Adventures in yardsmithery: The rock

by Brian Clarey

It started out simply enough. We had some concerns about the lawn this year.

We have concerns about it every year, actually. Our mottled quarter acre in varying shades of green may not be the worst expanse in the neighborhood — that distinction belongs to the house on the corner, the yard pocked with dandelions and other fast-growing weeds, the edges spilling over the curb, tall shoots popping through creases in the driveway.

But our lawn is not beautiful. It looks nothing like the pristine green of a baseball diamond, the flowing emerald carpet of a golf course fairway. Even on a good day it looks more like a Chia Pet with a bad haircut. And this year we set out to change that.

It was my wife who made the first move, purchasing a lawn-care product that promised to eliminate crabgrass and weeds without harming the actual grass, and she diligently made several applications of it to our yard.

The product worked as advertised; within a few weeks every clump of crabgrass withered and browned and the dandelions were reduced to limp clusters of stems that came loose from the sod with a nudge of my boot.

We didn’t realize, however, how much undesirable flora had seeped into our lawn, which didn’t look all that bad when it was cut and trimmed. When all was said and done, we were left with perhaps a dozen bare patches of red Carolina clay, maybe more. One took up a whole quadrant of the front yard by the mailbox. Another by a rain gutter became so barren and desolate that cracks formed in the earth like the Arizona desert. And the slope in the backyard was pretty much a total loss.

So what is an ambitious yardsmith to do? He plants, that’s what he does. A trip to Lowe’s. A giant bag of grass seed mixed with fertilizer. A new hose and sprinkler. It’s on.

If you read the fine print on grass seed, you’ll learn that fall is the best time to plant. But let’s just say you didn’t read the fine print. Let’s say you just threw handfuls of grass seed on the bare spots on your lawn towards the end of a hot Southern spring, splashed it with the hose for about a minute and then sat back, fully expecting to see green shoots poking through in a day or so. And let’s say that in the end, you were sorely disappointed.

Now, I’m a reasonably intelligent man, and I don’t think it takes any special sort of intelligence to grow a plot of grass — if it did, landscapers would make a whole lot more money, I reason. What I needed was a little basic technique to make my garden grow. So for this next go-round I did some research.

Seeds, it turns out, need to be below the soil. And they need copious amounts of water before they sprout and bloom. So I took to the bare spots on my lawn with a pitchfork — bought in a lackluster attempt at vegetable garden a few years ago — and perforated the red clay while my wife sprinkled seeds into the openings. It was grueling work in the hot sun, but I anticipated a rolling, lush lawn as the payoff. That was what I was picturing when the pitchfork struck something hard with a familiar clang.

It was a rock, of course. My yard is full of them, beautiful chunks of granite, veined blocks of feldspar, sparkly mica, some of them as big as a child’s head. I usually pry them out with the pitchfork or a shovel, rinse them with the hose and throw them in a pile I’ve been making for about five years which, I swear, will eventually become the basis for a rock garden.

This particular rock was close to the surface, so I hunkered down and brushed it off, pushed on it with my thumbs. It wouldn’t budge. I worked the edges with the pitchfork but still couldn’t get it to move. I got the small hand spade from the garage and started to dig. After half an hour or so I had unearthed a section of rock a foot across and still had not found the edges. I went and got the big shovel and began tearing up what was left of my grass. I had already begun thinking of it as “my” rock, and I can’t fully explain why, but extracting it from the earth was starting to seem like a very important thing.

I dug around the rock, making sparks with the shovel blade. I wedged the pitchfork underneath it and pulled, wrenching the handle off of the shaft. I bruised knuckles and tore fingernails and still I could not get this rock to move an inch. I even considered going at it with my sledgehammer — a gift from my late brother in-law — but no: My rock would be coming out in one piece.

I spent maybe an hour out there on the lawn digging at my rock, eventually uncovering a section more than two feet across in a hole more than a foot deep with no relief in sight. It was the rain that finally brought me back inside.

So now, along with bare patches of earth, my front lawn also has several piles of dirt on it and a deep hole from which protrudes a very stubborn rock, and it will be a small miracle if someone doesn’t break an ankle before I can research a more effective way to remove it, which will undoubtedly require purchasing another piece of equipment and inflicting more damage to the turf.

The good news is the grass project is sidelined for a while. I think we’re gonna plant in the fall.