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Garden Wars


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.

The slippery slope starts with your neighbors complimenting your clematis, which leads to a spot on the local garden walk, then a membership in the garden club. Before you know it, you’re doing an end-zone strut-and-shimmy on top of your mulch pile screaming, “This is MY yard! You’re in MY yard!” to anybody within–or not within–earshot.

The lawn people (read: guys), of course, have a finely honed sense of competition. You know who I’m talking about: the ones who reach for the WMD the minute a single unsuspecting clover plant rears its benign, nitrogen-fixing head in April. With all due respect to my esteemed publisher and his “Man’s Garden” concept, those guys are card-carrying, fertilizer-spewing, genuine, 100 percent fruit balls. Fortunately, I am not a judgmental person. However, thanks to watching decades of sports on TV, those dudes have figured out how to compete with quantifiable results. That’s a huge advantage in a horticulture contest. I mean, if the category is “Lawns Cut to one-eighth inch”, you find the winner by measuring the lawns (italics mine). How hard can that be?

Interestingly, this approach has begun to creep into traditional gardening venues. You’ve undoubtedly read about those Whose-Dahlia-Is-As-Big-As-a-Hubcap and Best-Use-of-Water-Meter-As-Design-Element competitions. Especially the ones that spin out of control into “Touch-My-Peony-and-I’ll-Decapitate-Your-Gnome” melees. Tragically, garden rage is a growing trend. At least I saw it reported once on a cable news channel. The network later retracted the story, but the point is that it’s true (italics mine).

Regardless of how much mayhem the aforementioned garden competitions wreak on the horticultural world, somehow they miss the true nature of the American competitive spirit. Ergo, I present a few modest suggestions for contests that deal with real gardening (I have no idea where these italics came from).

World’s Strongest Gardener, Part I
Contestants carry planters that are obviously too heavy to be moved by one person back and forth across the yard until they are in need chiropractic relief. Bonus points for not ultimately dropping the container on your prize trillium, into your water feature, or on a chihuahua.

Name That Cultivar
Contestants go into yards and attempt to name the exact hosta, daylily or rose cultivar being grown. Penalty: contestants who fail must go to the nearest library to research and identify each unnamed cultivar before they can go home. After one week (or if they collapse from lack of food and water) they are disqualified.

Carl Linnaeus Binomial Nomenclature Spelling Bee
When the judges arrive at your garden, they point at five different plants. You must correctly spell the botanical plant name of each. Bonus for naming continent of origin. Penalty: for each name that is misspelled, judges dig out that particular plant and take it with them.

World’s Strongest Gardener, Part II
Contestants attempt to remove small trees that have taken root in their gardens without the use of digging tools or garden gloves. Penalties assessed for bending knees or employing leverage of any kind. Bonus points and Ibuprofen awarded for removing seedlings while stretching across beds wider than 5 feet.

Japanese Beetle Circus
Contestants collect the Japanese Beetles that are ravaging their roses and other expensive plants and train them to do tricks with miniature lawn mowers, fertilizer spreaders and tractors. Bonus points if you get booked on “Steve Harvey’s Big Time” on the WB. Penalty: having that many smart Japanese Beetles is its own penalty.

Insect Cook-Off
Contestants feed the club members while policing their gardens for nefarious pests. Points awarded for the best tomato hornworm hors d’oeuvres, slug stew and pillbug paté.
Excuse me, I need a napkin. I’m suddenly very, very hungry.

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questions

I have read that purple coneflowers (Echinacea) are a good source of food for birds in the winter. Will they be okay if not trimmed back until spring? If so, how early should they be trimmed?

I am growing my potted tropical hibiscus indoors for the winter. The leaves are starting to yellow and fall off. Should I give the plant iron and should I fertilize it? Do I cut it back, and if so, when?

I have a large variegated sedum with pink flowers that I have had for years. I noticed that it has started to send up some all-green shoots. Why is it doing this and how can I keep my plant variegated?

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