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  • Writer's pictureJohn R

Swamp Grass

It wouldn't leave, so I grabbed a mattock and took a deep breath.

It all began with the swamp grasses. I don’t know the official name of this plant, but ours were reedy and stubborn and spiky and we called them “swamp grass” with not a small amount of ill will. Nevertheless, they persisted. We didn’t visit that side of the house that often and when we did, we’d sigh and one of us would say, We should take out these stupid swamp grasses and the other would agree and say, Yes, we should, and then we’d nod and turn and go to another part of the yard and that would be the sum of our swamp grass actionables for another year or so. Swamp grass renovation was just very low on our list of Things We’d Do if We Were So Inclined.

So they grew and grew at the side of our house, thriving despite—or perhaps because of—our disinterest and neglect. And this is taking into account Deb’s executioner sensibilities, predisposed as she is to finding plants to murder. She’s the Dexter of yard maintenance. Okay, maybe that's a tad extreme. Let’s just say that her gardening forte consists mainly of reduction and extraction. Anyway, she deferred the job of removing these particular plants, insisting that the honor of hacking down obstinate swamp grasses would be mine and mine alone. Procrastination was perhaps another reason the swamp grass persisted, year after year.

The other side of the ennui coin was that fact we had no plans. After the swamp grass, then what? Bare foundation walls and a host of fresh weeds proliferating in the shallow depressions where the swamp grassed used to be? What was the plan?

Me? I kind of liked the swamp grass. It was alive, which put it way in the plus column. It was sort of green, which was pleasant. It hid certain foundation blemishes. But in terms of priorities, dealing with the swamp grass did not top our list of Things To Do Before Time Runs Out and We Die. There were other major gardening projects to complete, such as watering and getting unconfused about soil pH.

Yet, it did happen. One day I swallowed an ungodly amount of coffee, went to the shed and grabbed a spider web-encrusted mattock, a shovel, and string trimmer, strode around to the side yard and confronted the swamp grass. Today, I spoke solemnly to the plants, is the day.

And it was. Sort of.

The swamp grass proved to be admirably reluctant to give ground (pun intended only in retrospect). The reedy spikes sneered at the trimmer—it was like trying to cut rebar with wet spaghetti. The hedge trimmer was equally ineffective, gagging to a halt on mouthfuls of indestructible cellulose. I finally resorted to the lawn mower, reared up on its hind wheels to expose the whirring blade, and rammed it into the grasses to chop away by degrees. The massive, intricate root system was equally stubborn; digging it out was like trying to extract a humongous, buried Brillo pad with a fondue fork.

The sun was hot; sweat poured down. One by one I pried chunks of soil-laden root jumble out of the ground and carted them via wheelbarrow to the side of the driveway, where I stared at the mound of root dirt and spike stubs and realized I had no plan for the widening pile. What to do with this shit? The city didn’t take dirt in the yard waste bucket and the local refuse station charged sixty bucks per load. (I realize that the Dirt Problem is really a subset problem of the Main Problem. Solutions for the Dirt Problem are TK. (BTW, TK is editing shorthand for “to come,” meaning something hasn’t arrived yet but is expected. Like if you wanted to bullshit an editor about why your assignment is overdue but temper the shortcoming by speaking edit-speak you’d email them and say, Thank God I survived the earthquake but now that I’m settled I’m going to put the finishing touches on that assignment and it is TK.)

The nugget of the venture, really, was that I finally had a plan for the side yard. I was going to put in a raised bed for exotic chili peppers. If you're a chili pepper aficionado, you know what a motivator dreams of Scotch bonnets and chilhuacles can be. Scoville units, here we come.

It would be a raised bed made of landscaping blocks. I knew this from the beginning because that’s what Deb said it should be. (A quick aside here: landscaping blocks are heavy.) The bed would be 14 feet long, three feet wide with curved ends and a built-in sprinkler system. Including a gravel base would remove a good amount of lawn—a mind-numbing, labor-intensive job I only completed thanks to the help of my son, Nick.

The bed did turn out pretty good. We filled it with whiz-bang Happy Frog dirt and added some Tip-Top Red Worms and toasted our success. At long last the swamp grass was gone.

What’s next? Well, this is a two-part blog. The second part, about growing the chilis, is TK.

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