I went over to my friend Pauline’s yesterday to take her a bottle of Concha y Toro Pinot Noir as a thank you for saving my life. Without her, I would probably have been eaten by vultures or wound up in our Forensic Studies Body Farm. I found her out watering her trees—with a stop watch.
There are those among us who have talents. My hair stylist was telling me about her granddaughter who sings all the time. She sings to her dolls, at the breakfast table, at the dinner table, at school, in the evening watching TV. She sings made up songs of her own creation, or songs she hears. A young Mozart perhaps, or I guess now-a-days, it might be a young Beyoncé. Whatever it is, she has a natural talent. She was born with it. What she does with it will depend on her family, her schooling, her environment. But she’s got it.
And others have a talent for gardening. Some would question whether gardening is really a talent. Believe me, it is. And I ain’t got it.
Gardening is one of those instances where my brain overwhelms my abilities. I get wonderful visions of acres of flowers, transitioning from season to season, blooming in one color after another. I even look them up, sometimes, and make layouts of my gardens with their names written into appropriate places. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if such and such grew here?
In the Spring when it is truly lovely to be outside, I get seduced by the showy flowers at Walmart or the local garden store. I’ve been known to spend hundreds of dollars on blooming plants. Flatbottom trails along in my wake with the cart, shaking his head, knowing disaster is coming. I’ve even bought mushroom mulch and overloaded his truck with it.
The problem lies in keeping the plants alive. And that takes focus, which takes effort, which takes talent. It means getting out in the yard every day, through the heat of the summer, to water and weed and tend to the plants so they will continue to bloom. That’s where I fall off the wagon. I know you’ve heard the expression “having a green thumb.” And then there those of us who have a brown thumb. That would be me.
Even Flatbottom, my television addicted husband, has a tiny flair for plants. I’ve noticed several little cactus plants on a small garden bench he installed in the back porch. A number of ivies and other plants straggle around on tables. He also has four hanging ferns along the front porch. If it rains, he takes them down and puts them outside. He also has a small circular planter that has three little flowering plants in it. He waters his little charges regularly and he even ordered a small elephant-shaped watering can from Walmart to entertain himself. A Master Gardener he is not, but he evidently likes plants and keeps them alive. Unlike yours truly.
I really admire those who have those green thumbs. My sister is, like Pauline, a Master Gardener. Her garden is a riot of amazingly different kinds of plants, all flowering, all growing in bountiful abundance, displaying amazing lush beauty. Walking through her garden is much like it must have been to walk through Eden. Some of everything. And in addition, she also has little curios and hangings and sculptures and statuary throughout her garden. It is so overwhelmingly beautiful, I just stand in awe. And whimper in envy.
Mom tried to be a Master Gardener. It turns out it isn’t easy. It is a rigorous six-month course taught by Biologists, Agronomists, Environmentalists, Ecologists, Naturalists, Preservationists, Conservationists, and even some plain old everyday farmers. The book the students receive is about four inches thick with information on every possible aspect of plants, flowers and growing crops. Then they have to volunteer their time to help the Ag Extension Office sell plants at their semi-annual plant sale and to create their own community project. Not easy.
A small aside here. Have you ever thought about what it must have been like for Captain John Smith and the Virginia settlers who knew nothing about farming? It’s little wonder they were stealing food from the natives and chewing on their own shoe leather. Farming is not simple or easy.
Anyway, Mom, even with her doctorate, wasn’t able to stick it out to become a Master Gardener. She did grow some vegetables in the raised beds I put in for her, filled with mushroom mulch, of course. We had tomatoes and eggplant and green beans and blackberries and okra. I was astounded at how fast the okra grew. One day it was three inches long and edible. The next day it was 12 inches and completely fibery and inedible. We actually made some Ratatouille with our crops. But with Mom gone, the beds are lying fallow.
So I arrived at Pauline’s to find her sitting outside with her stop watch. There is a forest in the front yard, thickly shaded. No grass, just pine needles. The subdivision builders wanted to keep as many trees as possible, so giant pines tower some fifty or sixty feet into the air all around her house. Oaks, tall and scrawny, struggle to reach the distant sunlight from their lower levels. Then way down below, tucked here and there among the giant trunks of the pines, she has laboriously planted a dozen or more small fruit trees. Sunlight is something with which they are not overly familiar, and their branches show it.
Still Pauline perseveres. Stop watch in hand, she sits in a worn-out lawn chair in the shade among the pines waiting for the buzzer. At its quiver, she hoists herself out of the chair, and begins to move hoses. Three or maybe four thick hundred-foot hoses run from the pumps at the lake up to the front forest. I don’t use the term yard which might imply grass. There is grass, but it is a carefully tended lawn in the back of the house along the lake front.
She moves each hose, laying it lovingly at the feet of each of her fruit trees. She has to keep careful track. Has she moved all four hoses? Has she gotten each tree? Fifteen minutes of water, then move the hose to the next tree. Fifteen minutes to let the water soak in, then fifteen more minutes of water, over and over. It takes her three hours to water the fruit trees and I’m surprised she doesn’t lose track. I know I would.
I joined her for part of the performance. We sat and drank wine and gossiped and I admired her efforts. Now, as I look out over my weedy flower beds, I realize I had better get out in the back yard and water. But then I have to stop and walk the dogs or get dressed to go to a Chamber of Commerce reception, and there are the board meetings, and the club meetings, and the reading and writing groups. Is it any wonder all my plants die?
We did get two peaches, much to my amazement, from one of Mom’s peach trees. Think what they would produce if I actually watered them!