When visitors ask if my wife and I work in the garden together, I reply with my now worn-out joke: “I make the garden; Michele enjoys it.” Nowadays, she does help out more, particularly by pruning things behind my back and not always using ISA-recommended cuts. But I still do most of the work. Back when I was still creating the garden, it was all me. I was pretty obsessed. I had a vision. I had endless energy. There was always work to do and I never stopped. I was kind of a jerk.
Fast forward several decades and the garden now requires more tweaking and less heavy lifting and, on occasion, it has felt like it is now time to reap the rewards of what I’ve sown, to stop and smell the roses once in a while. Of course, this never goes well.
On some chosen Saturday afternoon, there I am, dead-set determined to relax, flip-flopping awkwardly down to the pool, carrying all the elements of relaxation: books, snacks, towels, sunscreen and a cooler filled with more beer than most would consider responsible. I find myself sitting, feet up, and sighing contentedly.
Five minutes later, I spot a dead stem on a viburnum. No worries. I make a mental note to trim it later. Soon after, a big dandelion seed head grabs my attention. It’s waving around in the wind. Grandstanding! Signaling its intent to go forth and multiply. I cuss, shoo a fly from my beer and try to forget it. Michele is already half melted, soaking up the sun like a lizard. I take a deep breath. Hold. Exhale. Repeat. But I glance back and, damn, that dandelion, it’s mocking me!
Resistance is now futile. I get up, flip-flop over and pull the damned dandelion, getting only a fraction of the root of course. Then, while I’m gingerly carrying the seed head to the trash as if it were a bomb, an errant twig from a magnolia pokes my eye. Now I’m annoyed, so I grab my pruners and remove the twig. I turn next to that ugly viburnum. Then I spot a ripe tomato. Then I notice something else. And then something else again. Twenty minutes after heading outside for a relaxing day by the pool, I’m gardening like hell. In flip-flops. I look back at my wife. She’s asleep. Sleeping like a baby. Like a baby lizard.
Sometimes I wonder what’s wrong with me. Why can’t I just sit still for a few hours in the garden and enjoy it? Truth is, I think what I most enjoy about the garden is making it better. Perfecting it. And since my garden is and will always be far from perfect, I am totally blessed. Blessed as hell! Not cursed. Nope. Not like how it sometimes seems, and how it probably looks to others. Gardening is what I do. There will always be dead stems, eye-pokers and dandelions, and I will always be there, standing guard. Gardening. And gardening. And gardening.
Illustration by Tom Beuerlein