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It All Started When We Decided to Mow the Lawn...

Frank Herholdt. Getty Images.

Years ago, I worked with my best friend Steve doing landscape construction. It was hard work and didn't pay extremely well, but it was very satisfying work. I told my girlfriend, who later became my wife, "When we have our own home I'm gonna cut out beds, fill them with high-quality mulch, and create a beautiful yard for us…"

At our last apartment, we had a very small back yard but I cut out a small bed and filled it with mulch, my wife planted a few flowers and we set up a small picnic table. It was nice. We were married for eight years before we bought a little "starter home" in 1987 and when we moved in we had a lot of work to do both inside and out. 

The lawn had been neglected for years and by the time we passed papers, it was beyond overgrown and full of tall weeds. It looked horrible! We're at the corner of a nice side street/cul-de-sac and when we first moved in I saw my new neighbors driving by and looking away from the unkept yard at the entrance to their neighborhood. They weren't happy about it. Having just bought the house I didn't have a lot of extra cash, so I went to the local hardware store and bought a really cheap Lawnchief 21" walk-behind lawn mower so I could at least clean up the yard. That ended up being the worst lawn mower I ever owned. I think I paid $129 for it and it never started unless I cleaned and gapped the plug, shook out the filter, and played with the throttle cable. Even then it was a crapshoot. One day I had had enough and I left it out on the curb and someone grabbed it. Good Riddance! I ended up buying a more expensive Snapper walk-behind that worked well for quite a few years… 

When I finished mowing the yard for the first time, despite using the Lawnchief, it looked pretty good, and almost immediately all the neighbors living in the cul-de-sac started waving and smiling at me. When you live on a corner lot facing the main road, your house welcomes people into the neighborhood. It's a big responsibility, one I've never taken lightly. My neighbors might think I landscape for myself only, but in reality, when my yard looks good it's a good reflection on them as well. When their friends and family turn down the side street, depending on their approach, my house could be the first house they see and their first impression of the neighborhood.

Over the years I've dug many new beds, my wife says "too many!", and she and I have planted annuals and perennials in an attempt to make our corner lot even more welcoming. I spread new mulch every other year and although it's been many years since I worked in landscape construction, I still find it very satisfying work. I thoroughly enjoy it.

I never liked having mulch dropped onto a blue tarp in the driveway, although I did it for years. For one thing, it took up several parking spots and no matter how quickly I spread it, there were always mulch stains under the tarp when I was done. Then, one Father's Day my wife asked me what I wanted to do since my three boys were away and it was just the two of us… There's an area in my front yard with a cluster of five trees and between the pine needles, pine cones, and leaves, nothing ever grew there. It looked terrible! I told my wife that on this Father's Day, I wanted to cut out a new bed. "A big fucking bed!" were my exact words.

I grabbed my wheelbarrow, edger, spade shovel, and the antique pick-ax I got for cheap years ago at the Norton Flea Market, now the site of a shopping plaza, and went to work. It was a tough job, but my real motivation for doing it was to create a bed large enough so at least eight yards of mulch could be delivered and dropped in the middle of it and my driveway wouldn't have to be involved in mulch deliveries ever again. I knew I'd be able to fill my wheelbarrow with mulch and easily distribute it to the other beds from there. Then, when all the beds were filled I could spread the remaining mulch in the big bed. Done!

Having the big bed (18' x 30') for the mulch is a real time-saver in the long run…

Digging that bed was an all-day job, and because it was mid-June, I was hot and sweating nonstop. There's no place to dump grass, leaves, or dirt on my corner lot so I wheelbarrowed all the old sod and dirt down the street to where my neighbor John had given me permission to dump grass clippings and leaves in his woods. I made several long, exhausting trips with mounded wheelbarrows…

My wife kept the liquids coming so I wouldn't get dehydrated. I stayed out there until it was done, which was long after dark. There's a street light right there that made my job a little easier. The big bed came out exactly as planned! 

Every other year I rake out the beds and take delivery of mulch and have it dumped smack in the middle of that bed. Last year was our year to do it, but we had some tree work done and we were waiting until it was complete before starting any landscaping. There ended up being a six-week delay due to weather and by the time the trees were downed and the stumps were ground we decided to wait until the following year (this year) to do the mulch.

It was in late winter/early spring, that I blew out both my knees within a month of each other, requiring cortisone shots in each. And then I suffered a nasty groin pull that was further complicated when an MRI revealed that I had an "inguinal hernia" along with one other issue, so the landscape work was initially put on hold. I got antsy though and decided to start cleaning out all 13 beds despite the injuries. When I was close to being done, I was feeling pretty good, good enough to finish the job. I did the math and estimated that seven yards of mulch would do it.

Preparing the beds for mulch is the hard part…

There's a 150-acre farm in Mansfield located on the banks of the Canoe River that's only a few miles from our house. "Flint Farm" is family-owned and operated and has been since 1868 when it was first established by a soldier from Maine who fought in the Civil War named Benjamin Flint. Six generations of Flints have operated the farm over the last 154 years. Currently, Benjamin Flint's great-great-grandson, Don Flint, is running the farm. In addition to being a great place to get mulch, they have an ice cream stand and a farm stand and their produce is some of the best around, especially their sweet corn. As a kid, I frequented Crescent Ridge Dairy in Sharon, and in my opinion, Flint Farm's ice cream is every bit as good! And, it's obvious all the people working there, in every capacity, enjoy what they do. We've been going to Flint Farm for years.

The boys loading mulch. (Delivery for 7 yards to Norton was only $18)

My wife and I took a ride by Flint Farm to look at their mulch and we both liked the Hemlock, the most expensive mulch they carry (of course). After we were hit by a couple of heavy wind and rain storms I needed to spend a few days re-cleaning the beds and pulling some newly grown weeds. After I was finished I went to Flint Farm and ordered seven yards of Hemlock and Don's nephew delivered it an hour later, backing up his dump truck and dropping it perfectly on the spot.

Seven yards of Hemlock in the perfect spot!

I spent several days spreading the mulch and I think it came out great. It's always so satisfying to see it finished. While we don't have a "Better Homes & Gardens" type of yard, not even close, my wife and I love it just the same. 

Currently, I'm walking behind a new Honda self-propelled mower that has ten settings between bag and mulch making it a lot more versatile than the Lawnchief, Snapper, and the two Toros I used over the past 35 years. And, I'm still making good on the promise I made to my wife when we were dating and dreaming about owning our own home. I've cut and cleaned beds, filled them with high-quality mulch, and continued creating a beautiful yard for our family year after year… 

And that little starter home has become our retirement home. We never left! 

It's our house and it's a very, very, very fine house…