The first spring in my house, I gritted my teeth and gingerly unearthed some dirt causing as little mayhem to worms and similar dirt creatures as possible. I plunked in a bunch of perennials and some annuals and pressed the dirt down around them. But the weeds completely overtook the baby plants. The next spring I noticed the officious, unwanted weeds begin their reign of terror. “Oh, ho,” I said to the cat, “I’m going to get those now before they take over.” I put on some purple flowered gardening gloves, hunkered down amid the slimy brown
Off I went to the nursery, wrote out an enormous check and piled everything into my vehicle. Some of the plants the woman talked me into getting would have to be replanted the next year. That was okay because I had to replant the perennials too, but I didn’t tell her that. I didn’t want her to turn me in to the Department of Ecological Services for murdering perfectly good plants.
At home, I held my breath and hummed so I wouldn’t hear the screaming of the injured worms. I pushed a little garden shovel into the ground and spent all day pulling out spindly green stems and planting gladiola bulbs, pansies, marigolds, heather, thyme, a large Rose of Sharon and a crabapple tree. Flying insects dive-bombed to get a better look and even my cat seemed enthralled by the little holes, squatting over them until I knocked him away. It was torture. The woman at the nursery assured me it would be worth it later when the whole yard would be awash in vibrant color and birds and bees would cavort in joyous rapture.
The next afternoon I walked along the driveway to see all the baby plants and maybe speak a few kind words to them. The marigolds had vanished. A few half-eaten pansies quivered beside the bare stems of the thyme plant. The heather lorded over the ruins, curiously whole and somewhat smug. Could one plant eat the others? Taking a step back I surveyed the heather with suspicion. A trail of slime circled some of the forlorn stubs. Slugs. Fierce little beasts.
Back to the nursery for more vegetation. More planting. I sprinkled enough “Slug-Be-Gone” to bring down an elephant. I would not have put out poison if they hadn’t attacked first. Self-defense is okay, I reasoned. More needless slaughter of worms with the little shovel, as I crooned out my apologies and mindlessly replanted joyful flora already in blossom. Two hours later I rocked back on my heels and surveyed the fifty feet of happy little baby plants and tried to feel the sense of accomplishment everyone said I’d experience.
A week later I lounged under a tall brown tree with green leaves and imagined how beautiful the yard would look in a month, with the sun on my face, the fragrant scent of blooms, the warm buzz of a bee nearby and maybe a baseball game on a radio in the distance. My eyes closed and a tall glass of lemonade on a little garden table appeared in my imagination. My cat rubbed against my legs and purred. Life was good. I opened my eyes and squinted down the driveway. Something was missing.
I studied the plants. The pansies were gone and all of the new growth buds on the Rose of Sharon had been pruned off. I backed away, my hand covering my open mouth. Those dang slugs. Had they crawled through all the snail bait and clipped off all the new growth on the Rose of Sharon? What kind of monsters were they? I jogged back into the house and locked the doors.
A few days later, I drove up the dirt road to my house, rounded the corner into my driveway and slammed on the brakes. Several feet in front of me two malevolent black-tailed deer plucked the buds off the azalea bush. They ignored me as I rolled up beside them. They ignored me as my window slid down.
“Shoooo shooo, get lost, you thieving piles of venison steaks,” I said. I know. That wasn’t very nice but I was mad. One of the does turned, a blue and yellow pansy petal stuck to her upper lip, and sent me a daunting glare. The other one flipped me off with her tail. My mouth flapped open and closed. They both resumed than vandalism, ripping the buds off the gladiola. My shoulders sank and my car moved the last few feet into the garage. The automatic door grumbled down and I slunk into the house.
Gardening is a frustrating, expensive, unfruitful pursuit. It seems a perfect sentence for a repeat offender. Perhaps we should write our congressmen. If enough prisoners were forced to plant, replant, and replant the same spot every day, they’d soon tire of the experience, especially if they had to pay for the plants themselves. You’ll have to trust me on this. Punishment, thy name is gardening.