Monday, May 4, 2009

Dreaming of grass

Before I got Stella, I had big plans for the backyard. There has always been too much shade in the back from the neighbours' huge overhanging trees and that put restrictions on the type of vegetation which would grow but still, there was a beautiful, young Japanese maple back there, a couple of nice rose bushes, some variegated shrubbery, a wonderfully scented mock orange tree and a healthy, fully blossoming lilac bush. In addition, I wanted to establish a garden with different types of grasses and blossoms and moss covered stones. The remaining space, ideally, would be covered with soft lawn grown from seed.

I began to realize that I'd need to rethink my plans when one day, probably a month after I brought Stella home, she came up to the back patio door and proudly walked into the house with a big stick in her mouth. That big stick was the the Japanese maple. She had pulled it out of the snow covered ground, ripped off all the branches and was going to finish off the job of stick chewing inside the house on her comfortable bed.

If Stella were a toaster, I would've traded her in for a different model right then and there.

The next three years saw various attempts at trying to establish some semblance of green life in the backyard but the lawn became a failure all three years in a row. I tried seed. I tried sod. I tried seed and sod. I'd fence off the newly grassed area and once I thought everything had taken root or turned nicely green, I'd let Stella in and for the first few days all was well. Inevitably, though, big round patches of brown would appear and pretty soon the green was polka dotted with those flattened, dead areas. It was like I had my own fleet of dwarf UFOs creating not so impressive crop circles.

Within a couple of months, the brown overtook the green and all hope was lost. Between the neighbours' overshadowing trees and Stella's buckets of pee, not a blade of grass survived and eventually everything turned to mush and then back to primordial backyard mud.

Over the years, several of the bushes died long pathetic deaths and those were probably caused by a combination of too much or too little pruning, not enough water and, again, too much pee - especially after Barclay showed up on the scene.

Much of the original ground level, blossoming flora in the back also suffered trampling, tearing, knocking over and, of course, too much pee and not much of it pulled through either. The stuff that did survive back there has made it through such a harsh environment that it could probably take over the planet if left unchecked. I don't know what any of that stuff is called but most of it has sharp stingers and will eat small animals.

Eventually what I ended up doing was fencing off a few slivers of the backyard where it got at least a few hours of sun every day and relegated any gardens to those areas. The rest of the yard was covered in either flag stone or wood chips. The cedar chips covering the mud was the only workable solution I could come up with to still allow the dogs access to the backyard without them tracking in big paws worth of mud every time they journeyed outside and back.

Unfortunately, all this meant that there was no grass left.

When Rocky joined the family a few years later, the backyard was pretty much in the same state it's in now. There was no soft place for the dogs to lie down on that wasn't either dirt or wood chips. Stella would just take over our one reclining lawn chair but Rocky preferred dirt and if dirt wasn't available, he'd make it available by digging through the chips to get to it. He just loved to curl up in a freshly dug, nicely damp dirt patch and that meant a really grimy, earthy smelling dog.

This year, dreaming the impossible dream of cleanliness with two big dogs, I decided to try putting down some fake grass on what used to be Rocky's favorite dirt patch. This fake stuff is supposed to be pretty similar to the real stuff. The artificial blades are cut to about 3 - 4 cm, it allows for good drainage, it feels somewhat similar to real grass - though I think it's a bit "crispier" - but best of all, it won't die under a deluge of piss or a lack of sunlight.

The real test, of course, was whether or not the dogs would take to it. I was a little worried because it smells quite different from real sod but there was no need for concern. The dogs took to it fine.

Stella: Grass is mine.

As soon as I laid down the piece of fake grass, Stella came over and decided it was hers and stretched out on it. I had to keep shoving her off several times as I was cutting and placing it.

Rocky: Mmm, comfy. Now rub my feet.

Rocky, at least, had the manners to wait until I was done and then he came over and moshed into Stella and gave the new ground a good sniff. I guess it smelled artificial enough that he decided not to anoint it and then he too collapsed onto it.

They've been luvin it ever since.

Stella: "You know, this fake grass isn't too bad ...

... except for that stinky pile of furbag over there.

I'll just stay over here while you clean that up."


Anonymous said...

Wow, Fred. That fake grass looks pretty good! And they sure do seem to gravitate toward it.

Been there too. No more soft flowers or plants, just hardy shrubs and trees (including two Japanese maples that are still standing). Went through the sodding then seeding processes but shade seemed to be an issue even more than the dogs. Laid down something called Eco-Lawn which is shade and drought tolerant, but even that didn't last.

So last year, we finally went fully Japanese with stone: "pee" gravel, beachstones, tumbled blocks.

Sodding in 2005 looked OK but died by July:

Eco-Lawn in 2006 looked OK but died by July:

Finally gave up and did stone in 2008:

Last I looked, the stone was still going strong.

Fred said...

redstarcafe, that pea gravel looks great. I was thinking about using that too but I don't have access to the backyard (except through the house) so it would've been difficult to get the necessary amount back there to cover the whole area. It was bad enough lugging literally two tons of flagstones by hand and by wheelbarrow through the neighbour's yard - because they do have access - and then into ours.

Did you do a "proper" install with a sand and gravel layer first (or whatever it's supposed to be) or did you just throw down the pea gravel? I might put some into certain spots in the back now that I see how nice it looks in yours. How's it for clean-up and raking leaves off?

Anonymous said...

Fred, I don't have wheelbarrow access either. The back gate is too narrow, so I just hauled the stuff through one bag at a time over several weeks. It still beat having some landscaper do it for thousands of dollars.

No proper foundation for the gravel. The yard was uneven with tree roots, so I just removed the top 4 inches or so. I haven't seen any weeds - probably too much pee and shade.

Still raking the leaves off gently. I was told to use a broom but a fine rake seems to give better control.

I was worried that the dogs might not like it on their sensitive little feet, but they took to it quickly. It's a lot cleaner for picking up poop, and they don't track mud in after it's rained. They do kick up the pea gravel into the shrub beds but it's meditative to pick it out, pebble by pebble...

The fake grass looks really good. Where did you get it?

Fred said...

We should start a club. The no sun, no access, too much pee club.

I got the grass from Synlawn because I picked up a folder from them somewhere - not because I did much research.

It does look pretty good in the photos though I find it's actually a bit too shiny in real life. They've supposedly got more realistic looking varieties but I got the cheapest, durable stuff because I really just wanted to test out a section of it for a season or two before I buy any more of it. With the way the dogs are using it, though, I don't think it's going to see much wear and tear.

Anonymous said...

hahahahahahahahahah! Amazingly cute!!


onequarterdal said...

Hey can we join too?

I have a female who is leaving dwarf UFO's, and a male who pees on anything vertical (so bottom branches are a lovely brown on all our evergreen trees and shrubs).

I try to get her to pee on the pine needles, but she'd rather pee on grass :-(

We have access, lots of pee, and lots of shade. We too have done the seed, sod, seed and sod and some top dressing in between all of the above.

We have some flagstone, some gravel in the areas that were trampled, some wood chips.

I bought a book called Dog Friendly Gardens, but its a wee bit too late. LMAO at this article, beautiful and man can we relate.


Fred said...

onequarterdal, yeah sure, you're in. Club's open to anyone with mini-crop circles in their backyard.

I really shoulda taken pictures of those. Would be funny to look at them now. Not so ha ha back then.

Anonymous said...

LOL, you could put down a Persian carpet and they'd go for it. That was a little let-them-eat-cake-ish, but what is it about cats and dogs, especially when they need to sleep, barf or pee?

onequarterdal said...

Yippee, I love being an "insider". Who knew my dogs pee ruining our yard was the kicker! We're proof positive that hostas are NOT as resilient as the experts claim, they can be trampled to death.

Now if I can find a blog featuring cats and hairballs, I'll have all the bases covered.

Maybe you could run an article on the best outside poop container too 'cause that ones a beaut when you lift the lid in the dead heat of summer. Enough to make me faint. Of course waking up in pee soaked grass would be much fun. Love the fake grass shot. It looks pretty good actually.


Cathrine said...

Oh, yes, do we know about that! Even now, with only two dogs in the yard, what was a nice patch of grass and garden when we moved in is now a shambles of mud and potholes -- and Bengali 'grass' is tough stuff!

I'd ask to join the club, but we don't have the crop circles -- you need a certain amount grass for that. Will you accept the potholes in their place? Genuine, guaranteed dog-dug holes, deep and wide enough for a 15 kilo dog to curl up in when the heat gets to be a bit much.....

Fred said...

Cathrine, pot holes are acceptable as long as your lawn has already been previously destroyed.

I've never heard of Bengali grass but somewhere on the planet there must be some variety of grass (that's not plastic) that can withstand dog pee. If we can find it and market it, we'd be set for life.

onequarterdal said...

My male as a youngster used to dig 12' trenches, following mole tunnels.

I used to rush out and patch the trenches best with the kicked up turf I could but they're kind of hard to hide from your spouse...

I need to re-read that dog friendly garden book, maybe there is a grass that's pee-resilient. LMAO.


susan said...

Hi, just found your blog, this is such a funny post. My whole front yard smells like pee although there isn't a lot of grass to kill. I'm sure (my) Stella, would be trying to drag that beautiful faux lawn in the house with her.

Fred said...

Susan, oh yeah, I know that smell too well. Thank goodness for rain.

Social Mange said...

The artificial turf looks great, Fred, and the dogs certainly seem to have taken to it. Beats the usual "scorched earth" yard one has with a female dog.

Anonymous said...

I'm still cracking up over Stella's "furbag" comment.

That lawn product looks awfully good. I did check out their site although with all the pea/pee gravel, it's too late for us. Had I known...

Onequarterdal: the best poop container is the neighbour's green bin. Mine is usually full of *it anyway, so it wasn't a stretch for my next-door neighbour to dump a teeny-tiny baggie of his grand-daughter's foofy-dog poop last weekend. It is DWARFED by the kitty litter and baggies from my mighty shiba inu's!

Barb said...

I've never heard of artificial grass (other than something like Astroturf which is SPIKY) - that looks great!

I prefer to think of my Danes as landscape architects in training. Only problem is, they never seem to get around to actually graduating, but are just perpetual students, always experimenting...

I have long wanted to put in some pea gravel but haven't yet. I do use wood shavings in really wet weather, and that helps A LOT.

dogwuver said...

If you are interested, I found a magazine at the home improvement store that it literally dedicated to gardening with dogs in mind. I have five dogs, so as you imagine the pee could become a Niagra Falls situation. I plan to start the new project in a few weeks, but the gist of the idea is that certain plants have smell that makes dogs want to pee, and other plants make them not want to pee there, so we organize a "pee zone" by strategically using these plants. The mag is also helpful about only creating gardening designs which arent toxic for dogs.

Fred said...

Sure, what's it called?

dogwuver said...

It is called (oh, the cheese factor is high here) *Dogscaping*. Like I said, we havnt tested it yet, but we plan to in a few weeks. Here is hoping!

Fred said...

Thanks, I'll check it out!

Anonymous said...

How is the fake grass holding up? I have two diggers and wondering how they might like it

Fr ed said...

Fake grass held up fine but my dogs weren't diggers so not sure how it would have fared under those conditions.