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What a Fool Believes...
by Todd Ziebarth : Editor, Terrain.org

The Constant Anti-Gardener

There are those who have a green thumb, who have the ability to, say, grow a prodigious supply of plump, juicy tomatoes in their garden. These folks take great pleasure in tending the various vegetables sprouting up from their private patches. Some of them even move beyond gardening, going so far as to completely landscape their backyards themselves.

There are others, though, who possess a brown thumb. These poor souls may harvest a handful of tomatoes, half of which will be inedible, with the other half less than plump and juicy but still worth cutting up and putting on a salad. They try their hand, God bless ‘em, at some major backyard project involving a mound of dirt or a pile of wood, but are never quite able to bring the effort to fruition.

Then, there are folks like myself who are without thumbs. We don’t garden. In fact, we don’t do anything remotely related to yard work, and are mystified by those who do.

Perhaps it was all of those lawns we had to mow as kids—our parents’, our grandparents’, and our neighbors’. All of that time spent cutting the grass just so that it could grow back in order for us to return the following week to do it all over again. It seemed like a colossal waste of energy—especially in the stultifying heat and humidity of a typical summer day in the Midwest. Probably one of the happiest times of my life was the five years that my wife and I lived in a second-floor condominium. Not only was our front yard small (we didn’t have a backyard!), but someone else mowed our patch of grass every week.

Divider: lawn mower.

But those days are over. For the past two years, we’ve lived in a house with a front and backyard that by the typical American’s standards isn’t much. By my tastes, though, they are more than enough—particularly because I have to mow them. These days, my episodes of grass-cutting are especially painful because my vision of the ideal landscape is within sight of our front yard. In this oasis in the city, the homeowner has decided to go with the natural look. The front lawn has been taken over by weeds, the bushes are overgrown, and the tree branches lurch onto the sidewalk so that you have to lean below them when you walk by this house. I love it.

In a typical summer here, I thankfully don’t have to mow the yard that much. One of the many advantages of living in Denver, where we’ve been for the past 13 years, is that it rains a lot less than in other parts of the country. While that means slower growing yards and fewer turns around the lawn like some rat in a maze at my house, that’s not the case at most residences. To keep that grass green, people actually water their lawns. If they do it in the deserts of Phoenix, I guess the thinking is that we can do it in the high, arid plains of Denver. It is a part of what mystifies us thumbless wonders.

Another advantage of living in Denver is our access to the truly great outdoors. You name the activity—hiking, skiing, and snow shoeing, for instance—and Colorado offers it up in a first-class way, not to mention what’s available in surrounding states like New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona. Heading into the weekend during the summer months, my thoughts are focused on which mountain lake to make my hiking destination, not which plants to include in the xeriscaping project in the backyard.

Divider: lawn mower.

Perhaps if I lived in the heart of a major metropolitan area without ready access to the great outdoors, I’d garden and landscape just to get outside. After all, a friend of mine resided in the Washington, D.C. area for several years, where he was an avid gardener and landscaper. A couple of years ago, he moved to Denver, bought a townhouse in the city, and purchased a condominium in the mountains. His green thumb days are behind him, and he now spends much of his free time skiing and hiking.

Still, many folks enjoy toiling in their yards—even in Colorado. They love to get their hands dirty in the soil. They love building things, like patios and decks. They love to spend time outdoors without having to log several miles up and down mountains. I don’t get it. Call me lazy (and many do), but I’ll be up in the hills on the weekends, and I’ll get my organic vegetables from the nearest market when I get back.


Todd Ziebarth is a policy analyst at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. He is also a founding editor of Terrain.org. In addition to his regular Terrain.org column, Ziebarth sometimes reviews books and CDs for the journal. He has a master's degree in public administration and a master's degree in urban and regional planning.
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