Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Our Front Yard: 3 Landscaping and/or Personality Problems

Today I was standing out in the street talking to my next-door neighbor Mindy. I am not kidding when I say that every time I run into her outside, the first words out of her mouth after “Hi” are an apology for her front yard. Usually she begins with, “My yard looks so terrible,” or “My poor roses! I haven’t been taking good care of them.” Like, this is her conversational opener, I guess the same way that some people complain about the weather. What is weird about this is that her front yard always looks tidy and beautiful.

She has seasonal plantings, with flowers blooming for a lot of the year, and she has a yard service come every week and mow, edge, and clean up. So her yard is by any definition, just great. This picture was taken in early spring, when the azaleas were blooming. Right now in the same area, she has rosebushes. The little patch of pinestraw by her driveway turns into a huge Lantana bush in the summer. Her grass is like a carpet. And up by her front door, her boxwoods are trimmed into little topiary bubbles--you can see if you enlarge the pic. Looks nice.

Now, we’ve had our own yard issues, sometimes involving a letter from the Home Owners' Association, so depending on my paranoia level when I’m talking to her, I am prone to think, “Is she saying our place looks terrible? Is she trying to give me a gentle hint?" I was getting a complex about it. We have some pretty stuff growing in our yard, but unlike Mindy, we don't pay to have it professionally maintained, AND we're not much into yardwork. Matt keeps the grass mowed pretty well, and edged, and in the late spring growing season, I pulled a lot of weeds from around the things I wanted to cultivate. But hedge trimming and shaping, and mulching, not so much. The whole thing looks a little overgrown now, and it's weighing on my mind in a sort of low-grade way.

All of this was on my conscience when I was talking to Mindy. Then she told me that she had gotten at least three letters from the HOA in the last month. I was like, huh? She said that one of them was because they left their garbage can within sight for more than 24 hours. Okay. One was a complaint that her Lantana bush needed to be trimmed. And another was about an empty concrete urn up by her garage. (If you have a planter out, it's supposed to have something growing in it. But this thing is completely unnoticeable.) I was amazed that she had gotten all that flack while we have gotten one letter in the last several months. Our yard presents so, SO many more opportunities for a "friendly reminder" from the Garden Committee. So the poor woman is always apologizing for her yard, I guess, because she's always getting castigated for it. The HOA has given her an inferiority complex, while letting us, in my opinion, skate.

There are three theories for why this is so. One is Matt's, one is mine, and one is Mindy's:

Matt's: our house is set farther back from the street, and when the garden cops do their monthly driveby, they just don't notice much.

Mine: they don't send us a letter for every "violation," because their expectations for our yard are very low. In the last two years, we've taught them what level to hold us to.

Mindy's: the Garden Committee has a grudge against her personally, because for years, she was on that committee, and she was one of the garden cops. So now it's payback time.

Mindy is prone to craziness in other aspects of her life (that's a story for another day), so Matt thinks her theory is overly paranoid. I'm not sure what to think. But we are facing some challenges of our own in the yard right now.

1)The first thing that needs to happen is that our shrubs need trimming. This is daunting to me.

That hydrangea bush has now reached the top of the window, and the laurel could use some cutting. I'm not sure really what size the laurel should be, though. How much can you prune a shrub without killing it? The topography is tough here. This side of the sidewalk slopes off to a retaining wall, with about an 8-10 foot drop below it. I can't figure out where to put a ladder to cut this monster. But it really needs it. And do we need a fancy gas-powered or electric trimmer? We have old-fashioned loppers, like big scissors.

2) Also, and this hurts my soul, something is slowly killing the azaleas. Like one side of the bush will be blooming and the other side is dead. Likewise the boxwood on the other side of the driveway. I think it might be spider mites, but we've nixed the idea of putting some kind of major pesticide out in the yard. So I need to do some research or consult an expert.

3) The planted, treed area to the right of the driveway has pinestraw on the ground, pinestraw that needs to be renewed a couple of times a year. This was the planted area that the spelling geniuses at the Garden Committee said needed to be "redifined." So we need some more straw to "redifine" it, I guess. Two dudes with a truckload of pinestraw appear every now and again in the neighborhood, and I've paid them twice to clean up that area and spread straw, but I think they charge too much, so I want some new dudes.

So angst, people. I've got yard angst. There are several tons of biomass around this place that are all under my custodianship. Underlying all of this, if you haven't figured this out, is that we are CHEAP when it comes to the yard. Matt, especially, doesn't want to pay anyone to do anything because he thinks he should do it. (Remind me to tell you about when he got up on the roof to try to clean a rust stain off the chimney cap. The roof slopes at a 45 degree angle. He was wearing kitchen gloves and sneakers, and toting the garden hose and a bottle of CLR. He did not get far, but he was up there long enough for me to decide that a money market account was the best idea for the life insurance settlement in the short term, and that I shouldn't use some of it to pay off the house. I decided I would wait six months before making any major financial decisions. Then he made it down alive.)

If you are still reading, thank you. This was therapeutic for me. Same time next week?

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CB said...

I'm just impressed that you have plants and you know the names of them. I have a pile of dirt and a husband who says he will plant something in it someday.

Your hydrangeas are almost as gorgeous as the baby standing guard over them by the way. =)

Amy said...

I agree! I recognized the hydrangeas, but that was about it!

It all looks pretty good to me, Hank included! And Mindy may just need something to fret over...some people do. Though admittedly, I think the HOA needs to chill a bit. We would sooo be kicked out of your 'hood.

Bren said...

Mindy may not be paranoid (about the payback thing, anyway). Do not underestimate (or overestimate, I guess) adults given HOA power. Like, the only ones who accept the power are those to whom it should not be given. (Unless they are roped into it like my dear, responsible, reluctant Houston.) Our HOA is toothless (it really only exists to maintain the fishing dock) but full of drama.

Becky said...

Thanks, CB! That baby is another thing that's grown like a weed since that pic was taken.

And Bren, I am both horrified and transfixed by HOA politics. I guess it's all part of my love/hate relationship with the HOA. But I didn't know Houston was on the board of your HOA! I need to hear more.

Dagny said...

*sigh* Now I wish that I had a yard so that I could have yard angst.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh! Seriously the ONLY reason I couldn't live where there is an HOA is b/c of gardening. Our yard is an abomination. I just can't do it. I love the hydrangeas and go you for being so proactive!

Minnesota Matron said...

The Matron simply let her entire outdoor world go to seed. Really. She is the Clampitts. Clampetts? Clampet?

Carrie said...

Ugh. I just could not live somewhere where someone tells me how to keep my yard. One thing I love about our semi-urban block is that no one said anything about me growing our tomatoes right in front, or about all the weeks in my "lawn."

Lecia said...

Pretty house! Yikes I'm glad not to have a HOA...

Becky said...

Yeah, the HOA issue is a whole big ball of wax. Weirdly, I feel more philosophically opposed to it than I turn out to feel in everyday life. It can be a headache, but I see an upside too. Maybe I am basically a conformist in superficial matters.

Hootie said...

For what it's worth, I am the DIRECTOR of our HOA. But it's really a figurehead position... and my lawn looks like hell compared to people who give a darn.

Keely said...

I am so glad we don't live somewhere with a HOA. This is the second year I've let my garden go to crap, the front flower bed is home to many impressive weeds (and nothing else), and our house is at the end of an alley so it collects a lot of garbage. We're lucky we got some leaves raked! I'd be getting letters constantly...