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OCGD on the QT


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.

This gardening story, however, registered an 11 on the weird-o-meter and I was instantly alert and ready to operate heavy machinery. It seems that a woman from Ottumwa was deadheading petunias in her garden (she apparently hadn’t caught the wave) and finished the petunias. She wandered over to her roses, monarda and a few other random perennials, happily snipping away.

So far, so what. But she ran out of perennials, too, and, grabbing a pair of scissors, mowed the lawn. All 2,000 square feet. Continuing on her spree, she uncovered more WMD (Weapons of Mass Deadheading) in the garage and attacked the hose, deadheading the sprinkler. Next she began deadheading—actually, beheading—garden gnomes. (Hey, I’m with her so far.) Then she started to get creative. The picket fence was next and she smoothed it from one end of the yard to the other in a pointless attack (I just slay myself sometimes). By now her own property had been snipped, pinched, hacked, whacked, sliced and diced beyond recognition.

And STILL she wasn’t finished. Eyeing the neighbor’s multi-colored twinkle lights, which were still up, six months after the holiday season, she gleefully lopped off the bulbs of the entire set, leaving only braided green wire. The police at that point gently coaxed her into surrendering her cutting tools and gave her a nice, cool glass of lemonade.

Even though she received a civic award for removing the Christmas decorations, this is a story not to be taken lightly (where, oh where do I come up with these gems?)

But seriously, folks, you can’t tell me that you don’t know a gardener that fits the description of the Ottumwa woman. And don’t you go trying to blame it on Ottumwa, though many of us would like to. OCGD, or Obsessive Compulsive Gardener Disorder, can strike anyone, without warning. Unfortunately, because there are many sub-genres of this debilitating affliction, it can be misdiagnosed. Men, for instance, often suffer from OCLCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Lawn Care Disorder. Here are some typical symptoms:

  • Inability to stop pushing the fertilizer spreader, long after the bin is empty.
  • Setting one’s watch to the sprinkler timer in the garage. Every day.
  • Resetting the sprinkler timer. Every day.
  • Using surveying equipment to lay out a different mowing pattern. Every day.
  • TiVo-ing lawn care commercials and watching them repeatedly for hidden tips.
  • Lining the walls of the garage with posters of Ashton Ritchie.

OCCGD, or Obsessive Compulsive Container Gardening Disorder, is no less heartbreaking. Learn to spot these symptoms:

  • Watering planted containers more than 24 hours every day.
  • Spending the rest of your time planting new containers.
  • Pasting tear sheets from gardening magazines about containers and container plants and disguising them by gluing them into issues of US News and World Report.
  • Convincing yourself that, with just a little TLC, 30 or 40 varieties of annuals can be coaxed to survive winter in the basement.
  • Motto: “No pot is too cracked to be rehabilitated. No pot is too damaged to be hoarded.”

The terrible news is that we are all at risk. A gardening passion can start as an experiment, turn into a routine, morph into a way of life and then, tragically, mutate into something far, far worse. Vigilance, my friends, vigilance and self-awareness are our only tools.

Oops, speaking of that, it’s time for my hourly tool sharpening. Timmy Trowel just cries and cries if he has to stay in that nasty old dark tool box too long. I’m coming, Timmy!

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questions

I have a dampish area with poor grass and moss that I would like to change to ground cover, but if I have only one plant, won’t it be boring? Can I get rid of the grass in winter or early spring?

I have a nicely sheltered, rounded 7-foot tall Japanese red maple on the southeast corner of my backyard. Half of the tree has lost its leaves, the formerly red bark is turning gray, and a good-sized square of bark has been stripped off on the side that faces the yard. I sprayed the exposed bark with black pruning spray to close any entry for insects. I have not cut off any of the branches.

Does the winter have any effect on the tree? Should I look for some insect infestation? What should I do now?

I am interested in improving fall color in my yard. What shrubs turns red beside burning bush (Euonymus alatus)?

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