and manage to move a rock-sized clod of dirt, and then repeat. I’m going to be very strong.

So on top of this mulch business, you have to buy dirt. You have to manage the disposal of your own low-quality dirt such that it’s all neatly bagged with the leaves and ancient mulch and out for trash day. And then you have to haul yourself over to Home Depot to pay money for more dirt.

This is quite the racket they’ve got going on.

I’ll keep you posted, but the plan now is to fertilize and reseed the lawn, which has great swathes of dead space now, burnt to a crisp in the late summer sun, aided not at all by the infrequent waterings and my general disdain for housework. After that, I’ll clear out the overgrowth and keep what groundcover seems most stubborn, and then hope to keep the tiny plants in the front alive. If I can manage that, I’ll clear out the old garden area, clear out the planters in the front area, plant some wildflowers or other climate appropriate low water, high irritation tolerating plants, and then watch my work blossom into something beautiful. Or wither. Whichever.

Baby steps.

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