Once upon a long, long time, like sixty years ago (before my time, of course), Rheta Potter Harp bought two plugs of hearty zoysia grass for her country yard in the boonies of Hereford. She bought them downtown and spent fifty cents on them. Back then, shopping was done all the way downtown on Howard Street. And the trip up to Maywood was via the York Road, since the interstate was not yet a reality. Grandson John (now known as PopPop) thinks she bought them at Hochschild-Kohn’s department store. Wife of grandson John (that would be me) disagrees. Rheta told me the story herself and I’m sure she did not buy zoysia grass at a department store. I want to say it was Woolworth’s. It was definitely a five and dime type store, but it could have been Kresge’s, which was right across the street from Woolworth’s.
Got that? If you’re really old, you’ve just had a little trip down memory lane. But if you’re that old you probably don’t use the internet. The rest of you have had a slight introduction to Baltimore shopping history.
So Rheta planted her two little zoysia plugs and at the end of the season they turned crispy brown. Well, humph! She was not satisfied with her “dead” grass and went back to Woolworth’s/Kresge’s/not Hochschild-Kohn for a refund. Which they gave her.
Now, Rheta had phenomenal gardening skills, particularly with irises, but she did not know that zoysia grass always turns crispy brown at the end of summer, far in advance of the other types of lawn grass. But it is thick and tough and can endure all sorts of difficult conditions. And those two little zoysia plugs did. They came back the next year and thrived. Twenty years later they had filled in the yard. Forty years later they were spreading down the hill. Sixty years later they are taking over the field. They remind me of the Shel Silverstein poem “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out”: the (zoysia) reached across the state, from New York to the Golden Gate. And there, in the (zoysia) she did hate, (the lawnmower) met an awful fate.
This summer, grandson John (aka PopPop) decided that–daggone it!–he was finally going to have a garden down on the field. He rented a tiller to turn over all the zoysia grass, and he erected a sturdy fence to keep the deer out. The zoysia has been thrilled with all the attention. The tilling provided a wonderful aeration of the soil, and John’s frequent mowing along with timely rains has that grass looking good enough for picnicking. The vegetables, meanwhile, are struggling to maintain ownership of their plots.
John is concluding that the way to garden on the field is to smother the zoysia with mulch and garden on top of it. Other people have successfully done this with sheet composting or lasagna gardening. Patricia Lanza has written a gardening book called Lasagna Gardening and there are various web sites that give instructions on how to do it. We have plenty of dry leaves, composted leaves, and grass clippings to work with, so this seems like the perfect solution to a zoysia-filled field.
For now, the zoysia is content to play host to several modest vegetable plots. Come fall, it will have to make way for lasagna. As for Rheta’s initial investment…even without the refund, she definitely got her money’s worth.