I fought the lawn, and the lawn won - Macleans.ca

I fought the lawn, and the lawn won

FESCHUK: Every year I dream of a verdant backyard, and I wind up a raving weed whacker

I fought the lawn, and the lawn won

Getty Images; iStock; Photo illustration by Taylor Shute

This column has long dedicated itself to breaking important news, and I’m proud to continue that tradition with my latest shocking exclusive: there are, like, way more dandelions this year.

But it’s not merely their numbers that should alarm us—it’s their size. The ones in our yard are bigger than usual this spring. How much bigger? I’m pretty sure I saw a bunch of elves making cookies in one.

Let me be clear: I’m not trying to set off a nationwide panic—but over the weekend I stooped to yank out a particularly robust dandelion and it tried to reason with me. I ended up leaving it in place, where it has since acquired advanced motor skills and a hunger for human flesh.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise: in my backyard, every springtime is an express trip from optimism to despair. Each April I declare this will be the season that pretty things grow in the garden and there is basking in glorious splendour and so on. And each May nature replies, “Fat chance, four eyes.” Come June, our gardening efforts inevitably cease to be a rescue mission and become a recovery operation.

I’ve never understood the people who stick those little plastic identification cards into the soil next to their annuals. Is there going to be a quiz about your flower bed, Mrs. Jenkins from down the street? But I’m thinking that maybe next year I’ll plant only the cards. They won’t grow, but plastic is much harder to kill.

That would solve one problem. Sadly, there are more. Behold the other Elements of Misery that define our backyard experience:

The lawn. Our yard has more dead, barren patches than Cuba Gooding Jr.’s filmography. Every spring I put down earth and grass seed to no avail. Not some avail. Not even a smidgen of avail. Zero avail.

Last year, in a sad, sad act of a defeated man, I actually bought grass seed over the Internet. The company claimed its grass mix would grow on a cinder block—how could it fail in my backyard? Thoroughly, it turns out. I was promised a dense, full lawn. When the grass finally came in, it resembled the head of hair on Homer Simpson: two sad wisps upon a bare patch.

You know those commercials for Scotts Turf Builder, where men cross their arms with satisfaction and marvel at the thick green carpet they’ve nurtured to lush perfection? I’d like to smash those guys in the face with a shovel.

The mosquitoes. For reasons unknown, our yard attracts mosquitoes in numbers better suited to a horror movie or an Off! commercial. Not long ago, a bunch of friends came over for dinner. We had drinks on the patio, because it was nice out and because our kitchen gets hot and I don’t like people to see how much of my sweat drips into their soup.

Within seconds, the pests descended. I asked, “Should we maybe move inside?” No, no, everyone said politely as they slapped their arms and legs and necks and eyeballs. We lasted roughly 90 seconds more, long enough for the mosquitoes to drain my head of blood and carry off two of our thinner guests.

The dog. Last fall, our chocolate Lab basically ate one of our cedar trees—stripped the bark with its teeth, then chewed up most of the branches. The dog now spends its afternoons lying at the bottom of a metre-deep hole it excavated near the dying tree.

To sum up then: were you to stand on our back step and look out at the thin grass, the thick weeds, the decaying cedar, the giant dog hole and the dense clouds of mosquitoes, you may find yourself thinking, “You know what would class this place up a bit? A tire fire.”

By this past weekend, I’d had enough. I grabbed the weed whacker from the shed. Moving through the flower beds and along the grass, I cut down every weed. I even butchered the mega-dandelion to which I’d granted a reprieve. This being a family magazine, I can’t print the words I muttered as I worked. I can, however, use the names of the Kardashian sisters in place of the dirty words: Take that, you kourtney, motherkimberlying sons of a khloe!

I went outside yesterday and the dandelion had started to grow back. Also, it knew my name.


I fought the lawn, and the lawn won

  1. It’s not dandelions that are the worst by quackgrass. Mine has now shrugged of RoundUp. I’m selling but I were to continue living in a house with a lawn, my back yard would be covered with paving stones by this time next year. No one needs grass.

  2. Scott, I am an avid gardener so I am going to let you in on a few secrets:  1) You hire someone to aerate your lawn and get oxygen down into the roots  2)  Your canine friend is doing more than digging up your lawn..he/she is killing the grass with its urine and making the soil acidic so no new grass will grow.  You need to add lime (a base) to that soil and make it neutral (you can get a cheap soil test kit at your neighborhood garden store).  Once the soil is neutral, that grass seed will grow like crazy, if you keep it moist (it will take about 2 weeks to sprout.  3) Once you have a nice thick lawn, you will have few if any dandelions.  The thick lawn will choke the weeds out.  You buy some compost and put a layer of that on the lawn.  4) You dig every dandelion  out by the roots using a flat-headed screwdriver or a knife.  5)  You put tomatoe juice in “Fido’s” water.  That will make his/her urine less acidic. You exercise Fido more so he isn’t bored and digging.  You buy Fido some dog bones to chew on to keep him from chewing on your trees.  6) You briefly gloat over your success and resign yourself to doing it all again next spring!  Goodluck Scott.  I know you can do it because I do it every year.

    • All good recommendations, I’m sure. But if Scott did all this, would there be any more reason (or inspiration) to write a column for the rest of us – those who buy plants (indoor, outdoor, sod, fertilizer, seed, annuals, whatever) just to watch them die?

      What’s the opposite of a green thumb? Is there a name for this condition? Are there any support groups available? Maybe a 12 step program?

      • Oh, well okay.  Hmmm.  I did forget my one good piece of advice about mosquitos…
        The opposite of a green thumb?  There is really no such thing.  Indoor plants need sun & only need to be watered when they are really dry.  They usually end up dying from being over watered.  Outdoor plants need lots of sun unless they are shade tolerant and good soil.  They need to be watered for the first year and then during dry conditions.  If you prepare your soil well with compost, your plants will thrive.

        • The opposite of a green thumb? That would be a black thumb… and I have two of them. The only plant I can’t kill is poison ivy.

          Good piece, Mr. Feschuk.

  3. I don’t want to cause undue alarm, but I think your dandelions may actually be triffids. You may want to look into that. Though, I am looking forward to your columns from after the triffid apocalypse.

  4. You have a cookie factory in your yard and that’s a problem?!?

    We’ve grown so far apart, you and I… ;_;

  5. Scott – my wife referred me to your article. She watches, coffee in hand, as I open the front or side door, full of my weekend optimism that this weekend will be the weekend when I take control my lawn. She tries to share my hope, as spouses and partners do, as I look across the street at our neighbour’s lawn saying that “some day our lawn will look like his.” Inevitable, the weekend closes, I solemnly return my Friskers to shed and sit down with a beer in celebration that I successfully killed more unwelcome nature on my lawn. And every Monday morning as I walk down the driveway on my way to work, I glance at the killing field where another dandelion raises its yellow head as if to say – “you missed me and my new friends.” I don’t feel alone anymore. Thank you.

    Healthcareinsider – you have given me hope and tools to ensure that, someday, my lawn will be great and my wife will no longer need to find sympathy for my efforts. Thank you.

  6. Laughed out loud. Would like to see as a follow up an interview (real or imagined) with Feschuk and Brian Minter.