Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday stroll: that's a lawn?

This is my lawn:

Or rather, this is the spot where I'm trying to put a lawn. There was grass here when we bought the house, eight years ago. I didn't water it enough. (I'm from New England. It rains there. Back there, I had to worry more about whether I wanted to allow a forest to replace the semi-tamed meadow, because if I left it alone, it would be impenetrable within five years. And I mean impenetrable. Ask any student who followed me through re-grown clearcuts in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.)

So the grass died. I'm not a fan of lawns, anyway, and I think that landscaping ought to fit the climate (and the critters who eat the landscaping), so I figured I was better off without it. We considered having three rock gardens on each side of the house. We made narrow paths of gravel, flagstone, and hand samples, trying for a look that was half Zen garden and half rock collection. The west side of the house is the sedimentary garden, with red sandstone flagstone and blocks of the yellowish Tertiary Paleogene sediment that fills the San Juan basin. The east side is metamorphic: micaceous quartzite for the flagstone, and blocks of rock that increase in grade from greenschist to migmatite as you go north.

The south side of the house had a larger area to cover, and it reflects sun back into the house in the summer. And I didn't have many blocks of igneous rock to work with. And it's next to the driveway, so we didn't need the rock barrier as a defense against forest fires. So we decided to give the lawn another try.

Choosing grass out here is difficult. The typical lawn grasses are huge water hogs, and simply don't belong in this environment. Fortunately, there are some xeric alternatives. Out here the main choices are blue grama and buffalo grass. Blue grama is better at the higher elevations, and buffalo grass works well at the lower elevations. I'm at 7200 feet, which ought to be blue grama territory, but this is the south side of the house, and it's a hot, dry spot. So I've planted buffalo grass.

Actually, I planted buffalo grass twice. About four years ago I got a bag of seed, sometime late in the summer or early in the fall. The grass came up in the spots where I piled the seed on more thickly than I thought I should, but the rest of the ground stayed bare. Then, last summer, my mother bought some buffalo grass plugs and put them it. Again, some of them took, and some died. (Perhaps I just don't understand how much water plants need when they're getting established.)

Today, I put down some more seed, a mixture of blue grama and buffalo grass this time. And my son is watching the dirt, and reminding me that it's dry, and that I should water it some more. I'm a bit worried that I planted too early - it's still getting down to freezing at night, though it's in the 70's and dry during the day.

We'll see.


Silver Fox said...

That looks like a pretty neat view from your house. And I hope the grass mixture works! You are so organized with your rock garden - it sounds like it should be on one of your field trips stops! Would love to see it.

Elli said...

In case you need another rock garden suggestion to border the new grass: how about an ophiolite complex? It might take some creative sampling to manage the harzburgite up to spillites, but it would be cool...

And I love the metamorphic sequence concept! I took my students on a Barrovian traverse Saturday from unmetamorphosed up to sillimanite-grade (the higher grade rocks don't have easily accessible outcrops), but I failed to sample for a future garden :)

And let me just confirm that field work in New England post-clear cutting is not a walk in the park. Bramble + humidity + lumpy hills with no view does not equal easy place to do field work. There's a reason I went to Switzerland for my PhD rocks!