The lawn at the David-Peese garden.

April 12th, 2008
Spring Flingers’ Secret Revealed

The Japanese have a saying, juu-nin to-iro, literally “ten people, ten colors”. Or to put it into less compact English, “Ask ten people a question and you’ll get ten different answers.” What has fascinated me about reading everyone’s Spring Fling posts is seeing something I experienced through other people’s eyes. One of the reasons I read is to learn to see the world through eyes more observant than mine, to think about things that would not have occurred to me alone. And so, to have almost forty different perspectives of a shared experience is revealing. It shows me how subjective the experience of a garden is. How much we take out of another’s garden is strongly related to how much we put into seeing it.

Some people focused on things I never gave a second glance. They peeked into niches and corners I didn’t notice. Others photographed the same grouping and created a striking composition where I just took a simple snapshot. All these eyes help me see what I missed. These different perspectives inform my own experience. Looking at them together I feel like I’m looking through the compound eye of some giant insect, seeing the world in a way I never saw it before.

For all the differences, there are some similarities. There are photos of bluebonnets and other wildflowers, of newly-made friends laughing as they pose with arms around each other. Many people tried to capture the dramatic descent to the pond at the David-Peese garden, or James David’s exotic voodoo lily, or a careful grouping of stones. I smiled in recognition and thought, “Yes. That appealed to me, too.”

However, one common photo on many of the posts seemed strange to me (although I snapped it myself), a shot of James David’s lawn.

For all our talk about tearing out lawns and replacing them with flowers or vegetables, why were we gardeners drawn to lawn. Did the lawn provide a sense of relief, to come up into the air and light after all our winding through the dark and narrow paths filled with exotics on a steep hillside? Did we need a dose of its strong lines and geometry to counteract the exuberant growth of the rest of the garden?

And yet we were drawn into the space only with our eyes. We all photograph it from the outside. Is there something forbidding about the lawn? something that made us all hang back at the entrance as if we were afraid to enter a sacred enclave? Perhaps a lawn as imposing as this one doesn’t need a sign saying “Keep of the Grass”. Or perhaps after admiring the clear swathe with its distinct lines and sharply cut borders, there was nothing to left to pull the gardener into it and we turned our attention elsewhere.

What do you think?

Zanthan Gardens lawn
2007-11-16. Happiness is a lawn without leaves.

November 17th, 2007
More Leaves Than Lawn

Three years ago I replaced my old gas mulching mower with reel mower. Overall I’ve been pleased with it. I enjoy the quiet whirl of its blades as I mow and am happy not to mess with gasoline or breathe fumes. Keeping these benefits in mind I’ve tried to overlook how difficult I find mowing St. Augustine grass with it. St. Augustine is a running type grass with coarse blades that stick out in all directions. The reel mower is more suited to a fine-bladed grass which grows straight up. In the summertime, it’s best to cut St. Augustine very tall to conserve water. The blades on the reel mower couldn’t be adjusted as high as on the old gas-powered mulching mower.

Looking my evaluation of the reel mower in my original post, I see that the problem I tried to ignore and couldn’t is that I really need a mulching mower. My yard doesn’t have much lawn left but it is covered in large trees. I relied on my old gas mower to mulch the leaves into the lawn. Cedar elm leaves are small and break down quickly when mowed over. Later in the season when the red oak leaves fell, I’d rake them into piles and run the mulching mower over them before putting them in the compost pile. Without a mulching mower, trying to keep the garden looking tidy in autumn is a losing battle.

So this week I bought a electric mulching mower, a Black & Decker Lawn Hog from I chose the model without the flip handle as I don’t have the kind of lawn that can be mowed by walking in neat straight lines. delivered it the day after I bought it and although I’ve only used it twice and am pretty happy with it.

Many people in the review found avoiding the extension cord annoying. Certainly it’s something to be constantly aware of when you’re mowing but I didn’t find it any more difficult than vacumning. In fact, using the electric mower feels more like vacumning than mowing.

* quiet (Not as quiet as the reel mower but much more quiet than a gas-powered mower. It’s no louder than my vacumn cleaner.)
* easy to start (Pull the handle, it comes on. Release the handle, it goes off.)
* mulches
* no gas fumes
* easy to adjust the height from very low to very high

* heavier than the push mower (This is not a problem while mowing but it makes it harder to get it up the steps to the lawn.)
* very long length (The length of the mower from the front wheels to the back wheels is much longer than I’m used to and makes it slightly more difficult to maneuver.)

If anyone wants a reel mower, let me know. I even have the blade sharpening kit that goes with it.

St Augustine and buffalograss2006-06-11. Austin Texas. 9:30AM 80 degrees. Lawns and politics: patchy buffalograss in the foreground; St Augustine in the background.

June 11th, 2006
Tale of Two Lawns

Garden blogs have been all abuzz this week over lawns. In Austin we’re encouraged to replace our lawns with beds of native or xeriscape plants in order to cut down on our water usage especially if we want to enjoy our yards without being enslaved to a high-maintenance landscape. I don’t think the issue is so cut and dry. Typical homeowners, at least in South “Keep Austin Weird” Austin, don’t spend a lot of time watering or mowing their grass. Replace what passes for lawns in a lot of Austin with other plants and I think a lot more people will be spending a lot more time using a lot more water.

Those people unfortunate enough to live in places like Circle C where they’re required by neighborhood covenant to keep the grass greener on their side of the fence, even in periods of extended drought when we are under rationing, I’m guessing are rich enough to pay other people to do the maintenance. (How will this dynamic change with the current crackdown on illegal immigration?) Are they even allowed to replace their lawns? Ah, I digress.

When I acquired this house in April 1993, the entire front and back yards were covered in St Augustine grass. I was happy to have inherited an automatic sprinkling system until we got our first water bill. After I recovered from the shock and swore never to use the system again, I bought a sprinkler to fit on the end of the hose and watered only the healthiest parts of the lawn. In June of 1993, one of the cedar elms snapped in half during a storm. Suddenly the north quadrant of the backyard was baking in full sun. I let the marginal grass die, covered it with mulch, and began planning a wildflower meadow.

Over the next few years, I planted buffalograss, bluebonnets, larkspur and various small bulbs like rainlilies, species tulips, and fall crocuses. The meadow looked great in the spring, but very patchy and weedy the other 9 months of the year. Although buffalograss spreads by runners, it forms clumps rather than a smooth lawn. Therefore I don’t think it looks particularly nice mown. And the same characteristics that make it a haven for small bulbs and flowers, provide the same haven for weeds. I’m constantly battling horse herb (which grows up over buffalograss, shading and killing it) and other undersirables.

The blades of buffalograss are narrow and sharp. It is not a grass to wiggle your toes in or lie back in and watch the clouds. Over the years, various trees on the border have made the once sunny meadow area quite shady. Buffalograss does not like the shade at all. I like its color of dry hay (of green tatami), but in the worst heat of summer, it is not a color which is restful to our parched eyes.

In contrast, the deep green coarse blades of the St Augustine grass makes me want to fling off my shoes and throw myself back on it in delight. I do not spend a great of water on the St Augustine lawn. Unlike some other grasses, St Augustine likes mulch. I learned this from watching how it took over any path I made around the yard. So every time I see a bare spot or thin grass, I mulch it with a combination of Dillo Dirt and Texas native bark mulch. I don’t feed it any lawn food and it rewards me by not growing too fast.

I think of St Augustine as a southern grass. It evokes summer days under shady live oak tree with the whine of cicadas filling the air. Buffalograss creates a praire mood with its tall, wispy blades and loosely filled clumps undulating in billowing waves under a withering wind. Austin sits on Balcones Fault and shares characteristics of both the old South and the desert West. I pleased to have a little of both in my backyard.

I’ve gotten rid of all the lawn I’m getting rid of. Compared to the rest of the yard, it is low maintenace especially in ratio to the pleasure it provides.

Yes, I really preferred a lawnmower to cut flowers. I’m just that kinda girl.

May 28th, 2004
A Reel Mower

As a combination Mother Day’s/birthday present, I got a reel mower, which arrived yesterday. After a bit of research, including going to look at some at Breed and Home Depot, I decided on American Lawnmower’s 1815-18. It is supposed to work best on our coarse St. Augustine grass and it has the highest blade level. (As summer progresses I mow higher and higher, so that the leaves of grass shade its roots.) We purchased the mower on sale at When the UPS man delivered it, he was so excited. “Look what I brought you. Man! I haven’t seen one of these since I was a kid. I can see what you’re going to be doing this holiday weekend.”
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photo: Zanthan Gardens a mowed lawn
2003-08-15. I mowed my lawn.

August 15th, 2003
Lawn Care South Austin Style

After a few days of scattered thunderstorms and a 20 degree drop in temperature (from 110 to 90), the St. Augustine greened up again. So I decided it was time to cut it. I forego cutting during the hottest days of summer. I believe that cutting the lawn, stresses it. And when it’s 100 degrees and hasn’t rained in a month, the lawn is stressed out enough. The longer grass shades its own roots, so it doesn’t need as much water as shorter grass.

Also, (while I’m rationalizing), I feel that not cutting the grass in the heat of summer is my civic duty. A lot of summer days are “ozone action days” and you’re not supposed to use gas-powered lawnmowers on “ozone action days” because it just makes the pollution problem worse.

You’ve probably read that waiting too long between cuttings also stresses out grass (because you end up cutting off more than 1/3 of the leaf) and causes thatch to build up. But I don’t have that problem and here’s why. I don’t use chemical lawn fertilizer on my lawn. So it grows at a natural rate rather than like a high school jock pumped up on steroids. And that natural rate slows down a lot when it gets too hot and dry…like the six weeks from the beginning of July to the middle of August.

I do fertilize the grass with Dillo Dirt in the spring (March/April) and early fall September. I also make a mulch of Dillo Dirt wherever the grass has thinned. But most of the fertilizer comes from the grass itself. I have a mulching mower. In the fall I mow all the leaves into the lawn. And in the winter, one of the best tricks I’ve discovered for improving the lawn is to rake and mow. If there is any thatch buildup, this gets rid of it and mulches the soil at the same time. Grass loves mulch. Haven’t you noticed how it makes straight for those lovely mulched flower beds?