Saturday, May 25, 2013

What Am I Doing in the Garden?

     Is there any activity that you like to do, but you're just no good at? For me, it's gardening.

     I love being outdoors in the spring, breathing in the moist soft air, getting my hands dirty in the loamy soil, and dreaming about the flowers, vegetables and lush bushes that will soon adorn my property.

     So far this spring I've been out in the yard about a dozen times. I usually go for about two hours at a clip. I used to do more, but now my knees and my back will make me answer for any more work than that. Not to mention getting just totally exhausted if I do too much.

     But even as I've been digging and planting and fertilizing, I see how the weeds have already begun to encroach on my property. I have done some weeding. I pulled out probably a hundred dandelions (I actually like dandelions, except they do have a tendency to spread too much and too fast), as well as handfuls and handfuls of other Unidentified Weed-type Objects (UWOs).

     And that's what stops me. Right now the pretty green grass dominates the lawn. But I remember last year. In May my yard looked beautiful. By August it looked like a post-apocalyptic landscape choked with UWOs.

    There's no way to stop them, short of shooting Unidentified Spraying Liquids (USLs) equivalent to the entire annual production of Dow Chemical over your yard. And aside from my general concern with the environment, I have a well. I don't want to drink that stuff!

     Then there are the bugs. Again, I don't want to spray them with a tanker-load of USLs that the USDA probably outlawed in the 1970s after decimating the jungles of Vietnam. So I don't know what to do . . . other than watch the bugs wiggle and squirm along my plant leaves. I can almost hear them munching and belching and leaving their "trails" all over my yard.

     As if that's not enough, I have a woodchuck living under the shed. He (or she) is ready to pounce on any edible vegetable matter I try to grow on my little corner of earth. And the other day, when I cut the grass, I was reminded of the moles -- or whatever the heck they are -- that burrow through my lawn all spring, leaving the ground as bumpy as an old-fashioned washboard.

     I swear to you this happened: Last week I was bumping along so much, and so hard, I broke clear through the metal bar that holds the mowing deck on to my tractor. It's in the shop right now, getting fixed . . . resulting in a bill, no doubt, equivalent to the entire annual income of Dow Chemical.

     And yet, through all this -- the bugs, the animals, the UWOs -- my bushes and trees grow like they've tapped into some kind of underground radioactive fertilizing source. I can clip and prune with the best of them. Or so I think. But I know I am never ruthless enough. I can't bear to clip down as far as I'm supposed to go -- oh, that new growth looks so pretty, and so precious -- and so most of my bushes end up overgrown and leggy. Then they eventually get high enough that I can't even reach to trim the tops.

     Will this year finally be the year I break down and hire a lawn service? Most of my neighbors do (although not the fellow who lives directly across the street from me-- he's out there on a Saturday morning cutting the grass, just like a suburban dad is supposed to do!).

     I remember, back when I was younger and had a wife and family, and lived in a four-bedroom house on a nice suburban street, there was a woman who lived in the house down on the corner. I never met her. But many times I saw her out in her yard, cutting the grass and trimming her hedges, and I used to tease my wife about how that woman was a true feminist, and obviously a model wife and mother as well. (And I wonder why I got divorced?)

     Well, I haven't called the lawn service yet. I can't see paying $50 or $60 a pop, just to have someone mow the grass. Plus, that doesn't even cover all my UWO problems, and I know their only solution will be to spray enough USLs to turn my yard into the next Love Canal.

     So I'll go out there again (as soon as this horrid rainstorm that's been here for three days and left enough water to float Noah's Ark goes away) and try again. And I'll pretend I'm not the ancient Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill. I'm just your typical suburbanite trying to spruce up his yard.

     Besides . . . there are always the bulbs to plant in the fall.


LC said...

I found you via Dianne's post on happiness. I would have to improve mightily to be in your gardening category. I kill plants, even artificial Christmas trees, But I still find joy in "grubbing in the dirt" and watching things grow, well, occasionally they grow. Your post had me chuckling but a little envious of your writing style. I'll be back.

Linda Myers said...

For a couple of years I paid $60 a week for some guys to mow our lawn and blow the leaves around. I'd rather do it myself.

Actually, my husband does most of it. Gets him out of the house, you know.

Meryl Baer said...

We sold the house with the lawn. Our cottage has a small green patch in front and back, all shrubs, flowers, and this year a small vegetable garden in the backyard. About those dandelions - our CSA includes them in their early spring greens. Pull, eat, enjoy with your favorite salad dressing!

DJan said...

I've always lived in apartments and longed for some place to grow some veggies. Last year was my first time in our community garden, and I loved it. But when I consider what those cabbages and squash cost me... it wasn't to save money, that's for sure! And I threw out much of the good stuff because the bugs loved it so much. I hear you, Tom! :-)

Joanne Noragon said...

Last weekend I met a fellow who said the whole secret is dandelion control. On his hands and knees he snips the yellow flowers before they are puffballs. He claims to keep his lawn clear every year by this simple method. He also lives on a large old farmstead in Minnesota. He had pictures. Personally I think if his yard is as clear as he claims, the dandelions froze.

Friko said...

Gardening keeps you happy and healthy - unless you’re me. I tend to get over excited, but I carry on regardless.

I’ve just done a post on dandelions and one on happiness. Weird, we all live similar lives, even if we live on opposite sides of the big pond.

Stephen Hayes said...

Mrs. C. and I have good friends that are avid gardeners. They spend most of their free time gardening and it shows. I wish I enjoyed gardening because it gets you outside and brings you closer to nature, but boy I hate it. Still, I wish my yard looked better, not that i deserve a better looking yard. said...

Very funny piece Tom. I too have suffered indignities of wildlife as you know. But I keep on keeping on. I don't know why, except the odd success gives me such a thrill of joy.

I planted new iris rhizomes last fall, one of each kind (2 of 6) has bloomed. The others sort of looked like they might and three of them died.

I think the key to gardening is to plant 3x what you hope will survive and figure that pests will take 2 of 3. That way you won't be disappointed.

Remember what Winnie said, "Never give up, never, never, never.


PS our lawn has gone through all extremes. It is emerald green now but nor for long. Our summers age awfully hot and lawns don't like heat too much. We have a small one David can mow with a hand mower. I also hire a young man to help trim hedges, etc. Every bit helps. Dianne

Douglas said...

I guess now is not the time to tell you about the grapefruit tree I started from a seed or the avocado tree (also started from the seed... or pit). Of course, I start them on the screened porch where bugs are, thankfully, not a problem.

I pay to have someone come out every two months and spray USL's but I am on city water (which might not be any better than your well) and I pay a young guy to mow the lawn as needed (I'm lazy... there, I said it). I blame the guy across the street who has a beautiful lawn, the best that money can buy.

Halina Goldstein said...

I know that for many people - including widows and widowers - a garden is one of the few places where they can regain a sense of connection with life, with joy. Even if there's a lot of dying going on in a garden as well - because that's nature's way.

Anyhow, I think the sense of aliveness comes from "being there" as much as "doing it". So perhaps the problem (with weed and everything else) is finding a balance that works for oneself... a way of gardening that brings joy and meaning rather than becoming a war against the UWOs. :-)

On that note, a new friend of mine, Fran Sorin, has a wonderful and unique approach to gardening. Check out her blog at There is a gardening category there (and some others, equally inspiring)

Warm greetings,