Top Hill Garden, aerial, Hayman July 16, 2009 1

I confess: I keep a lawn. Call me heathen. I know lawns are environmentally suspect, but mine doesn’t ask for much. I’ve applied nothing from the periodic table that screams Skull and Crossbones. And I won’t plow this spit of land for the sake of butterfly weeds or bee pollinators. I’ve got plenty of both.

I love my little lawn.

My 500-square-foot greensward dissects two gravel scree beds in the back of our one-third-acre city lot. My good friend, the landscape architect Kirk Alexander, designed this portion of our garden on the back of a cocktail napkin. A couple of beers knocked back while sitting in the garden got the creative juices flowing.



Soon after it was planted, another friend, Marc Winston, looked curiously at the new creation, and with little hesitation, said the new garden looked like Putt-Putt at Machu Picchu. The name stuck. The gravel scree is planted with cacti, yuccas, sedums and other drought-abiding plants.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Other than my struggles with the nagging mulberry weed, this past summer has been a glorious growing season.

We’ve had cooler temperatures than usual, and it rained when we needed it. We went nearly three weeks in September without any rain, and while the countryside pastures looked parched, conditions weren’t dire. Early tomato blight and squash bugs tried to undermine my will, but they couldn’t beat me.

Putt-Putt at Machu Picchu Photo credit: Mike Hayman

Putt-Putt at Machu Picchu
Photo credit: Mike Hayman

October is my favorite month. It wasn’t always so. Fall colors were the onset of misery when I was a young teenager. The season signaled eight more long months until summer recess. The school year meant adolescent gloom. Summer was time off for bad behavior.

I’ve been trying to make sense of my teenage angst ever since. Fall eventually became a seasonal triumph. There wasn’t an epiphany that I can recall, or any behavior modification— besides smoking weed—but I started paying attention.

Black gums, maples and gingkos turn brilliant shades of red, yellow, orange and purple.

Leaf blowers begin their assault on my senses.

A half-dozen Ninja-like warriors, wearing bandanas, earphones and eye goggles, sweep through the neighborhood, yard by yard. The high-pitched drone of their leaf blowers edges ever closer to Putt-Putt at Machu Picchu.

Bush scree garden May 15 2009-1

We have many gardens up and down our city street. The plantings are exuberant and not very fussy. The lawns tend to be small and basically a blend of anything green that grows:  fescue, violets, broad-leaved plantains, Bermuda grass, crabgrass, and maybe even a little bluegrass.

My sins of the lawn dwell in the Bluegrass state. In Kentucky, we celebrate the green pastoral beauty that bluegrass mythically represents. We like to imagine our own native, homegrown grass as a luscious blue-green color. “Can you see the blue shades as you look across the pastures of the rolling Bluegrass countryside?” No I can’t. It looks green to me.

Bluegrass, Poa pratensis, arrived from England with the early white settlers. It doesn’t grow very well in our hot and humid summers. Turf-type tall fescues are the Kentucky lawn de rigueur. Most bluegrass seed is produced commercially in Idaho and Oregon. Little of it is planted in Kentucky lawns anymore.

I am not ashamed of my lawn. But I am afflicted by a menace in the vicinity of Putt-Putt at Machu-Picchu. I have been stung by sorrow where miniature golf meets the ruins of the Incas. Chiggers are punishing me again this year.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

If I’d been on the ball last spring, I would have followed Ned Hamson’s chigger-ridder advice. He wrote last year, in response to my Garden Rant piece on the Rigors of Chiggers: “Diatomaceous earth (food grade) is dangerous to critters with an exoskeleton but safe for everything else!”

These invisible insects arrived the year I installed the little zoysia lawn, and now they lurk. They inject tiny darts of itchy venom as surreptitiously as a KGB agent with a poison-tipped umbrella.

Hail at my friend Kathleen's Photo by Kathleen Matthews

Hail at my friend Kathleen’s
Photo by Kathleen Matthews

And then hail struck unmercifully on Monday afternoon. The pummeling lasted only a few minutes but shredded the leaves of elephant ears, angel’s trumpets, red buds and my big leaf magnolia.

Maybe hail is the price I paid for a winning bet on Lawn Ranger at the Keeneland Thorougbred race track on Sunday? “Great stalking trip,” the Daily Racing Form reported. The modest $2.00 Show bet paid $5.00. I didn’t think I was being that greedy.

The chiggers didn’t flinch.

Frost will set me free.