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Gardener’s Guilt

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.)

Real gardeners, however, understand this simple truth: guilt that grows in the soil is stronger than guilt that grows in the soul. Real gardeners know that experiencing guilt is what we do better than real gardening. For us it is a science—no, an art—no, a raison d’etre—no, a raison de chocolate!

How do I know? Aside from the dull, throbbing, relentless remorse that makes all of my meals taste like peat moss and my dreams seem like an endless black and white film loop of Asexual Propagation of Telephone Poles and Other Hardy Urban Species, you mean?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, or perhaps are unsure why you unexpectedly weep at the site of an empty 1-gallon plastic pot, here is a check list of situations that might lead to Gardener’s Guilt, and the points awarded for each (in parentheses).

  • You really, really, really mean to get that flat of plants in the ground but forget they’re in the trunk of the car (1); for six months (4)
  • While rapidly pruning a tree in order to get back inside for the second-half kickoff, you accidentally remove the central leader (3); the entire north side of the tree (6); your left thumb (9)
  • You forget that you put bleach in the plant mister and use it on your bonsai (2); for three weeks (5)
  • You set up your brand-spanking-new pond, hit a switch and watch your now-electrocuted prize koi go belly up (4); watch a family of gray squirrels hop around like popcorn popping (5); watch your gazebo burn to the ground (7)
  • You promise to take care of your neighbor’s indoor plants while he is sequestered on a grand jury but fail to do it (2); you don’t collect his newspapers, either (3); you forget his name (6—geez, you’re really a bad neighbor)
  • You misread the label calling for “two teaspoons” of Epsom salts in a solution for your indoor plant as “two cups” (2)
  • While on the cell phone and backing out of the garage with your SUV, you manage to run over your one-of-a-kind dwarf redwood tree (3); your newly-purchased chipper/shredder (4); your neighbor’s newly-purchased Lhasa Apso (8)
  • You are distracted while mowing the lawn and buzz your wife’s broccoli patch (2); half a dozen brick pavers (3); the cell phone you dropped (2); your big toe (7); your neighbor’s newly-purchased hairless cat (1); on purpose (0, but you must admit it)

If you scored higher than 0.5 you have a real problem. By the way, most people never get over Gardener’s Guilt. Just thought you’d like to know. The best one can hope for is to move on or, in the case of several of the aforementioned faux pas, become a part of the Guilty Gardener’s Relocation Program and move to a different state. If you choose to move on (in the figurative rather than literal sense) here are a few things to keep in mind.

First, everybody who gardens kills plants. Perhaps not at the same astounding and near-pathological rate that you do but, hey, even Martha Stewart has killed plants. Unlike you, she probably has people whose sole job it is to make sure you never find out that she has killed plants. In fact, if someone else is writing this column for the next issue of this magazine, you’ll know that those people do their jobs very, very well.

Second, um, if that thing happens—you know, the someone-else-writing-this-column thing? Would you go to my house, pick up my newspapers and water my plants? You might have to break in. Tell the police Martha said it’s okay.


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