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The Gardening Zone


You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of soil, a dimension of blight, a dimension of thyme. You’re moving into a land of both dappled shadow and full sun, of bling and pet chias; you’ve just crossed over into ... THE GARDENING ZONE.

(Ominous music interlude)

Picture, if you will, a room. But not just any room. And in not just any place.

This room is under the care of one John Q. Gardener. Mr. Gardener is a study in conformity. His is a drab and uneventful life—a never-ending series of morning conference calls, styrofoam-packaged lunches, greasy stains on important documents and unanswered voice mails. Yet, while shuffling from gray cubicle to gray cubicle, and occasionally accidentally locking himself into the supply closet, Mr. Gardener dreams of something better. Of color. Of substance. Of fibrous roots. Of stalks and vines and petals and seeds. Of cocoa mulch and razor-sharp pruners and weeds. Of worms and nematodes and even dog vomit slime mold. Yes, Mr. Gardener dreams of dog vomit slime mold. And regardless of what his therapist would say, it is a dream that Mr. Gardener would do anything or pay any price to make a reality.

On this particular day, Mr. John Q. Gardener, citizen of AnyTown, AnyState U.S.A. will find himself walking into a room. An outdoor room. It could be a room in a neighboring suburb. But, just as likely, it is a room on another planet. It is a room that could best be described as a way station on the road to eternity, under a sign marked ... “The Gardening Zone.”

“Good day. I am your brooding host, who looks disturbingly like Rod Serling. I’m the fellow in black and white, who is also wearing a disturbingly skinny tie, lurking in the corner of the screen, smoking a cigarette. I don’t recommend smoking cigarettes. It could lead to tobacco mosaic virus, though that’s something that I don’t think we knew about in 1960. It’s just that it’s impossible to be a brooding, lurking, black-and-white host who looks disturbingly like Rod Serling unless you’re disturbingly smoking a cigarette.” But I digress. Let’s return to our story, because I have only 700 words or so, and I must get on with it.

Witness Mr. Gardener, a man with a desire to make things grow. This desire has led him plant things. To water them. To fertilize them. To watch cotyledons develop into seedlings and thence into mature plants ... and beyond.

Mr. Gardener: miserable and unchallenged in his corporate prison, but happy and safe in his world of growing and nurturing plants. And then, one, fateful day, his world changes forever. It’s not his fault, really. Everybody needs to have their teeth cleaned occasionally. But in the waiting room of his dentist he stumbles across a magazine. A deeply disturbing magazine. A gardening magazine. And he sees the phrase “garden rooms.”

The magazine speaks to him. More than that, it reaches its pulpy tentacles into his inner being and converts him. Mr. Gardner now understands that it is not good enough to simply be a gardener. He must also be an architect. He must build a house ... outdoors. Bricks and mortar must become boxwoods and arborvitae. Floorboards and tile are to be lawn and groundcover. The home entertainment system is to replaced by ... well, we’re still working on that.

The road to darkness is paved with jargon. And soon, John Q. Gardener is creating outdoor “rooms” in his garden. Living rooms. Bedrooms. Dining rooms. Entertainment rooms (not so much). Laundry rooms. Sun rooms. Shade rooms. Pantries. Foyers. Basements. Mud rooms (predictably). Safe rooms. Hotel rooms. Motel rooms. Smoking rooms (for ominous, brooding, black-and-white hosts who look disturbingly like Rod Serling). Board rooms. Chat rooms. Green rooms (predictably). Romper rooms ... and more. Oh, so much, much more.

Portrait of Mr. John Q. Gardener. A man who once dreamed of a life in the dirt. Now find him buried in a very large file: “R” for “Repressed,” “O” for “Obsessive,” “O” for “Order”, “M” for “Mother” in ... The Gardening Zone.

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questions

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 hoya houseplant that has been growing happily for eight years. It had flowers when I received it, but it hasn’t bloomed since. What am I doing wrong? Can I get it to flower?

I have two 20-year-old pine trees whose needles are turning brown on the west side of the plants. On the east side I have a compost pile.

I live in the St. Charles region and my soil is mostly clay. What is causing the browning? Should I get rid of the compost? How do I correct the damage?

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