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June 11, 2008

Gardening is a dirty business

Look, it's my first pumpkin blossom:

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Such a pretty sight!

The wall between my backyard and my next-door-neighbor Mrs. Lee's backyard is often just a technicality. Mrs. Lee likes to come over and knock on my garden gate whenever she hears me puttering around out back, so she can visit and we chitchat and then she scolds me for not watering enough. Mrs. Lee reminds me she waters twice a day and that's why her vegetables don't die like mine do. I think it is to my credit that I manage to smile and nod instead of reminding her that I don't stay home all day like she does and in fact I am not home during daylight hours Monday through Friday. I like Mrs. Lee, she just wants my garden to be a happy place instead of a dustbowl. I just smile and nod, she means well.

My desire to attempt some form of gardening each year is so finely ingrained in me I don't bother resisting, even though I tend toward more of a Darwin-esque "I planted ya'll now fend for yourselves" philosophy, also known to some as "sheer laziness" and "I work long hours." But I need to think I have a garden -- it is a Southern thing, I suspect -- and have learned that if I have to water a particular plant twice a day it probably is best left in the garden center or in the capable hands of someone who doesn't commute three hours a day. Hence why I made the bold decision to plant nary a tomato this year and I feel VERY GOOD ABOUT IT. As it stands, we're now in early June and I haven't killed a single tomato seedling all year. The fact that I didn't kill something I never planted is all the greater achievement.

So Mrs. Lee came back to visit with me one Sunday as I was admiring my pumpkin plants and about to remove the very large, healthy not-quite-zucchini plants growing beside them in the raised-bed garden box. The renegade zucchini that just appeared from air and managed to grow hefty little mutants had reached the end of its tenancy in my garden.

"What is that?" asked Mrs. Lee. She pointed at the thing growing in my garden that was allegedly a zucchini. "I thought you grow the zucchini this year? Like last year very happy?"

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"Well, it's a recessive gene of the zucchini plant, I guess." I tried to explain it to Mrs. Lee as best I could. "When the seeds from my old squash plants germinated they turned into some mutant version of their non-hybridized forefathers or something sciency like that and now I must remove them for the sake of the pumpkins!"

As we talked, I reached down with my gloved hands and yanked the whole green plant out of the soil. We both looked closely at the weirdly shaped fruit. I wondered silently to myself why I can't grow watermelon but I can grow squash that resemble watermelon.

Nature is cruel.

Mrs. Lee asked me what went wrong again, and again I tried to explain my 10th grade understanding of genetics. I was pretty sure Mrs. Lee, whose English is about as good as my Korean, at least got my general meaning. After all, that thing growing in the garden was not any zucchini I have ever seen. For her benefit, I made the universal sad face as I put the big green plant of mutantcy in my green garden bin along with the grass clippings. Inside I was thinking, "Au revoir, suckers! I win the zucchini game!"

Then she scolded me, "But you did good last year zucchini! Too bad!"

Maybe it's just because she's very brusque that I think she's always scolding me. Except about watering -- she is definitely scolding about that.

So Mrs. Lee and I visited a little longer and then she had to go, needed to be off to the grocery store and the garden center and run all her errands. As far as I can tell, Mrs. Lee spends her weekends buying new plants and gadgets and finding bargains and treasures all over the valley. Their house is a mysterious cavern of unusual plants and appliances with Korean labels and foot massagers. I love their house, it's like being in a game show.

After she left I swept the back patio and added some sphagnum peat moss around my pumpkin plants and watered to try to keep them alive at least until the next big heat wave. I admired my one cucumber, growing happily in its pot:

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Moving the plants nearer the sprinklers has worked out really well. My thyme plant is a bush and my basil from last year is huge (and apparently basil is a perennial, who knew) and now I have a cucumber! It's almost like Nature is giving me a break, having already killed the watermelon and now with the mutant zucchini. Maybe Nature and I have finally reached a truce, a kind of understanding. Maybe Nature won't try to kill me anymore.

Later that evening as I was making dinner and getting ready for the workweek ahead, I heard a knock on my front door. It was Mrs. Lee.

"Hi Mrs. Lee, you need some help with anything?" I asked.

"Oh no, I feel bad about your no squash. So you grow good this year!" and with that she handed me a plastic bag from the garden center. Inside rested a big, happy six-pack of zucchini plants that she'd picked up on her travels that day. I believe it is an understatement to say I was shocked.

"Oh, wow, thank you Mrs. Lee!"

"Yeah, Ok, you plant now and water. Water good!" and with that she was off and I was left to plant my new army of zucchini.

Six plants.

Six healthy, vigorous squash plants.

Nature is maybe laughing. Nature said, "You want abundance? You want gardening? I'll give you a garden! Hope you sleep with one eye open!" Nature knows that secretly I do not even really like zucchini.

It's going to be a long and green summer.

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There are five more where that came from.

Posted by laurie at June 11, 2008 8:24 AM