The end of an affair


I hate to say it, but it's true: I'm in love with my lawn. My love affair began romantically in the promising early days of spring, as regular rain showers turned my backyard in Wyoming into something very Southampton-like. My lawn was worthy of a respectable English cricket game: A cushy playground for bare feet. Weed-free perfection.

But what began so blissfully was followed shortly by bitter disappointment and regret. My joyful celebration of what the rain, and (I confess) a dose of chemical fertilizer, had created, was doomed.

My affair with the field of turf in my backyard became dysfunctional when nature's sprinkler completely turned off in mid-June. The blazing sun mocked me, unrelenting, unforgiving. So I took matters into my own hands. Off to the shed I went, dragging out garden hoses, sprinklers of every size and specialty, and an assortment of adaptors, attachments, soaker devices, clamps and gadgets.

I traipsed back and forth across the lawn, adjusting, attaching, unkinking, untwisting. In a moment of triumph, I finally turned the spigot and felt water pulsing into the system, then the tss sk-tssk-tssk of sprinklers gearing up and sputtering out of winter slumber. The water meter spun, informing the local utility company of my official entrance into summer.

Not long after, maintaining my perfect lawn went from a tedious task to a terrible experience.

Snags and crimps developed in the hoses. Too much water pressure caused the soaker hoses I had so delicately lined along my flower beds to rupture. Leaks spouted water in all the wrong directions. Attempting to tighten two connecting hoses, I lost my grip and was thrown off balance by a powerful jet of water that left me soaked from my straw hat to my sandals. Defeated, I traipsed into the house to change into dry clothes and try again. No relationship should be this much work.

After several trips to the local hardware store - not to mention a blood blister from a misplaced hammer stroke -- I began to wonder. Is it all worth it? I mean, maybe this love affair was hopeless from the beginning. After all, I live in an arid region characterized as a high desert. Sagebrush is at home here, not my non-native turf.

I'm beginning to think it's time to break up with my lawn. Maybe start over and plant a hardier variety of grass that's more tolerant of this region's dry climate. If my grass is designed to grow in the tropics, maybe it doesn't belong in my backyard in Wyoming.

After all, Wyoming is the fifth-driest state, just behind New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Nevada. The average annual precipitation here is only 12 inches. When you really stop and think about it, growing a lawn in this part of the world just doesn't make sense. It's not like I have livestock to feed -- the only real benefactor is my dog, who sometimes likes to graze on blades of grass.

In addition to the heavy toll my yard takes on the municipal water supply, it's become a haven for weeds. Thanks to people like me, many backyards in the West are home to a cocktail of weeds toxic to native vegetation: knapweed, mustard, bindweed, crab grass, Russian olives, cheatgrass, and thistles. Uprooting all the bindweed that has now taken root in the south end of my lawn may become my new full-time job.

I'm not one to give up easily, but now that it's early August, my patience has dried up along with the grass. Now I have to wear shoes when I venture into my lawn because the grass is so dry in places it crunches underfoot. And the thistles don't exactly make for blissful frolicking.

But letting go isn't easy. Especially with expectations of a Victorian-style lawn still lingering in my American genes. I want it all -- ornamental green grass and all.

In the end, I decided to settle with imperfection. I'm not perfect, so why should I expect the same of my yard? If there's a patch of dry grass here or there, well, so be it. I will not be co-dependent. Next year will be different. I promise.

Kerry Brophy Lloyd is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( She serves her lawn in Lander, Wyoming.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at