The upside of being incompetent at basic life tasks: You can provide amusement for people who know what they’re doing. Growing grass, for example. How hard could that be?
Last year I put down a 9-by-3-foot patch of sod, and within a month it looked like I’d buried a coffin occupied by someone who had a plutonium enema. Perhaps it’s the dirt, said my friend, the Giant Swede, because he had his soil tested and learned it was exhausted.
Well, aren’t we all? But this year I resolved to put down lots of new dirt and get the right seed. (This was also last year’s resolution, and the previous year’s.) Off to the garden store, where I was surrounded by people who seemed to know what they’re doing. People who know the difference between annuals and perennials.
I looked for a grass seed so foolproof that the package said: “Will grow on the moon.” No, that’s not enough; the moon gets full sunlight all the time. “Will grow on Mars,” that’s what I wanted. If they can develop a drought-resistant variety that grows on Mars, we can send up self-propelled lawn mowers for our next wave of rovers. The surest way to find if there’s intelligent life on Mars would be to start mowing at 7 a.m. every Saturday, because eventually someone will complain.
I finally found something labeled a sun-shade blend. That seemed safe. I presume that it’s for areas that get some sun, but not all day. Which is all of my lawn, except for the part in the middle. I figured that for that quadrant, I’d use a blend of Kentucky bluegrass and Virginia Fescue — at least until my wife confronts me and wants to know who Virginia Fescue is.
Anyway, the sun-shade mix sounded perfect, with some full sun in the middle. But first, dirt.
But what kind of dirt? There’s potting soil, but I was not potting. I have never potted and expect not to pot, so that was out. Plus, that got me thinking: What is the difference between dirt and soil? What if the bag said it contained earth? When you dig up the ground, you unearth something, yet no one ever says, “I’m going to the store for 40 pounds of earth.”
Still, to be on the safe side, I grabbed a bag marked “dirt.”
On the way to the checkout, I saw something I’d never noticed before: fast-growing seed.
I could not envision any circumstances in which I would not want fast-growth grass. Is slow-growth for people who tire of our pell-mell pace and wish to enjoy the old-fashioned virtues of patience? Sure, you kids — what do they call your generation, the perennials — you’ve got your Snapgram and ViewTube and avocado-toast-flavored coffee. You probably think there’s an app on your phone that’ll make the grass grow fast. Well, I’m tellin’ you that the good things in life take time.
“Well,” says the fictional kid I have created for this exchange, “first of all, sir, it’s Snapchat and YouTube, and second, your avocado toast line was a tiresome, unfunny cliché two years ago, and third, I know that patience is a virtue, because I learned it listening to your types lecture me about everything. But I do have this app that combines location, sun position, climate and recent weather to send me alerts about when I should water and for how long. Would you like me to text you a link?”
I respond: “In my day we just watered the grass, and it grew. It took a month to germinate, but it’s like wine. It takes time. ’Course, we mostly drank Boones Farm then, so what did we know about wine?”
Oh, never mind. I can’t even win an argument with my imagination.
The bag suggested that you’d get grass fast, but it would be — how shall we say it? — not the best grass. Sketchy, slightly disreputable grass. The grass equivalent of someone who had the charges dismissed because the victim didn’t show up to testify. Grass that got letters from the IRS and just ripped them up.
It would grow fast, but the implication was obvious: After that, you’re going to have to figure something out.
In the end, I put down a mixture of fast-growth, sun-shade, boulevard sun-resistant and basic seed, with fresh dirt. Watered it well. You know what I got?
Not a single blade.
One of the great things about knowing nothing is that you always learn something. I learned that I’d put it down too soon. The ground wasn’t warm enough. The pre-established grass had no problem, but the seeds were like toddlers sticking their toe in a wading pool: It’s tooo colllllld!
At this point, I realized I was succumbing to lawn despair in May, which was way too soon. Usually that comes in June. Every June. It’s an annual problem.
Or is it perennial?