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The Skinny By Elaine Langlois

 

Ladies' Guide to Lawn Care

The first step in lawn care is simple: get someone else to do it. Preferably some muscular fellow named Rolando or Sven. Sitting shirtless athwart a riding mower making crop circles in your lawn while you laze in the house, sipping a latte and enjoying the view. Mmm!

If Step 1 is not within the realm of financial possibility, don't despair. Lawn care is in fact the perfect hobby for the discriminating woman, as much of it consists of ruthlessly taking out what doesn't belong and putting mulch around everything that looks just right.

Mulch is delivered to your driveway in a mountain level with your second-story windows and is transported in dribs and drabs, via Little Tikes wagon, to the appropriate spots. One load will last you all season, because it will take you that long to get it off the driveway to wherever you want it.

What should I wear to do yard work? Since the 1950s, when women who stayed at home began spending part of the day outside doing yard work instead of all day inside doing housework, a dress, stockings (later to give way to pantyhose), pearls, and high heels have been preferred for tasks such as trimming the rosebushes and putting up storm shutters. An alternative for today's women: Capri pants, a ruffled tank, and slingbacks. As long as you're going to be out there, you might as well do a little advertising.

What tools should I use? If this were the "Gentlemen's Guide to Lawn Care," the answer of course would be power tools. Men must have power. They would not be caught dead raking but must have at least a leaf blower and a chipper-shredder to see them through the autumn. If a man sees a wistful, lonely dandelion sitting along the fence, he gets a weed whacker and levels everything within 40 meters. If your significant other is such a fellow, I refer you to the bestseller Men Who Use Power Tools and the Women Who Love Them.

Women are more low-tech, thrifty, and minimalistic. Like my aunt who can clean her entire kitchen with one paper towel. Ladies' tools for yard work: grass shears, pruning shears, little clippers, broom, dustpan, dandelion fork, scuffle hoe, rake, gloves.

What about poison ivy? A common problem in even the best yards, poison ivy causes an irritating rash for those unfortunate enough to be allergic to it.

Naturalists say we can recognize poison ivy by its three leaves and red stem. This simple statement encapsulates the whole problem with nature: everything has three leaves and a red stem. Get out in your yard and you will see what I mean.

Your best approach is probably to torch the whole thing and put down artificial turf. On the other hand, a poison ivy groundcover is a good way of discouraging pesky neighborhood children from playing in your yard.

Now a few words about what's hot and what's not in lawns and yards this year:

WHAT'S HOT

Conformity. This is the first word in lawn care. Witness the growth, in many better neighborhoods, of lawn care police, armed with rulers for checking the length of your grass, anonymous complaints from neighbors about the state of your shrubbery, and lists of plantings both approved and banned: "You! Over there! Put down the inexpensive native plant and back away slowly."

Grass must be ethnically pure. Woe betide the lawn that harbors violets or clover. If yours does, rigorously apply a chemical fertilizer. Your backyard pond may sport a variety of deformed frogs, and your organic radicchio may look like something spawned near a nuclear power plant, but your lawn will be uniform and pristine.

Mole traps. Goodness forbid that some hapless creature out of The Wind in the Willows should make ridges and mounds of dirt in your lawn in the process of trying to exist. Traps that skewer the mole so it dies in agony (but underground, so as to spare you any unpleasantness) are quite in vogue. The plunger conveniently detaches so you can cook up your kill on the Weber. Try it with a little strawberry-mango curry sauce!

Dogs. Just as every dog must have its day, every yard must have its golden retriever or lab. Purebred dogs are hot, but fences tall enough to keep them in the yard are not. Unlike the friendly mutts of our youth, dogs these days seem incapable of distinguishing attack-wise, between an armed felon and a neighbor who has passed the house nearly every day for the past five years. Hence the tender disciplines of electronic fencing.

Water features. Ponds, waterfalls, and fountains are in, way in. Also outdoor showers ($3,000-$7,500). Risks of malaria and West Nile virus are greatly exaggerated.

Walls. No neighborhood of McMansions is complete without a wall clearly distinguishing those who live within from those who live without.

Feeders. Feeding birds is perennially hot. Feeding squirrels (affectionately referred to by some as tree rats) is not. If a "No Squirrels" sign doesn't help, put up one of those expensive, complicated baffle feeders designed in competitions by engineering students. Know, however, that it will not work for long. The feeder has not been designed that squirrels cannot penetrate, particularly the ones with slide rules and pencils behind their ears. It is worth noting that the same people who create these devices that cannot outwit rodents go on to design the bridges and other structures we use every day.

WHAT'S NOT

Annuals. Annuals are beautiful and cheap and look great in your yard. So you buy a few flats. But then you must put them in. That's perhaps 160 plants you'll be digging holes for in the next 24 to 48 hours. Escaping prisoners dig less.

Annuals require more care than infants. For one thing, they can get mold. For another, they have the annoying habit of dying if not watered daily. And of course, they kick off at the first cold snap, so next year you will have to fork out more money and repeat the process.

Geese. Lawn geese are out. The new statuary that you must purchase and dress for various personal and weather events and seasons depends on where you live. Many places have their symbolic animals. In Canada, it's the beaver. In Cincinnati, the pig. In Massachusetts, the cod. In Washington, D.C., the weasel.

Gnomes. Despite their cameo roles in Amelie and the second and fourth Harry Potter books, gnomes have not made a comeback.

Where are we at the end of all this, ladies? With a perfectly manicured lawn that no one does anything on. It looks like nobody lives at your house but that person has very good taste.

©2002 Elaine Langlois

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