Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.
I am not obsessed with grass. I tolerate clover, dandelions and other weeds, pulling what I can. But I draw the line at having a dust bowl in the backyard.
That may be a dream if you have dogs, especially big dogs. My first Airedale terrier, 85-pound Teddy, would run straight to a tree in pursuit of squirrels and then make a beeline for the fence, where he would race up and down to see what was coming down the alley.
Thus the dirt track in the shape of a big “T” in my back yard.
When I whined about this, my mother had a tart reality check that has stayed with me: “You can have a perfect lawn, or you can have dogs.”
Well okay then.
Teddy is now chasing squirrels in the sky. His successor, Toby, wasn’t as hard on the grass as Teddy had been. And my fox terriers are so light on their feet and spend so much time in the air that they hardly mar the lawn. With regular aeration and fertilization — I like to keep it organic where the dogs are and use corn gluten meal — the lawn was in pretty decent shape for years.
Then Toby passed and a new Airedale, Henry, joined the household. He’s not as big as his predecessors, but he takes the cake for sheer athleticism. He springs like Superman from deck to yard, landing with a THUNK on the grass and running in an circle from deck to yard, over and over again. He teases his wire fox terrier sister until she joins in the fun. The grass flies, the dust rises, and if Henry is feeling really silly he’ll rip some sod up with his teeth and toss it in the air for good measure.
And I hear my Mom whispering in my ear: “You can have a perfect lawn, or you can have dogs.”
Last fall, I seeded the bare areas and fenced it off until winter came. It looked gorgeous. Then came the coup de grace, a snowless winter. When spring came, a dirt racetrack had been carved through the backyard.
If I had any sense, I’d rip the grass out and put wood chips everywhere. But I don’t want that. I had some spare flagstones, so I began filling part of the Henry’s landing spot near the deck with stepping stones. It looked like this:
He didn’t like landing on limestone, and shifted his path to land on some very battered grass.
Two weeks ago, I sodded widest part of Henry’s track. Seeded lawn would never survive the dog traffic, I thought, and if the sod dies, I will be no worse off than when I started.
Henry loves the sod. He lays on it. He makes a point to pee on it. And he runs on it, over and over again.
I have my fingers crossed. But I haven’t forgotten the odds are against me. When it comes to choosing between grass and dogs, I opt for the canines.
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