Friday, May 20, 2011

Keeping It Real In The Land Of Make Believe‏

It’s a good thing our neighborhood doesn’t have an HOA or else we’d be up to our eyeballs in fines and threatening letters by now. Not only did we paint our home and erect a fence without anyone’s approval, we’ve let our lawn stay dead as a doornail. Oh sure, there’s some weeds that have staked their claim on our real estate, but not much else is willing or able to grow in our sandbox of a yard. To be fair though, we inherited it this way. It had terrible curb appeal when we bought it and not much has changed since then. Since we have so many projects to work on indoors – you know, where we primarily do our living – we’ve put off this outdoor endeavor thus far (prioritizing is key when your “to do” list spans several pages and your pocketbook contains only the lint-covered pennies you found wedged between your seat cushions). But now that we’ve redone the pool and (partially) repainted the exterior of the house we’re starting to yearn for a yard that’s more aesthetically pleasing as well.

But it’s not just a simple matter of resodding. Before we can do that we need an irrigation system. Those of you who are sitting in pretty new houses probably think that all homes just come with built-in sprinkler systems (I know I did). But old ones, like mine, are generally devoid of such luxuries. And, let me tell you, spending all day moving hoses and leaky watering contraptions around your yard, hoping you hit all the key spots without getting yourself drenched in the process, is hard enough in northern states where yard care is merely a summertime duty. But in Florida, where the heat is such that you really should do this 3-4 times a week year round, more in the brutally vicious summer months (which last from March-October), it’s downright impossible. My neighbors who have great lawns all spent thousands to install irrigation systems (and they don’t have dogs – the biggest lawn killers out there). The ones who didn’t have one installed have lawns like mine – sandy pits with the occasional tumbleweed blowing through it (okay, maybe not tumbleweeds per se, but you get the old timey Western picture – it’s pretty barren). Plus we have long periods of drought, and the county limits your water consumption. Water on the wrong day and you could get a hefty fine. Water on only the days they allow – your grass won’t make it.

Forget grass – we’ve barely been able to keep the orange tree we plated alive. We lost the avocado tree pretty early on (and with it went my fantasies of coming home to fresh-made guacamole every day. Oh yeah, it’s also important to point out that in my fantasies this tree would have a never-ending supply of avocados. How foolish those hopes proved to be). It’s just too hard to outdo the heat with enough water to keep them going. And our soil is worthless. I’m not sure what grows in sand (other than cactus, and our neighbor does have a nice one of those. It seems a little prickly for my taste though. And, frankly, since I’ve never seen him wear a shirt – Not once …. Not ever – I don’t know how he hasn’t seriously injured himself with those sticky barbs coming so close to exposed flesh). I have a feeling that even if we install an irrigation system we’d need to do some serious fertilizing and tilling (I’ve never tilled but it seems like the type of thing you do to make soil usable) and who knows what else before we could get the sod to “stick.” Not that I don’t think we can do it. We are rather crafty (and really, really good at Googling “how to” guides). Though when Dad suggested installing the in-ground sprinklers ourselves to save money I did laugh at the suggestion. While I’m sure we’re capable, I don’t think any of us has the knowledge required to wire the whole thing up to an automatic timer box – I can’t even teach Dad how to use my DVR, so let’s leave the wiring to the electricians, okay? And having an automated system is kind of the whole point of all this.

And then, ever after we’ve weeded, installed, wired, tilled, fertilized, sodded, and generally toiled for weeks on end (followed by years of mowing and upkeep), we then reach the main problem – the lawns that fare best in Florida have St. Augustine grass.

In my youth I would run barefoot through the yard, letting the soft blades of grass whisk between my toes. I’d lay on my back and run my hands over it, letting it gently tickle my palm. I’d frolic in it, enjoy a picnic, plop down beneath a tree so I could read in it (okay, so maybe I mostly sat inside and watched TV, but I COULD have done these things if I desired). But, in Florida, you can’t do these things. Just try frolicking in St. Augustine grass – it’s like running over sharp blades of … well … blades. One million tiny daggers poke into your feet. It’s not springy or soft – it’s rigid and piercing. And no one – not even the most fearless child I know – wants to get anywhere near it. Instead jungle gyms and playgrounds are built on wood chips or, better yet, rubbery synthetic surfaces. Because, trust me, you don’t want your kids falling and landing on St. Augustine grass – they’ll poke their eye out with it!

The places with the best grass in Orlando are the theme parks. They have lush expanses of expensive, constantly tended to and extensively watered gardens that look gorgeous but are never tread upon (not that you would want to) by human or canine paws. For your average homeowner, even those who spend hours each week dedicated to keeping up with all of their many lawn needs, this is not attainable (or affordable). And, while the land of make believe might be able to keep it real (the grass anyway) I have to admit that I’ve been considering another option – artificial sod. Not exactly the kind you find in ballparks, but the same general idea. Except this stuff looks more “real.” It even has brown pieces mixed in to help with the authenticity factor (though it’s very “green” in the eco aspect of things … it’s like bringing a reusable bag to the grocery store – just on a bigger scale). And why not? You never need to mow it. Or water it for that matter (except maybe an occasional hosing off). And you can walk on it. Play on it. Touch it without fear of needing a band-aid. And while the upfront cost is high, I’m guessing the ROI is pretty decent. After all, how much more expensive can it be than installing an irrigation system, resodding and watering a few times per week (no really – I don’t know. How much more expensive is it? That is the main question I need to answer)?

One of my friends is having some artificial lawn installed now (he’s even having some putting greens put in and, I gotta say, that is pretty sweet) and I can’t wait to check it out in person. If I like it I might be sold (at a future date TBD when I can actually afford it, of course). Our biggest dog, Mustache, sure will miss the dirt we’ve got now though. His new favorite hobby is rolling around in it and then bringing it back into the house with him and depositing it on the path between his dog door and the living room (I’ve considered somehow attaching a Dirt Devil to his tail so he can be at least somewhat self cleaning but I’ve run into some technical issues with this plan). And both the dogs have brought fleas and ticks into the house with them that had been hiding, waiting for prey, in whatever brownish brush is still living in our backyard. Between the nearly daily doggie baths, constant vacuuming and regular flea bombing of our living spaces I’m practically running a full-time grooming salon out of my house. Lemme see that faux grass brochure again – how quickly can they be here to install it?
Here's a sample of what the frass (fake grass) looks like. Not bad for plastic.


  1. I think your dad would do well with installing the irrigation system. Hasn't he done that before?

  2. I don't think so... I've helped install some individual sprinklers before but not the whole system (including wiring it to the box). Weighing options - hard stuff!