Hydrangea, Sweet Bird of Youth


Saturday I rushed into the yard for some early spring gardening. My neighbor had been out two hours, for that's when his boom box on the picnic table woke me with a garden call-in show. It takes that long for me to get out of bed, put on last night's sweats then curse the sunlight, which is dandy calisthenics when you wave your arms and stomp.


It was time to kill my babies.


A couple of weeks ago I filled tiny pots with special soil and sprinkled vegetable seeds across them. I spritzed the lettuce and basil, chard and dill, with warm water twice a day, nursing them as gently as if I pollinated them myself. I would have, too, but that stuff makes me sneeze.


They've sprouted and now are crowding each other out. It's what I hate about gardening and what blokes like my neighbor Sol Schadenfreude take delight in: pruning. It's enough to make me eat hamburgers and chicken strips three times a day for the rest of my life.


Believe me, I am pro-plant, but when you don't thin to one per cell they all die, and is that more humane? Besides, I'd like the plants to get big enough to produce something edible.


"Hey Joe Doakes, why the long face? Big night last night?" said Sol by the picket fence.


Such a man should be forced to drink, but I replied sweetly, "I read up on a new pepper hybrid, Evictus invictus, last night with a cup of milk. Sol, you eat sprouts for breakfast, so how do you slaughter innocent stems that barely have two leaves apiece?"


"It's tough, Doakes, even for me. For instance. I certainly do remember that trip to Home Depot. I remember parking under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony over by the shopping carts, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get to the greenhouse."


This sounded familiar. Schadenfreude said his favorite clerk told him to not waste money on green tweezers and that he'd soon come to relish pulling them out, roots and all, with fingers.


"He was right, again. I can no more disown him than I can my grandmother, a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who raised radishes from scratch and trained tomatoes."


Maybe he was onto something.


"This was a woman who once confessed her fear of wild flowers that might strangle her marigolds, who on more than one occasion has uttered weed stereotypes that made me cringe. These cultivations are part of me, and they are part of America, this country that I love."


I could have done without the politics, but when you have charisma like Schadenfreude you can't help it. "Sol, you're right. If you don't want to get your hands dirty, stay out of hedge funds."