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:
One of the great things about being a columnist is that when you run out of ideas you can steal them from other people. Not only the ideas, mind you, but the actual words. Especially when people write you and say things like, “My aunt spat on her tomato plants every day during the growing season for sixty-three years and you’ve never tasted better tomatoes” or “I’ve invented a trowel that is so ergonomically perfect that it doesn’t just help older folks dig in their gardens, it actually cures their arthritis and re-grows hair!”
Those of you who are regular readers of this column are no doubt already aware that actual horticultural content is not my strong suit. Nevertheless, gardeners are hungry for answers. Most of the time, they don’t even care about the questions. For example, you can ask, “What is the capital of Albania?” and as long as the answer is “spray with a fungicide every 10 days,” you have lifted 97.3 percent of all gardeners (and this number has been proven in scientific studies) into a Nirvana-like state.
Hoping in some way to cash in on this unnerving phenomenon, I began searching for an area in the horticultural realm that has remained relatively unexplored for which I could provide answers, regardless of whether a single question has ever been posed. Eureka! I found it:
“Hey, Gerry.” “ Morning, Al.” “ Where’s Carey?” “ They moved him to the front this morning.” “ No kidding. Think we’re next? “ You never know.” “ Well, I’m gettin’ tired of sittin’ around here. Use me or lose me, I say. Did you hear about Cal?” “ Yeah, poor guy. I thought he was doing well.” “ Well, he was always kind of stiff. You know?” “ Yeah.” “ Now he’s real stiff. Know what I mean?” “ Yeah.” “ Real stiff.” “ I get it.”
If ever there was dark side to an avocation based on goodness and light, it is the idea of a “gardening competition.”
Excuse me, I had to get a towel. My hands were suddenly very, very sweaty. It starts innocently enough. We discover that the sight of a simple daisy in bloom is soooo much cheaper than a shrink, so we carve out a plot of our own in the midst of the urban or suburban asphalt and concrete wilderness. A seed, some soil, a little water, a touch of tenderness. Excuse me, I had to get a facial tissue. I was tearing up a little there.
Do you sing in the shower?
Um, I know that’s kind of personal and you don’t need to tell me what kind of soap you use but the point is, do you sing there but nowhere else? I ask only because I know that there are people out there who feel, well, incompetent at certain skills. Singing is a common one. Public speaking is another. Sports, cooking, electronics, home improvement, fashion, and let’s not forget origami, are other areas where the taunts of childhood acquaintances, spouses and co-workers can breed a sense of insecurity that can haunt people their whole lives.
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