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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


More Beach, Less Grass

MIMI AND I SNEAKED out of town for four glorious days on the beach last week. One of our closest friends owns a spectacular home at Rosemary Beach in Florida. She and her daughter, a close friend of Mia’s, were going to stay a while and invited us in for the front side of their trip. I think it worked because it all happened so very last minute, that it left me very little time to start thinking of reasons why we shouldn’t leave. I usually think about our Corgi dog, Barney. Mimi knew that would come up, so she had already made arrangements for him to stay at a quiet place, with a friend that Barney loves.

I didn’t even have the excuse that our 10 pallets of sod, recently laid, would shrivel up and die. We had a good rain every day leading up to this, plus we have irrigation, and it looked like we were going to get a rain every day while we’d be gone. The folks that we work with every day assured us that they had our backs and that we should go. It kind of seemed more like “would y’all please go?”

After I had my trip to Oregon, I came home to tell Mimi how refreshing it was to get away for a few days. Like most people, we’ve not gone anywhere since way before the pandemic. Mimi has had a very good run these past couple years transforming our business into what it is today. She never stops.

I believe that someone with the mind of an artist needs to break away to seek inspiration in order to inspire others. Once we saw no roadblocks to stop us from accepting this kind invitation, we packed up some beach clothes and headed south. It still amazes me how quickly we can be here one minute, and six hours later, be in a totally new place with a different environment and climate and vibe. We did the normal beach stuff, walks on the beach in the evenings, runs early in the morning and generally loitering around all day. And when it comes to mealtime, we prefer to buy some good seafood and prepare it with our friends, rather than wait in line at a restaurant just to hurry through a dinner without really being able to talk to or hear each other.

One of the places that has given Mimi inspiration for years is Alys beach, a short bike ride from Rosemary. Over the years, every visit, we peddle through this community stopping to take pictures of the wonderful details that some very forward thinking person made into a reality. The entrances to the luxury homes are designed with lots of arches that lead to stunning courtyards. The pots and the plants that are used throughout Alys have always been a big part of Mimi’s buying decisions and closely resembles her style. If you’ve had the pleasure of having Mimi help you in your yard or have been to Garden Works to see what she’s brought in, you will know what I mean by her unique style.

Picturesque green spaces are situated throughout the grounds with fire pits or lawn games to play with your family in the evenings when it begins to cool down with the ocean breeze. It’s these hangout areas that I think inspire Mimi the most. They help her create a vision for these kinds of spaces in our own yard and for our clients. It’s important to have comfortable spaces in which to relax and enjoy the best time of the day, after the work has been done.

The part about these areas that tickle my fancy is the way grass is used for more of a softening effect. Instead of huge expansive areas of grass like I’m used to seeing here, they have patches and strips of grass, almost more for the color of green. I notice the children are drawn to these grassy patches and how it seems to have a calming affect on the beach weary little ones.

The surrounding areas are generally stark white, very much like the gorgeous pictures from Greece. The azure blue skies, stark white background of the homes with the earthen colored, cobblestone streets make the green grass seem a little greener. I have always loved that look and the practicality of less grass, not just less grass but grass used in artistic ways.

We have slowly, but surely, been doing away with vast expanses of lawn at our house. Areas with too much grass just feel like work to me and not my favorite kind of work, it always needs mowing or fertilizing, so you can mow some more. Grass can get weeds in it or may need a fungicide applied to it. It’s always something with grass, at least until it goes dormant, then it’s just brown. I don’t mean to come across as a turf hater. I’m not. I love small areas of very healthy turf, and I believe that blue-green turf grass can transform a place into a show stopper.

We have achieved less grass, but have a long way to go until I will think we’ve achieved that look which has inspired us. We have done away with some of the bigger areas of grass by adding hard features to our space. A great way to achieve less grass is to create big beds full of plants that will shade the ground, over time, to a point that weeds don’t stand a chance.

Of course, one of the goals in less grass is also less maintenance. Once we had the borders of our property bedded up and thick with layers of our favorite landscape material, we began creating island beds. Island beds can be all shapes and sizes. They float out in our yard, not connected to anything, but they still flow with the existing border beds to create some green paths running throughout the yard. I’m always careful to talk to the company that mows my place to make sure I’m not creating a nightmare for his equipment and his guys to get around without making a mess. I like to know the widths of his mower decks to make sure I have not blocked an area off to where it would be difficult for them to enter and exit.

We have recently added a huge seating area down near our pond, which minimizes the labor time over having turf there. We also built a big deck for our yurt to rest upon, and I’ve never had to mow my deck. The feature looks great in our view, especially when the lights are illuminating the yurt as if a spaceship has landed in our back yard.

WE HAVE A FEW dry river beds running throughout the yard to aid in drainage, which I don’t expect to be mowing. We had to add two stone bridges to allow the mowers to get from one side of the dry river bed to the other. The bridges are one solid, flat slice of boulder that are each around three feet wide by six feet long. They are gorgeous!

Our vegetable garden now has a pea gravel floor instead of grass, and some of our walkways are now pea gravel instead of grass. The pea gravel paths are wide enough for our golf cart to get around on. Running parallel to most of the pea gravel paths are narrow sod strips, about half the width of the paths, so you can imagine the colors that are running through our amphitheater shaped back yard.

The wooden sea wall is a natural wood color and has healthy green grass growing up next to it. Then, CorTen steel edging holds in the multi-earth-colored pea gravel walkway. Together, all the colors explode as the plants in the beds next to the paths do their thing. We look around sometimes and wonder if this is our own little Epcot! I guess that’s why we’ve never felt the need to go to Disneyworld. We have our own little version in our back yard. Maybe we will hand out little mouse ears to the next visitors we bore with a tour of our garden…at least it would make the tour more interesting.

I am still a fan of Milorganite as a turf fertilizer on our little patches of grass, as well as our massive expanses of grass that we have not yet minimized by adding more beds full of weed competing plants or fun hard scapes. We will continue to seek inspiration every chance we get, mostly when we travel, but also in other people’s garden spaces. I see a moon gate in our future. We fell in love with one at a botanical garden in Virginia. Then again, somewhere in the Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco, we saw a moon gate that we refer back to over and over… which means it’s in our future. We just have to figure out where it will go and how much turf it will eliminate.

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