Garden Designers Roundtable: Reality Check

by Andrew Keys on January 24, 2012

You know how usually with GDRT posts, I have loads of gorgeous photos for you? Yeah, well, with this one, I’m stumped, so I’m giving you audio. The first thing that came to mind when I thought of instances in which I needed a garden design reality check was one word: lawn. But not like you’re thinking!

Ever since I started doing sustainable gardening, I’ve been more in the business of taking out lawn, and much like Ivette Soler, a fellow roundtabler I interviewed for Horticulture’s RadioGarden podcast* last year, I always bite off more than I bargain for. *Now Garden Confidential at Fine Gardening.

Ivette solarized the lawn at her new house to put in a drought tolerant garden, and in the process found herself the object of neighborhood scorn, because the process of solarization means there’s black plastic covering the lawn for weeks on end. My personal lawn removal drama is different, but NO less painful, sees me knee deep in chain gang-style labor, past the point of where I can to tell a frugal client I need to regroup. Namely, I do small jobs, and I have a tendency to look at a patch of lawn/garden-to-be and think, “That’s nothing! I could take care of that,” and I commit to taking it out by hand.

Yep. I said it. By hand. Me and my half-moon edger have chopped up hundreds of square feet of lawn, and let me tell you, I ALWAYS regret it–not taking out the lawn, but doing it by hand.

The alternative is a sod cutter. The sod cutter I’ve found to rent around here isn’t one of those cute little four-wheeled machines–it’s a giant, crude, unwieldy, gasoline-smelling thing I have to rent from a slightly out of the way vendor and haul back to the site. It also slices through most lawn like butter. (I know, I know, there are those little manual sod kickers and roll-y things. My edger is as good as those.)

People, it is NOT worth the extra money I earn for not having to pay the rental gods, not even for the weakest, thinnest, half-dead lawn. I’ve nearly killed myself a few times. And don’t forget, if your client doesn’t compost (or doesn’t compost giant MOUNDS of sod, because of course all that lawn piles up more than any reasonable compost pile), you still have to dispose of it, which is a huge project in itself. The lawn, it doesn’t come out without a fight.

SO… It’s been a while since I did any install work, but I’m saying this publicly, in front of the entire internet, for next time I do: next time, I rent the damn sod cutter.

Do you a tendency to bite off more than you can chew? Don’t be a hero. Join me in taking the pledge to think twice next time, look long and hard at how much it would cost to get a little help, or take a little more time. I think we’ll both be thankful we did. I bet these other GDRTers would agree (including special guest David Cristiani of The Desert Edge):

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA
Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

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