The Great Grass Removal

If there is one thing I have learned in the ten years with Mr. Omar, it’s to work with faults. That’s not to say he or I are particularly faulty persons in any respect, but simply that I’ve found most conflicts that arise seem to have practical fixes that are often easier to implement than deep, introspective life changes. Bored? Plan a date night or switch something up. Someone hogs the sheets? Use two. Crises averted. Or at least most of them. The grass on the other hand, was an entirely different conundrum.

Full disclosure: I have a thing about lawn care. I grew up in a yard with meticulously looked after lawns, in a neighborhood where showcasing a neatly-cut carpet of green sent word to the rest of society that your life was in order. Mr. Omar, on the other side of the fence, does not share the sentiment.

Completely taken aback by this and without the means to fix the savanna-prairie hybrid that began to swallow my new front yard, I am sad to say the decade-long relationship nearly perished in a field of fiery weeds. I hated the scraggly lawn and did not have a cutter. And even if I had a cutter, I am quite small, so he would still most likely have to do the cutting. Practical fix possible, but becoming less and less probable. Cue increasingly probable disaster.

We had talked about possibly replacing the lawn with flowers, indigenous and water-wise plants, and after a rogue motorcycle nearly ended Mr Omar’s life when he did indeed cut the grass (true story: it crashed into our wall about a meter from where he was cutting…on that one day of all the days), the plans became serious.

It was a decent idea but messy implementation. Plants are my wallet weakness. Whereas I will buy a whole nursery if left to my own devices, Mr. Omar prefers to barter for cuttings, which, impatient person as I am, makes gardening feel like an eternally thankless project. But we got on with exactly three bought plants and bagfuls of indigenous cuttings, and like Operation Crispy Fern, I am happy to report a year later things are finally starting to look exciting.

Here are the top five tips I’ve learned in the transformation thus far:

Tara’s Top Five Lessons from Front Yard Gardening

  1. Frugal is fancy: At this point we mostly agree to disagree in the plant department, though I must say there is something excitingly extra about beautiful things being born from craftiness. It’s like you get to be both edgy and a goody-good person at the same time. Rebels unite! Before 6 P.M.
  2. Safety in numbers: If you’re just going to stick a cutting in the dirt and expect to see a plant a season later (me); put a lot of them together. It seems they’re less likely to get trampled or disturbed if there’s a patch of them; and you can always thin out and move around later.
  3. Do not react too quickly: Have a big shrub that looks as dead as driftwood? Or a patch of rapidly growing weeds? Wait. If you have nothing that you’re just aching to put in that spot, wait a season to see what happens. I nearly killed a tree making this very mistake and also pulled up an entire patch of beautiful indigenous flowers that I thought were weeds. The memory still hurts.
  4. Summer is for life-support only (and maybe pruning): If you move a plant during the hot South African summer months, expect it to die. There’s not much more I can say on the subject. In my experience, fall gardening is best for everyone, plants and people alike.
  5. Stay patient and await the springtime explosion: It’s so hard not coddle when you want something to do great (at least for me it is), but once in place the plants mostly get on fine without much assistance. The proof is in the pictures below, which show the garden transformation over a single year. I did have a few casualties by “over-gardening” so to speak, but the flowers have more than covered my mistakes so far, with the greatest successes being where I just let be (though I did weed profusely, so some coddling did help).

Flowers in the Photograph

Red Pagoda / Crassula capitella: South African native, succulent

Lobster Flower / Plectranthus neochilus: South African native, (smelly) succulent

Bird of Paradise / Strelitzia reginae: South African native, water wise

Spider Plant (mboyeti and varigatum): Southern African native, water wise

Arctotis: South African native, water wise

Mexican Bush Sage / Salvia Leucantha: Mexican native, water wise

Viburnum tinus: Mediterannean native, evergreen

Bush Lily / Clivia miniata: South African native

Lavender / Lavandula x intermedia (?): water wise

White rose