Late bloomer

Last spring, a curious transformation took place in my neighbors' yard. While the rest of the block looked out at an unsightly brown wasteland, their lot became a veritable botanical garden. I passed by, watching in disbelief as they toiled, looking up to smile and wave. Lush green vines climbed their fence, while every square inch of space was filled with hot pink azaleas, cheery sunflowers and perky petunias.

Meanwhile, a few doors down in my yard, the snow had just melted, revealing all those misguided newspapers I had given up for stolen as well as a fine assortment of windblown Styrofoam, candy wrappers and plastic bags. I searched in vain for signs of the dozens of bulbs I had painstakingly planted in a Martha Stewart induced frenzy in the fall (before she became a convicted felon). But all I found were some brown blossoms courtesy of the neighborhood free-range dog population and the haggard remains of last year's crabgrass crop.

Over the next few weeks, I charted the botanical garden's progress with envy. Snows came and went. Wind, rain, hell and high water, and those flowers never wilted, faltered or faded. It was almost as if they were fake. And then it dawned on me. Those smiles when I passed by belonged to people secure in the knowledge that, while others were breaking their backs digging perfect 4-inch holes for bulbs that would never bloom, they could sit back in their cozy Adirondacks and toast to their maintenance-free lifestyle.

Sure, the scent of beebalm and thyme would never tickle their noses on a warm summer's eve. But then again they would never have to watch helplessly while grasshoppers devoured basil grown from seed, dandelions overtook their lawn or voluptuous peony buds were stopped in their tracks by sticky sap from a towering Siberian elm. Dividing, pruning, mulching, weeding and watering were all things of the past.

I had a pang of jealousy. Not just because they had taken xeriscaping to a new extreme or saved their lower backs from eminent destruction, but because they had done something I never had the courage to do: throw in the trowel.

See, for years I have been clinging to the belief that some day my yard will look like the ones in those glossy garden magazines. Perverts have their porn, I have Better Homes and Gardens . I drool over the High County Gardens catalog, which I discreetly tuck under my bed when not in use. I spend hours ogling the young, tender starts at the nursery before finally deciding which ones to take home.

I guess you could call it an addiction, and like any good addict, I suffer from delusions. This would explain the hydrangea bush that I bought amid the worst drought in recorded history. With a profusion of white pompoms dancing in my head, I planted it in a sunny spot and immediately watched it gasp its last, dying breath, wither and croak. I have done likewise with lily of the valley, spirea and hosta lilies.

However, my ineptness is not confined to plants indigenous to rainforests. I also have failed miserably at hollyhocks, irises, ice plant, daisies, lavender, beets, green beans, radishes, cilantro and, yes, even lettuce.

So, this spring as I view my neighbors' yard of virtually indestructible cloth facsimiles of all the things I could only dream of growing, I can't help but wonder if it's a sign. Maybe I should cut my losses, throw in some birds of paradise and call it good. Think of the money I'd save, not to mention marital relations. No more trying to sneak 5-gallon perennials past the spousal unit (only later to kill them) or trying to remove the telltale dirt from under my fingernails. Why, with all that money and time, I could do something truly worthy for the world, like save the whales or find a cure for baldness. Never again would my black thumb exact its death sentence on an innocent, unsuspecting lifeform. Let the grim reaper bid his dirty work elsewhere.

But before I could fling my Ziplock baggie of half-empty seed packets into the great abyss forever, I noticed yet another curious transformation, this time in my own yard. There, amidst the brown backdrop of last fall's unraked leaves and miscellaneous yard refuse, I spied a small yet distinct shoot of green and another and another and another. They were the tulips I had planted a year and half ago. Why they had waited two seasons to show themselves, I'll never know just late bloomers, I guess. But it didn't really matter, because with those green shoots came the glimmer of hope that maybe I wasn't such a lousy gardener after all and maybe some day my yard really would be a BHG pin-up. Children would no longer run from it like Boo Radley's place and derelicts would think twice before using it to dispose of their beer cans and fast food wrappers. Sure, this was just one small step in the right direction, but then again, the Tuileries weren't built in a day.

And once again, hope sprang eternal.

Missy Votel




News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index