Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Brown, Brown Grass of Home

Once again, the rain has passed us by. I thought for sure that it was going to come yesterday, as evidenced by the bright orange and red on the radar (punctuated, as usual, with white popcorn blotches indicating lightning strikes). But even though other areas got doused, Celebration emerged bone dry once again. Early this morning, when I embarked on my walk, there were some ominous clouds that almost convinced me we were going to get a shower. But by the time my friend and I had finished our post-walk Barnie's treat, the sky was clear and sunny, with nary a hint of imminent rainfall.

Yesterday marked the second round of thunderstorms that we've missed this week. I don't want severe weather, but we are in desperate need of some rain. It's gotten so dry that we even had a fire downtown, supposedly caused when someone tossed their lit cigarette butt into a pile of mulch. Unfortunately, the mulch surrounded a pole leading up to the back porches of a condo building. A fire started due to the extreme dryness and traveled all the way up to the third floor. Thanks to the fire department's quick response, the damage was limited and I don't think anyone was hurt. But it's frightening to imagine that the consequences of that one little cigarette butt could have been a lot worse.

I've often tried to figure out when it became socially acceptable to toss a butt anywhere. People who would never chuck down a wrapper or drink cup blithely flick cigarette butts without a second thought. At best, it's unsightly and gross. At worst, when the weather is so dry, it can pose a real hazard.

Thankfully, so far most of the consequences of this dry spell are limited to the landscape. Every day, I've watched the park in front of my house morph from vibrant green to a deathly shade of brownish-yellow. I enjoy the park (locally dubbed "the croquet field," since it's just a huge plot of grass) because it's one of the few spots that is planted with actual northern-style grass. I've gotten used to the feel of prickly St. Augustine on my bare feet, and I've learned to appreciate its strong root system and admirable traits of survival. But every now and then, I slip off my shoes and traipse through the velvetly softness of the park.

If I tried that right now, the dried-out remnants of the grass would probably crumble into dust beneath my feet. My own hearty St. Augustine lawn is suffering, too. There is one large dead patch in front of my flower beds, and a cancerous tan is starting to spread in other areas. I water the bad patches diligently, and earlier this week I dug out the corner sprinkler heads. I had never even realized that there was a sprinkler at each corner of the head of the sidewalk until a neighbor pointed it out. They have a tendency to get buried under the greenery, so every few months I diligently shear the grass and dig them out.

So far, my flower beds have avoided any permanent damage from the dryness. When we first bought the house, I planted a few impatiens in the back mulch bed, just to see if they would survive. Not only did they live, but they actually flourished and took over the whole area. They seem to live even without supplemental water, but lately I've been giving them a drink from the hose just in case.

Back in the early days of Duloc Manor, I had also planted a plot of marigolds near one of the sprinklers. They did pretty well, but then they got too large and turned into nasty, bushlike things that I pulled out. Now, their offspring has turned that area into a bright, sunshine yellow flower patch. They usually get enough water from the sprinkler, but since we're limited to only three irrigation days a week, I've been giving them an extra drink, too.

Now that I'm in Celebration permanently, I have released the latent gardening tendencies that I had to suppress in my condo. Granted, I was able to have container gardens there, but somehow it's not the same. My front is planted with an eclectic mix of marigolds, petunias, begonias, and something called "creeping verbena." It's an ominous name, but I enjoy the pretty purple flowers. Since this is my first year gardening in Florida, I'm tossing in a little bit of everything to see what's hearty enough to survive. That way, next year I can refine my selections.

Since I am very "porch proud," I also have three container gardens to spruce up my front porch habitat. I have to be diligent about watering them, even in the rainy season, because they are too sheltered to get much of a drink from the rainfall.

Now that the oppressive heat is upon us, coupled with the lack of rain, I have to water my garden at least once a day. That is my morning task; every day, when I return from my walk, my cat Stitch joins me out front. He grazes on the greenery (all the better to barf in the house with) and stalks lizards and bugs while I hose down the plants. When it's particularly hot, I do an evening water session, too.

I suppose that the tourists would hate me for wishing for rain. After all, they've paid big bucks to visit Disney World, and cloudless blue skies means unlimited outdoor activitiy. I used to feel the same way myself back when I was a vacationer. But I also learned to plan around the typical afternoon showers; my husband and I developed a talent for predicting the exact times, and we'd make sure that we'd be eating lunch, or perhaps an early dinner, while the monsoons raged outside.

Right now, I wouldn't care if the rains just came overnight so they wouldn't spoil anyone's outdoor fun. A good overnight soaker would cut down on the fire danger and resurrect the vibrant green that is currently buried beneath the brown. Meanwhile, I'll continue the battle to keep my lawn alive and look hopefully to the sky for some welcome gray rain clouds.

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