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Small Talk: The reluctant gardener

Jean Gillette hopes you will enjoy some of her earlier columns, in a sympathetic salute to all young mom’s today.

Somewhere between changing diapers and mastering the art of Go Fish, the job description for at-home motherhood wandered from the confines of the kitchen to The Yard.

I had successfully avoided yard-work for decades, watching unmoved as my mother reveled in the weeding, pruning, edging and planting. For the first half of my married life, I informed my husband that despite my liberated status, I was still happy to swap out doing dishes, if he would handle the yard. How then am I now found armed with my very own edger, trimmer and electric hedge clippers?

The biggest surprise, however, is that sometimes I actually relish the challenge. My enthusiasm is relative and a fickle thing, tied securely to either wonderful spring weather or the approach of a backyard party.

Both prompt flurries of yardmania, wherein I send wayward branches and untidy grass flying in several directions. I then throw my back out sweeping and removing all the compost-makings I have created. The kids used to help me a bit last year, but it didn’t take them long to wise up to the tedium of cleanup duty.

Still, it’s all very comforting and back-to-nature-ish, albeit lacking in consistency. With all the rain this winter, I have become something of a garden vigilante. I carry my weed digger stuck through my belt loop and uproot milkweed the size of palm trees as my children and I wander the streets to and from the park.

I know it’s compulsive, but I see those little floating weed seeds just waiting to blow in the direction of my front yard and it’s more than I can bear.

It wasn’t easy at first to withstand the peer pressure to hire a gardener, although it became much easier just after I finished paying all our other bills.  I am also given strength by a husband who believes in being a good, responsible neighbor. That means you don’t wait until the homeowners’ association has cited you for “abuse and neglect of visible garden areas” before you trim your yard.

I occasionally get busy in the garden just to vent my spleen, knowing now the hidden delights of the sweaty work of grooming foliage. I refuse to be part of the outrageous, antisocial noise made by leaf blowers, but by jingo, there is a real power rush in whisking away six months of spider webs, cocoons, snail tracks and flotsam with a shot of a high-pressure water nozzle. There is the same thrill when you whack a pushy bush into an orderly condition with the electric hedge trimmer. My kids, husband and car may ignore my wishes, but in the garden, wrapped in my hose and extension cord, I am queen!

I was timid at first, feeling the true extent of my absence of upper-body strength. My first few go-rounds with the edger and Weed-Whacker left our lawn looing like the work of a boot-camp barber on drugs. But midway through a complete trim-and-prune job, perspiring and covered with shredded vegetation, I tasted the delicious high of pumping iron, or watching an early Arnold Schwarzenegger film. “Hasta la vista, ficus Benjamina!”

I’m now considering purchasing some of those special snails I saw at the county fair, reputed to eat only the common garden snail or decaying plants. They call them “killer” snails. I think we’ll get along just fine.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer getting down and dirty. Contact her at [email protected]