The lone voice of horticultural reason

Evil Brother Ron

(Webmaster’s Note: Don is on vacation, and for some unknown reason has asked his evil twin brother, Ron, to write this week’s column. Ron is a fine gardener but is Don’s exact opposite in every other regard. In fact, I sometimes think Ron is the Renegade Gardener’s alter-ego …)

Similar to my brother Don, none of the snide questions or coarse comments I get from non-gardeners bother me, even those of the thinly-veiled, “what can possibly be enjoyable about that?” variety. I understand not understanding. My girlfriend and I are friends of a childless couple who make pretty good bucks and they’re constantly jetting off to some new adventure somewhere hot around the globe, coming back tanned as cocoa beans, with wild tales, new shell jewelry, and something odd carved out of something odder. They’ll sleep for a few days, then invite us over for dinner.

After dinner but before they bring their pictures out, I always make a point of getting each alone and questioning them for a few minutes in a hallway, or the kitchen, quietly, so that I might refresh my memory as to just why it was exactly that they were caused to spend two entire days walking a barren silt path across a prehistoric volcanic valley in Hawaii, did their light plan crash, were they abducted, did they take a wrong turn driving to a decent Thai joint, and how could the Hawaiian Park Police have dropped the ball to the extent that the two of them were forced to sleep overnight in a tent in a crater, for God’s sake? They laugh nervously then get on with showing us their pictures and to me the places they spend good money in most often look dreadful.

My point is, one’s lack of understanding always equals one’s lack of appreciation. Unlike my brother Don, however, ignorance in others gets me ornery.

“Why do you move your plants all the time?,” someone asked me again this year. Not always of a mind to limit my reply to the simplest, most accurate answer (because I can), I will on occasion deign to explain to the pained plebeian that not only is gardening similar to painting, it is quite like chess as well, and that the combinations of moves involving my living, blooming rooks, knights, bishops, queens and the rest are every bit as crucial and complex as those executed within the noble board game itself, and further, if you can begin to understand this and wish to join me in my quest toward the aesthetically perfect checkmate (and shall not shield thine eyes from the entirely essential sacrificing of the odd bur oak/pawn), then come, join me, here, now; you just may have what it takes to be a gardener. But if not, then best go away, go far away, back to your pitiful checkers-like yard, your nugatory backgammon-level hobbies and your whole, meaningless, Mahjongesque life. Next question?

“Why did them trees I planted die?” Those trees, which are in reality upright junipers (Juniperus chinensis), were planted in full shade while they require full sun, were planted in sculptor’s clay while they prefer a sandy loam, were not watered properly twice during their tragic existence, and were neither fertilized early in the spring nor late in the fall. Those trees died because you killed them.

“I’ve never been interested in gardening because of all the weeding.” Ah, but then this utterly absurd notion that gardening involves more than a few moments weeding during an entire growing season has heretofore weeded your ilk from our ranks, so in this one instance, at least, the concept of the weed has not at all been a bad thing. I’ve spent less than twenty minutes weeding in my garden this entire summer, because after the second year there are few weeds in a properly maintained garden. In the spring pick seven weeds a day from newer beds, apply mulch around flowers and vegetables in mid-June and by the third year weeds don’t grow because there is no seed left.

But now I must bring this discourse to an end. I promised my hotshot garden writer brother Don that I would write a column for him, but I didn’t say I would nurse-feed. There’s the telephone, the repair shop has called, my chainsaw is ready, and there’s this 120-year-old red oak in my front yard that has fallen into disfavor …

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener