You have a yard. You're having a party. Your yard looks like shit. The party is tonight. What to do? The answer, my friend, is triage.
My mother taught me the art of triage. With four siblings, each of us curious, active, and sloppy, I grew up in a house that was messy in the extreme. I'm talking jetsam and flotsam to the knees messy. My mother didn't mind. She spent her days keeping us alive, sipping Coca-Cola out of bottles, and painting. My father didn't mind. He was always at work.
But once in awhile Dad would call on his way home to say that his boss or a coworker was with him. In that moment my mother became a clear-seeing machine. After about ten seconds of staring down the house and yard, she'd tell us to get moving. And we moved. One of us headed for the driveway and sidewalk to clear out random toys, popsicle sticks and kittens. Another did the same in the entryway, living room, and dining area. If there was time, these areas would also get vacuumed and dusted. If not, oh well. Someone would head for the kitchen to clean off counters and hand wash the dozens of dirty jelly glasses from our morning and afternoon Kool-Aid breaks. I remember heading for the "guest bathroom" with Spic and Span and Windex, dish cloth in hand, to wipe down everything I could reach. Random toys, clothes, shoes, and kittens were tossed (the kittens, carefully) into a huge "laundry room" off the kitchen where they could later be claimed as needed.
When my father walked in the door, guest in tow, what they experienced was a clean-smelling, neat house with tired, happy (to be done cleaning) kids saying hello. Lined up according to height, we always looked a little like the Von Trapp family lineup must have looked after a long concert. When the guest left, we'd often be rewarded with late night television or a ride to the ice cream parlor. Triage was a system that worked for all of us.
With guests heading your way at the speed of traffic (which means Seattle readers have more time to get ready than Portland folks, who have more time to get ready than those of us in Eugene), think triage.
The place to start? Where your guests will experience their first impression of your place. Figure out where that is and get going. Sweep. Pull the weeds you see. Trim back any broken tree and bush limbs that are visible or could potentially maim.
If you have more than, say, 45 minutes to prepare, get some color out there. Quick ways to do this: Carry inside plants outside or backyard planters to the front. I'm also a great fan of spontaneous art in a garden. A Buddha head here, a statue of Mary or Ganesh there. A stupa. Glass balls. A cluster of old kids' toys artfully arranged so they'll be noticed out of the corner of a newcomer's eye. Forget water features unless they are already up and running. Water features are never as easy to pull together as instructions and nurseries promise. Leave them for the doldrums of August, I say.
If there is time, edge. If there is more time, deadhead. If there is anyone within reach who will help you for less than $15 an hour, ask him or her to follow suit in the back yard, if you have one. Forget the sides of your house. If you have guests who will roam that far afield, they deserve to see the bindweed and nettles that continue to make your life miserable. If you don't have someone who can help in the back, keep those curtains or shutters half-closed. This will make your visiting space feel very, oh, I don't know, European, all the while softening the look of the dead petunias, broken limbs, and weeds growing up through the edges of the patio brick.
In your last ten minutes, a quick shower, a long glass of cool water, a few deep breaths, and you are ready for your party. Unless you were supposed to be cooking all this time.In the garden last week: guerillas.