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Cultivating Wayward Sprouts


I am a bad influence. And not just on would-be gardeners. Oh, no, it’s far worse than that.

I am corrupting America’s youth. Literally, as you will see.

I recently received a Facebook message from a friend, who has a daughter named Lily. He wrote, Lily, as you may or may not know, is a fairly adept writer for a third grader, and she routinely aces her school assignments. But recently she earned an F on an essay that was supposed to be about “spring.”

I could sense storm clouds brewing. My friend proceeded to describe Lily’s essay as “stream-of-consciousness stylings” (uh, oh) and how her student teacher found it “semi-comprehensible.” He went on:

So when we asked her how she came to approach the assignment that way (instead of writing a boring 3-point essay), she said “I was using Mike Nowak’s gardening column as my inspiration. He’s hilarious!”

He finished, You have a new #1 fan in Lily, age 9. And you’re partly responsible for her first F in grade school. Well done!

If I follow the logic correctly (not one of my strong suits), I think I just received an “F” on a third-grade paper. Ouch. Since it seems I am at least partly responsible for this educational carnage, I thought it might be useful to look at the offending work and perhaps provide poor Lily — and her teacher — with a little insight from that off-kilter place known as my mind.

Here’s how she begins.

Do you know what makes me sad? When it snows in spring! That and when our lilac won’t bloom and when I can’t do a backfloat without sinking! Well, enough with that negativity; there’ll be enough of that in paragraph 2…

I can already spot Lily’s first mistake. She is much too kind. I never prepare my readers for what is to follow. She continues.

Booaaaahhhhhhhh! Snow!!!!!!!! Eeeeewwwww! Bleeeeeccchh! Iiiiiiiiccccccccchhhttthhhh! In March??????? Oh, for Pete’s sake! Mr. Weatherman, you and I need to have a little quiet talk. DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU ARE DOING? APPARENTLY NOT!!!!! BECAUSE YOU’RE PREDICTING STORMS AND WE WANT SUNSHINE! Thank you, bye. (I don’t think I’ll be able to speak louder than this all spring.)

Stop right there. I do NOT resort to manipulating font sizes to get my points across. Lily, dear, just stick to words. Like booaaaahhhhhhhh. However, I do believe you mean booyaaaahhhhhhhhh. But I quibble. Also, criticizing weather forecasters is soooo 20th Century. If it were me, I’d go after the clown who created Facebook. Continuing,

Okay, we’re definitely inhaling too much negativity. Let’s cheer up with flowers!! (Silence.) Let’s forget the flower idea. But I’ll still tell you about my lilac bush! (Groans.) La la la, I’m not listening! My tulips are thriving, and so are my . . . Ah, forget it. (Cheers.) Aaauuugghhh!!!!!

Ah, I spot an issue. Overuse of parenthetical phrases. (I avoid that, by the way.) (Really.) Moving on:

Oh, rats! I can’t even float without sinking! Oh, hi! I’m just griping about swimming class. I’m making it all up! I really enjoy it! I even make fancy dives at the end of class. We do knee dives, pencil dives, and sometimes cannonballs. Kersplash!

Now she’s just showing off. I don’t mean about writing or horticulture. I mean about swimming. Can you do a pencil dive? I don’t even know what that is! Okay, here comes the big finish.

Well, we’ve talked about the weather, swimming, and gardening. I’m running out of time so I’ll wrap up here. Good bye!

I…I…(sniff)…I’m sorry, I’m tearing up a little. I have a 9-year-old disciple! You write and write and scheme and plot and lie awake at night worrying about dangling participles and how to steal ideas for stories and sometimes you even find time to think about gardening (not too often, admittedly.) But you think that the day will never come when you will be understood by someone, anyone, and then be able to pass the torch to the next generation.

I’m all verklempt. I’m spilling crocodile tears onto my keyboard, I’m–I’m, uh, I’m on deadline. Lily, any ideas for next issue?.

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questions

I brought a frangipani (Plumeria) back from Hawaii last April when it was just a leafless branch. It sprouted leaves and grew over summer. Now it is losing its leaves. How can I keep it growing over winter? Will it bloom?

My split-leaf Japanese maple tree is 15 to 20 years old, about 7 feet high and about 10 feet wide. It is overtaking the corner of the yard. Can I trim it, and at what time of the year?

My lilac had a grayish blight on the leaves this summer. What caused this and how can I prevent it?

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