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May 11, 2005
Confessions of a Garden Hitman

My wife, God love her, is the Joan Crawford of gardening. That peony's bloom not full enough? Rip it up and relocate it. Coneflower too short? Switch it with the hydrangea. Our plants live in the modern economy: deliver top-notch performance every day, or you may find yourself schlubbing it at the back of the bed with the juniper and moneywort. You think you've got job security, Mr. Forget-Me-Not, because of your cute little bloom? Stop bringing your A-game and you'll be forgotten faster than Bob Saget.

To judge from the beautiful gardens she's created, you'd think my wife is a saint among flora, a Thomasina Aquinas of the plant kingdom. But trust me: if our plants had legs, we'd wake up one morning to find them squeezed into the neighbors' yards, trying to look inconspicuous. If plants could prosecute humans for harassment and assault, the boys and I would be bringing my wife peanut M&M's and back issues of Martha Stewart's Living at the local correctional facility.

I am not guiltless in the slaughter, I must confess. I am her henchman, Oddjob to her Gold Blackfinger. I have assaulted more roots than Paris Hilton's hair stylist. I have shoveled more dirt than Kitty Kelley and Sidney Blumenthal combined. You think plants can't scream? Come spend a night in Tony's dreams, my friend.

Being rooted out of the ground is a traumatic experience for a plant. It hurts. Pieces of them fall off. Things get ripped and broken. It's like giving birth, or pulling a hangnail, or watching Katie Couric put on her Really Concerned face. Despite the pain it causes, a rule of thumb in our house is that every plant will be planted at least twice -- once where the wife thought it would look good, and then where she's now certain it will look good. This epiphany inevitably comes after I've showered, and the new Ideal Position is usually either two inches from where it was first planted, or at the opposite end of our property.

Then there's the turning. That's right, plants, like supermodels, have good sides and bad sides. Apparently I am very bad at discerning the difference.

All of which is to say that last night there was some dirty work to be done. There was a flower in a corner bed, bearing a silly name I can't remember, something like "Flaming Humpback Gorillabush," or "Jumping Zarathustra Ambleweed", and it wasn't hitting its marks. I was tapped to both demote and replace it with . . . a fern. This is not good for anyone's self-esteem, plant or no.

The boys decided to help. They grabbed their little shovels and followed me into the back yard, alternately whacking my shins or whacking each other in that innocent accidental sort of way that impedes barking at them for it. There they dug little divots at random places in the bed while Isaac egged them on from his mother's arms. And there she stood, all sweetness and light, not giving the uninformed observer a hint of the iron-fisted tyrant that resides beneath her soft, lovely, sultry exterior.

But the plants and I, we know different. She is a genius with flowers, which I respect. Perhaps she is even an Evil Genius, which kind of turns me on.

Still, sometimes I pity the plants. If not for a twist of fate they might have gone home with some unmotivated homeowner with no expectations whatsoever. They would have been free to flower as seldom as they wished, to phone it in, if you will. But rather than get the plant equivalent of a tenured professorship, they found themselves thrust into a sweat shop run by Cruella De Vil.

A fitting fate for many tenured professors, perhaps, but not for innocent plants. Such is life, little flowers, and don't look to me for salvation. I love her, and she's great with the kids, plus she's, well, hot. So while I feel for you, don't think for a second I won't hack you to colorful little bits at her command.

Perhaps one day there will be a reckoning; maybe you will all grow opposable thumbs in the middle of the night and lay hold of the pruning implements. Trust me, I've had that nightmare more than once. But barring a freak evolutionary event like that, you should simply resign yourselves to your fate. We are the dictatorship, and you are our killing field.

Better you than me. Now quit reading my website and get back to flowering. And try not to throw out so much pollen -- my allergies are murdering me, and the bees are frightening the children.

Posted by Woodlief on May 11, 2005 at 09:59 AM


i don't know, maybe i'm not cold enough to be a gardener......does your wife run a GT Training Academy?

(GT=Green Thumb, and the prerequisite is NO MERCY)... hee hee.

Posted by: MMM at May 11, 2005 10:34 AM

I want to be friends with your wife. Sure you don't feel like changing careers again and moving to Tennessee?

I move and revise my plants all the time. I sometimes do the dirty work myself, though not as much since the baby started eating the grass and dirt in the yard. Besides, I like watching my husband wield a shovel.

Posted by: Jordana at May 11, 2005 4:11 PM

This romp through your garden has me grinning from ear to ear. Tell your wife that our poor front yard's beds have plants which have now been re-dubbed things like Coreopsis horizontalis and lavendula punyensis because of their incessant reaching toward non-existent full sun. Little by little, I'm moving these deprived beings to better spots. What I should do is trim my neighbor's tree branches, which have brought insidious shade to my once sunny little plot!

Posted by: Gardenwife at May 11, 2005 11:59 PM

Have been visiting Sand in the Gears for months, and love luxuriating in your prose, although I have no children, and only one plant (and that inherited from a former roommate). All this one bit of living greenery requires is water. If it required more, I would kill it. Not necessarily out of malice aforethought, but because I have not enlisted in your wife's GT Academy. I have been known to be ruthless in pruning my mother's roses...

Posted by: Christina at May 12, 2005 1:25 AM