Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My desperate landscape

Some time last week, my mom recommended that I check out a show called "Desperate Landscapes" on the DIY Network. The premise is that the producers pick out a house that's got the worst yard in its neighborhood, and in a single day—while all the neighbors are off at work—they transform it into the best-looking yard in the neighborhood. I watched a couple of episodes on Hulu, and while I found it somewhat interesting to watch the transformations, I quickly found myself getting annoyed with it. Basically, this show has the same problem as most of the shows that focus on interior redesign or remodeling: they're working with an essentially unlimited budget, so they don't have to make any choices about how to spend their money most effectively. They can just put in anything they think will look good. And the result is indeed a yard that looks good, but it's a $25,000 yard that looks good—not something an ordinary homeowner can aspire to.

Unless, of course, they can win the contest that I just saw announced in the Star-Ledger. Submit photos or a video of your own desperate landscape, and you, yes, you, could be the lucky recipient of a $25,000 yard makeover and the subject of a one-hour special episode. (Well, actually, you probably can't, because the deadline is tonight. But someone will.)

Now I admit, our yard has plenty of problems. The "foundation" shrubs are so overgrown that they're starting to block the windows, while the "lawn" is basically a monoculture of dandelions. And since we absolutely refuse to use herbicides, pretty much the only way to get rid of the weeds is to replace them with something that can grow better than they can—no easy task for a site with full sun and clay soil so dense it could easily form bricks without straw.

But even with all its flaws, when I go over my checklist of things I'd like to do in the front yard—or even the front and back put together—I honestly can't come up with $25,000 worth of stuff that needs to be fixed. With that budget, they'd have to replace absolutely everything (lawn, shrubs, walkways, walls, driveway, everything) just to get the money spent. And I don't want to replace everything. I certainly don't want them tearing out my little cherry tree that we planted together for our anniversary, or all the creeping phlox that I've taken such pains to plant, weed, and divide over the past several years. In fact, it would be about as anti-ecofrugal as you can get: deliberately trashing stuff that's still good in order to spend more money.

So I decided, instead, to enter the other contest covered in the Star-Ledger article, called the "Yard Smart Intervention." This one, sponsored by yard equipment maker Briggs & Stratton, has a smaller grand prize of $1,500 (plus some power tools and a one-day consultation with their landscaping expert). This amount would be enough to cover everything I'd like to do in the front and back yards put together—or at least, everything except the front steps, and those aren't an urgent priority. Plus, I have a much better chance of winning this one, since they're actually picking three prize winners, one each in May, June, and July. For an ecofrugal homeowner, three chances to win $1,500 worth of improvements are better in every way than a single chance to win $25,000 worth of improvements that you don't really need or want.

So, my entry is now in the running, and voting starts in 13 days. Wish me luck.
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