Saturday, June 23, 2007

Not-so-heavenly gardens, by Kathryn Lilley

Today’s topic is gardening.

It will come as no surprise to those of you who have read my previous posts that I am not the world’s most accomplished gardener.

But it’s not for lack of caring—or trying.

It’s not as if I have Kensington Gardens to maintain. My family and I live in Southern California, in one of those congested cities-by-the-sea, in a house that pushes up against the confines of its undersized lot. Instead of a garden, we are proud owners of a “decorative strip.” Our decorative strip is so narrow, it looks like it should get a bikini wax every week instead of a mowing.

But over the years, even the decorative strip has tested my mettle.

When we moved into this house five years ago, I was drawn to the giant trees that surround it. I didn’t realize that come fall, those trees would morph into leaf-dropping monsters. Their daily drop-off requires a raking-and-mop-up operation every twenty-four hours, at the very least. Which I don’t do, of course—I think that once-a-week raking is enough for any householder. And my husband’s response, whenever I mention the carpet of leaves, is always: “What leaves?” Bless his heart.

The worst thing about the leaves is that we’re the only house in the neighborhood with trees, except for the odd palm tree here and there. Our annual leaf carpet is painfully evident to all, like the neighbor who doesn’t mow the lawn all summer, or who keeps an old junker in the front yard.

One time at a block party someone asked me where we lived, and I said, “The house with the leaves.” This was met with a nod and an “Ah, yes.”

I haven’t had much success with planting things, either. Or with dealing with what’s already planted. We have a lovely pair of barrel-shaped shrubs, very tall, that provide a symmetrical balance to the southern side of the strip. But, they need to be trimmed. I once gave that task over to my husband (with a direct, please trim the shrubs request, so that there’d be no comeback of “what shrubs?”). He really seemed to take to the task, and I was happy—until I went outside and discovered that instead of two barrel-shaped shrubs, we now had shrub topiary. All of the branches in the lower halves had been whacked off, trimmed down to the bare trunk.

I shouldn’t complain. My idea of the perfect garden is one that you plant once, get just right--and then it stays perfect, forever more. That’s what I’ve heard they have in garden heaven. I keep trying to do weeding, but I get confused between the “real” plants and the weeds. I once pulled up a ring of daffodils—or maybe it was iris—thinking it was onion grass.

For the moment, I have retreated from the fray. A nice gentleman named Mannie now comes to our house every Wednesday morning. It takes Mannie fifteen minutes to do more than we ever accomplished in eight hours. And he does it twice as well.

I was thinking that the Mannie solution was just a stopgap, until I could recharge my gardening engines and give it another go.

But then I saw his results. And now, I’m not so sure. I believe that Mannie may be here to stay.

At least through the leafy-carpet season.



Joanna Campbell Slan said...


That photo is dynamite. You are just that gorgeous, too.


Kathryn Lilley said...

Thanks, Joanna! They put a ton of make-up on for the photo shoot, lol.