Texas

Texans pride themselves on many things, but few are odder than a ground covering called St. Augustine grass.

Since moving to Texas, I have become familiar with the fragile nature of this crop, but certainly not appreciative. I still don't understand why people in a relatively arid climate worship a yard covering that can't stand drought.

Where I come from in the Midwest, grass just grows. St. Augustine grass needs constant attention, especially in a summer like the one that continues here with temperatures close to 100 degrees and an almost total lack of rain.

In rainy Houston, St. Augustine grass makes sense. But here, at that point in Texas that marks the geological beginning of the West, we have our doubts.

To the untrained -- read "northern" -- eye, this supposedly precious vegetation looks suspiciously like what we always referred to as crab grass. In fact, it took considerable effort to persuade some Washington friends that what we were growing here was in fact something to be desired. Don't try sitting on it, though.

I will admit, when properly trimmed, edged and watered, St. Augustine grass makes for a handsome yard. But with each trimming comes a renewed problem. When clipped short, St. Augustine grass has a tendency to burn out in a matter of days under the Texas sun. Once that happens, the only solution is replanting the plugs that produce the runners that spread the grass.

That, in turn, means that evenings here are devoted to watering the lawn.

The grand yards of the wealthy contain elaborate underground sprinkler systems, and as dusk comes each day the better neighborhoods come alive with sprinkler heads. That's how the leisure class takes care of St. Augustine grass. The truly needy have to get physical.

Our landlords (who now live in Washington and are no doubt reading this with some concern) have left us an assortment of hoses, sprinklers, nozzles, timers and gauges. Unfortunately, they did not leave behind someone to run them.

As a result, our evenings are spent rotating various hoses and sprinklers to put down enough water to keep the St. Augustine grass green and happy. The shape of the lawn is not quite in synch with the reach of the sprinklers, however, which means the street and the driveway have also been kept in good shape.

According to the local paper, Austin got 0.13 of an inch of rain in July and 0.77 of an inch in August. My informal record shows that our yard got none, although we were away for two weeks and, according to reports, the yard received, at most, about an hour's worth of showers.

Mercifully, a week ago Friday, we got a tremendous thunderstorm. It didn't last long enough to bring what you in Washington like to call a lasting solution, but it at least made for a weekend without hoses.