My Front Yard:
My front yard is a wood-fenced rectangle about 20 by 24 feet. It has been a multi-use part of my property serving as the “dog yard,” “bird feeding area,” and general buffer between the house and street. I am not a compulsive lawn manager and only reluctantly give in to the need to mow. This front yard area, though, always had a thick, green grass cover and was visibly healthier and more robust than any other lawn on my street. I attributed this to moderate applications of dog urine from two very gentle, very urinarily healthy dogs, Shiga (a golden retriever) and Danny (a schnauzer mix).
Danny and Shiga lived long, wonderful lives and, in the order of things, were eventually succeeded by Kozmo. Kozmo is a lab/golden retriever mix and is many wonderful things, none of them particularly gentle. The front yard began a steady process of deterioration under Kozmo’s incessant digging and post-defection soil scratching. The thick, green grass became less robust and bare patches appeared in the yard. Then, a few years ago, while dog-sitting a neighbor’s chocolate lab, Kozmo and the lab in the sheer joy of being vibrant dogs out with good friends, churned the front yard up into a mud pit during an afternoon rainstorm. Every spring and summer since, I have been trying to get the area’s grass cover reestablished.
The cycle was very simple and frequently repeated: in April, I spread grass seed with a light top soil cover. The seed slowly grew under the moistening of April rains or close attention with the garden hose. The new grass, light green and delicate looking, filled in the bare spots and the lawn took on a striped, patchwork appearance. Just as the new grass areas begin to mature and darken, though, either a summer drought (and a lack of artificial watering….the June water bill had arrived!) or the violent scuffing and running of Kozmo chasing a squirrel, the UPS man, the dog next door, or just celebrating a bodily evacuation ripped the new grass areas apart and returned the lawn to its early spring mud patch. The edges of the newly planted areas retained their cover each year, so the yard was slowly evolving back into an acceptable cover, but its glacial pace was only barely noticeable.
So, this winter, we decided to set up a different dog yard off of the side deck, to allow the ground in the front area to fully heal. This spring, I re-seeded the still bare patches and, keeping Kozmo out, I ignored the water bill and was blessed by a wet May and June. I watched the dense, green, grass plants grow and prosper. With Kozmo, and his tendency to charge the occupied bird feeders excluded from the area, the yard became a much more attractive habitat for birds. I doubled up the bird feeders and bird baths, added a routine to put out shelled corn for the larger birds and the squirrels and waited to see what would happen.
The results were amazing. We have significantly more birds at our feeders than in any previous year. Further, we have seen some bird species that had never been in the yard before. An indigo bunting (whom we named “Maury”) and an eastern towhee became regular visitors to the feeders. Rose-breasted grosbeaks (male and female) and myrtle warblers made occasional appearances, and ruby throated hummingbirds visited the flowers on the edges of the lawns. Our regular bird species (house finches, goldfinches, northern cardinals, song sparrows, chipping sparrows, white throated sparrows, white capped sparrows, northern cardinals, mourning doves, titmice, and chickadees) also came into the feeders in unprecedented numbers, and blue jays and grackles came for the corn, while American robins dug out worms from the accumulating seed husk pile.
A family of gray squirrels arrived in late May and has yet to leave. A large American toad, a species we have not seen in the yard for almost all of our “Kozmo” years, has been frequently observed prowling about the edges of the yard, and evening visitors (especially raccoons) make the corn supply go down quickly. Day or night, the yard is a source of great entertainment and suburban species support.
Kozmo isn’t too happy with all of this, though. This front yard was his domain for so many years, his perch for exuberant extension of himself into the surrounding neighborhood. The side yard off of the deck is a lesser place, barely fit, in his mind, for a second bathroom.
I was watching our toad yesterday, though, and saw the song sparrow fledglings feeding nosily around the adults on the ground under the feeder. Kozmo will have to settle for the side yard (and frequent blasts and hikes through the field and woods). It is a good compromise.