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Life without Gardening


There’s a famous New Yorker cartoon that pictures an old tire, a can, a bottle and a pencil on a flat, featureless landscape – save a few non-descript rocks – that stretches to dull gray clouds on the horizon. The caption reads, “Life without Mozart.” The most chilling part of this drawing (if you’re me) is that it uncannily evokes my own yard.

By the way, no matter how often I remove the tire, the can, the bottle and the pencil from my property, they reappear by the next morning. There’s an episode of “The Twilight Zone” ready to be written here, or perhaps a reboot of “Groundhog Day.” I would particularly welcome the latter, since I think I was the only Chicago actor who didn’t land at least a walk-on part in that film, which is something else that I re-live over and over and over again. But I digress.

Getting back to the cartoon, it could also easily be called “Life without Gardening” for obvious reasons. Which got me to thinking, what if, instead of seeing dull gray clouds on the horizon, you see spring looming, and the thought of another year of germinating, buying, mistreating and ultimately killing plants doesn’t exactly fill your heart with joy but makes you shudder? What if you decided that you’d had enough and you were going to opt out of growing things altogether?

Could you do it?

I’m not talking about how to explain it to your neighbors, who might actually welcome the news. I mean, how would you explain it to your scraggly lawn? Your accidentally exotically-pruned foundation shrubs? Your curiously sited and consequently sickly clematis? Grandma’s apple-scab-ridden crabapple tree? They’re already not particularly fond of you. And don’t you even think about telling them via email or text. That’s just plain rude.

Oh, I know. You assume you’re off the hook because you grow just a few indoor plants. As if the pothos with 20 feet of vine between the two remaining leaves or the jade plant that you stopped watering in 1993 don’t harbor thoughts of ill will toward you. You’re the only person in the world who knows how to overwater a lucky bamboo. You know, the plant that grows in water. Yeah, I’m talking to you, too.

What makes you think that those long-suffering plants will let you walk away scot-free anyway? Have you even thought about making that long, dark journey from the back door to the alley to take out the trash late at night? Who do you think will be watching your every lonely step? And what about those faint cries of “Quitter!” and “Brown thumb!” and “Pruning saw murderer!” and “Be a real shame if somethin’ bad happened to that nice car of yours!” followed by eerie laughter in the night?

I’m not even sure that you can quit gardening without violating clauses in the fine print. Heck, I don’t even know where to find the fine print! I just know it’s there.

Then there’s the remorse and the backsliding. What happens if you change your mind? Once you’re out of the game, you’re going to try to get back in it. Hey, I’m a horticultural professional. I know what I’m talking about. Sure, you tell yourself that you’re just cutting a little lemon grass for the cat. But you’re not fooling anybody. You’re gardening with scissors! Look in the mirror! Shame on you for making the cat an enabler for your gardening addiction!

Which brings us to the conclusion that, inevitably, once you’re a gardener, there’s no getting out. There is no off switch. There is no way to unwind the clock. There is no unspeaking the spoken. There is no unthinking the thoken. (Okay, time to give the parallel construction a rest. I think you get the point).

Gardening is a racket. It takes no prisoners. Or it takes all of us as prisoners. Choose your metaphor. And now, spring is here. Fasten your seat belts, kids. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. It always is.

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questions

We moved into a house with a lovely azalea that didn’t bloom. We thought it might have been over-pruned. Last fall we did not prune it and now it still hasn’t bloomed. I was hoping to transplant it this year, but it looks rather sickly. Shall we prune it again and give it another year? Can I still transplant it?

What three dwarf shrubs do you think gardeners should know about and why?

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?

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