Courage: The Mark of a True Gardener (Spring 2009)
It’s spring again. Time for the timid gardener, namely, me, to put on my game face, strap on some courage, and sally forth to my beds. What’s so scary about gardening, you ask?
Well, for starters, let’s talk about the wildlife. Due to an unfortunate exposure at the tender age of eleven to Hitchcock’s The Birds, a traumatic event in my life where my mom found it necessary to slap my face to stop my idiotic gibbering and then further decree that a glass of wine, my first, was needed to sedate me, I have a nervous respect for birds. That apprehension morphed into serious phobia at Busch Gardens a few years ago when a seagull mistook my out held gingerly-balanced pastry as a peace offering of sorts, swooped down inches from my stunned and gaping mien, and knocked the lovely almond-coated Belgian mocha treat right off my plate. As it landed in a delectable mess at my feet, his platoon mates joined the attack en masse. I was left blubbering in abject horror in the midst of a dozen flapping wings. My husband had to rescue me, and lead me away gently by the hand, adding to my public humiliation.
So that’s Florida, you may say, a foreign country, where tourists pay the price for their naiveté, but I hasten to add my local combat stories. Last year a mourning dove elected to nest in the hanging basket just outside my patio door, and when I emerged, completely unaware, the dove took flight with such a frantic commotion above my head that I nearly fainted on the spot. Until my husband safely removed the still-empty nest, I had to exit my back door brandishing a hockey stick to flush the enemy. Those devious doves also like to roost in my sunny back garden, camouflaged in the warm soil under my weigelas. I’d casually stoop to do some deadheading, and suddenly be bombarded by avian shock and awe. The doves would lift off wildly in their heavy and awkward way, raising plumes of dust, and leave me stricken, gasping for breath, moaning weakly for a paramedic. Then there was the spring I was removing leaves from my front garden and almost touched a decaying bird buried underneath the debris! Now my long-suffering husband is pressed into duty each March to perform a careful reconnaissance around the yard and secure the terrain.
And birds aren’t the only wildlife that can scare the heebie-jeebies out of you. I’ve had toads hop at my nose, snakes slither away only centimetres from my fingers, and a vole, or some equally disgusting furry facsimile, dart past my trowel. A transient bunny finds it amusing to bolt out from under my daylilies now and then, just to spike my blood pressure. Hordes of bees bivouac on my sedums in August, forcing me to wait until sundown to water the bed. As you can imagine, gardening under such duress causes me to be a little tense. I’ve been known to leap several feet in the air if a branch accidently brushes my back as I’m digging in the dirt. I wonder what the neighbours think as I hurl myself skyward and yelp in fright! Dial 911, it’s The Day of the Triffids?
Oh yeah, the neighbours. Another reason for courage. As a rookie gardener, I live in fear of their judgment on my efforts. For example, I’ll admit to a rather anal compulsion to keep my gardens tidy. What do they think when they see me obsessively picking out pebbles and twigs from the soil? Then there’s the bothersome complication of gardening at a 45 degree angle at all times so the neighbours aren’t hit with a broad backside view while I’m planting! Yes, gardening is truly fraught with anxiety!
Here’s yet another example. During the summer months, I like to wander around the yard in the early morning and look at my flowers and shrubs. I also like to wander around the yard at lunchtime and look at the same flowers and shrubs. And then, you guessed it, in the evening, I like to wander around the yard and see how those flowers and shrubs look with the spotlights on them. What do the neighbours think? Gee, lady, get a life! Get a job!
Thus I maintain: gardening is not for wimps. But, as every gardener knows, there is something so miraculous and so victorious about gardening – the green stuff coming back from the dead, those delicate pastel Iceland poppies dancing in the slightest breeze, the crimson Asiatic lilies trumpeting glory – that every spring I am compelled to gird my loins, narrow my eyes with Clint Eastwood defiance at the birds, hoist my hockey stick, and join the charge. Huzzah!