“And I’m Hort Holler.” “Well, Hort, we’re about to enter the home stretch. Any thoughts?” “Any thoughts? Hoo-boy, Bud! A bunch of petunias. Look at ‘em!” “Petunias?” “You betcha, Bud. Never seen a bigger bunch of petunias in my life!”
“Uh, actually, Hort, I think you mean pansies.” “Pansies, petunias, whatever. I never seen a bigger bunch.” “You could be right about that, Hort. And they’ve certainly entertained this huge crowd, orange letters spelling out Viola wittrockiana in a sea of purple.” “I don’t know. That ‘W’ looks a little droopy.” “Well, Hort, it’s pretty toasty in that hot sun, especially for pansies.” “Get them pansies off the field! Get ‘em hydrated!”
I’m feeling guilty. Perhaps that’s because my column was due last week and I’ve now written, let’s see, 18 words.
But I’m feeling guilty also because I’m a gardener. Many people mistakenly believe that guilt has to do with the kind of religion you practice—you know, Jewish guilt or Catholic guilt. (I read once that people who suffer from Buddhist guilt come back in the next life as dung beetles. I’ll get back to you with that weblink as soon as I track it down.)
As Ned crept up to the gate, he was struck by the eerie glow emanating from the yard. The last thing Ned wanted was eerie glow all over his face but it was too late. Besides, Susan was in there somewhere and he wasn’t going to cut and run. Not now. Ned wiped some eerie glow onto his jeans, took a deep breath and moved into the yard.
The glow was coming from somewhere in the distance, partially blocked by rows of evergreens. Ned made a mental note. It was an E-flat. Then cautiously, he crept forward. Footsteps. Voices. Coming this way. A moment of panic.
Dear Diary, I’m soooo excited that I can hardly breathe!! Spring is almost here!! I can feel it in my very, very cold toesies, even through my warm, fluffy raccoon foot duvets. (No, no, diary, I would never ever use raccoon fur to line my foot duvets. The duvets are decorated to look like raccoons, complete with tails. It’s as if Davy Crockett got into the corn mash and started wearing his caps on his feet.)
Anyway, with spring just around the corner, it’s time to germinate seeds in the basement. I plan to spend the afternoon pushing away boxes to see if I can find the basement door. Wish me luck!
It might have been yesterday when, huddled under a fluorescent kitchen light with a cup of instant decaf, staring vacantly out the window at the arborvitae that was split in two by Tuesday’s ice storm, I began entertaining dark, dark thoughts about life without gardening.
I know that I am not alone. Heck, through the window I can see, somewhere just above my damaged arborvitae, a dark, dark thought-cloud hovering over the city, rising like smoke from the kitchen windows everywhere, which tells me that my fellow gardeners are on the precipice, too.
This is the time of year that many of us look back in our horticultural rearview mirrors the same way we would if we’d just hit a squirrel. We think about the fortunes of our gardens and grimace a little, squint a bit, and perhaps even tear up a tad. We recall the eagerness with which we approached the awakening of nature in the spring…“This is the year…” we said, “that I plow the north forty” or “…I start my blueberry patch” or “…I finally put in that pond” or “…I learn what 10-10-10 means” or “…I sharpen my pruners” or “…I get a tetanus shot.”
A gardening story recently caught my attention. At which point, some of you might ask, “Hey, you’re a garden writer. Don’t most gardening stories catch your attention?” At which point, true followers of this column chuckle in disbelief that any person reading this page could be so naïve. All I can say is, “I love you, true followers. You must be very, very lonely, but I love you.”
If the truth be told, ordinary gardening stories tend to affect me the way turkey affects Uncle Ned on Thanksgiving Day. Especially if he is reclining on the couch watching a particularly lopsided football game (usually, Anybody v. the Detroit Lions) after having consumed a couple pitchers of Mom’s special peach punch.
A funny thing happened to me on the way to writing one of my columns last year. I decided to draw something instead, thereby saving myself from writing about four hundred words and, simultaneously, terrorizing approximately 93% of the people who open the magazine to this page. (How do we know? We take dozens and dozens of scientific polls about every aspect of this publication. Doesn’t everybody?)
I titled that piece “I Can’t Draw, Don’t Ask Me” and a second funny thing happened a couple of months ago. It won an award from the Garden Writers Association (of America, no less). For illustration. This is what we in the writing business call “irony.”
I had just finished an environmental talk to a local gardening group. It was the usual advice. Don’t do an oil change on your car and spread the spent lubricant on your trilliums. Adding cigarette butts to your compost pile won’t necessarily kill the pathogens, though it may get them addicted to nicotine. When you have a soil test, always check for Strontium-90 in your tomato patch. In short, we’re all going to heck in a handbasket and there’s little you can do about it. Feeling pretty proud of myself, I said I would entertain questions from the now wide-eyed and terrified gardeners.
A woman on my right (which is “stage right” and “audience left” for those of you whose misspent youths and early adulthoods didn’t include long delusional stretches when you thought you were going to make millions of dollars as actors) calmly raised her hand and demanded: “What do you spray to get rid of chipmunks?”
There is no better part of the year for a gardener than right now, assuming you’re reading this around March or April and didn’t misfile your magazine and rediscover it in November. Gardeners love spring more than anything except puppies (you’d have to be a true evildoer not to like puppies) and wax eloquent with words like “rebirth,” “renewal,” “spring solstice” and “spring rolls.”
But if this is a time to look forward, it is also a time to peer into the rear view mirror at those horticultural casualties of the past 12 months. I always seem to have more than my fair share. Thus it is with a heavy heart that I present:
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