The Reluctant Gardener
I thought I bought a house, but what I got was a place to collapse after tending the two gardens that came with it. I wanted a no-muss, no-fuss, no-maintenance home where every week I could concentrate on getting my job out of the way and get back to writing, There would be no lawn to mow, no trees to gum up rain gutters with discarded leaves, no hordes of flowers to deadhead. When I bought in mid-winter, knowing nothing about gardens, I thought I was getting what I wanted. Guess again.
How could I know that the previous owner was an urban gardener extraordinaire? A woman who planted flowers that would bloom for most of the year, who knew how to get maximum growth out of soil laid atop plastic sheeting on a small plot of land. “Oh!” the realtor and my friends exclaimed, “an easy care garden!” Given that all I saw was a mess of dead stuff, I believed them.
Naturally, this is one of the driest seasons we’ve had here on the coast in years. I search weather reports for a sign that rain is on the horizon, but usually it’s only me on the horizon, hose in hand. I can’t let the poor little roses die, can I? Or the galloping fuchsia, or the out-of-control patches of lavender and sage.
I bought a hose. I went back to the store and bought a sprinkler to attach to my hose. Then I went back to the store and got washers to fix the leaky connection. Every other night when I go out to water (I refuse to give in to the African daisies’ demand for nightly watering) I’m ambushed. Either I don’t accurately anticipate the arcs of water it throws, or this yellow grinning sprinkler-demon changes direction at the sight of me. I’m going to start keeping towels out there so the neighbors will think this is how I prefer to shower—fully clothed, glasses dripping, Birks sloshing.
One of the attractions of the coast for me has always been the profusion of vegetation. I’d never seen anything so gloriously lush. Leaves the size of kayaks, bushes and vines that with no suppression would crowd out western civilization in weeks. Now that I have to hack through them to take out the trash, I’m not quite as charmed.
A gardener must be ruthless here, stripping the fence of ivy before the ivy rots the fence and yanking out new fern-lets that will steal sunlight from delicate columbine. I’m told I’ll have to “cut the shit out of” the boisterous rock rose that threatens to take over the garage door. Because the Martha Stewart of gardeners somehow got me to pay her for the privilege of taking on her work and also trained the rhododendron into a sturdy tree, I’ll have to saw off its extraneous limbs come fall. (It’s probably growing Godzilla-sized roots under my foundation as I write this).
I’m one of those suckers who escorts spiders outside rather than kill them. If the violets get rowdy enough to impinge on the primroses I’ll have to find it in my heart to weed some out or give them away or move them.
Weed? Do I dare to write the word? Weeds spring up literally overnight and grow an inch a day. It’s a full-time job distinguishing them from planned plants then rooting them out. When I can find their roots. I am not my grandmother, who devoted a good part of her last retirement to ridding her lawn of crab grass, but even she could not have subdued this local bindweed. It’s puny and spineless, coiling itself around anything it can find—other plants, stalks of grass, even itself—and races to the top, sending off trailers to smother innocent asters and sharp holly leaves, proclaiming itself victorious with its morning glory-like white bloom at the top of the flowering quince.
And that’s just the front garden. In back are a butterfly bush that chokes me with a powdery substance, garlic plants lined up like a troop of aliens staring in my windows, strawberries so appealing to hungry bugs that I’m forced to share, poppies that won’t bloom, and more weeds that do nothing but.
Caring friends have cleaned up, pruned, weeded, uncovered. Grateful as I am, I heard them teaching me as they did so because in the end, this is not a community garden, but darn it, my garden, and I’ll have to fend for myself—and for all my new dependents: the hosta, the calla lilies, the tarragon, the violas, impatiens, snapdragons, geraniums, iris, tulips, daffodils, beach rose, pinks, verbena, rosemary and the unidentified surprises yet to arrive, all determined to get my hands into their soil and to root me right alongside them.