Friday, January 7, 2011

The Gardener's Malaise -- Part One

The first symptoms actually begin in January.  There is a restless but covert fondling of garden tools; a secret trip to the garden space to check the freeze depth; furtive glances of anticipation toward the mailbox in search of an early seed catalog.  The True Gardener's Malaise (otherwise known as TGM) has set in.  For those of us susceptible to this most serious of diseases, mid-winter is a trying time.

It is pure frustration to witness the sun's rays, streaming bountifully in through the hall window and look outside only to find them wasted upon the crusted snow that has olbiterated all but traces of last year's garden plot.  Winter periodicals trumpet the joys of growing vegetables in your bathroom window, gardening under artifical light--but somehow, it all lacks the gritty ecstasy derived from kneeling in mucky springtime dirt.  Pacifiers,  That's all they are.  Just pacifiers.  Of course, the True Gardener can hardly be blamed for indulging in some of these lesser endeavors, but come spring you can bet his roving eye will leave the confines of his hydroponic harem indoors for the more earthy company of a compost pile and horse poop.  There's no substitute for plain old garden dirt.  Ah!  The nostaliga of it!  It's enough to make the True Gardener weep with longing as he watches his Burpee Planting Clock slowly tick by.

So, it is with great difficult that he is dissuaded from venturing forth with the groundhogs at the first February thaw to at least till a wee spot for the lettuce.  Were it not for the generosity of the gods in thinking of hotbedding some early greens, a full-blown neurosis could set in.  But, bless us all, the look of golden bliss pours over the grower's face as he beams, "If I plant some lettuce seeds now, we'll have salad by April 1."

Finally, the seed catalog arrives.  And now begins a routine no less precise than the mating ritual of the pileated woodpecker.

"Let's see...what variety of beets should we order?"
"Well, the Slendra-ovals did nicely for us last year..."
"Y-es....But I'd like to try a new variety this year.  How about Purple Passions?"
"Well, let's have a look at what it says.  Hmmmm.  Resists fuzzy wortworm, makes three-foot tops, with large sweet-tasting roots, matures late and is a good winter keeper."
Sounds good.  Let's get a packet."
"What about Lithuanian (for Ruta) eggplant?"
"I wonder what salsify tastes like..."
"Lookkee here, they've go a new thing called celtuce.  Maybe we should get some of that..."

Oh, the dreams of grandeur that plague the process of seed selection!  No caution intrudes here to deter the willful abandon of the enthusiast at this most crucial time.  For seed choosing is the real bash of the True Gardener.  And like many acts of procreation, comparitively little thought is given at the time of choosing, to the enduring task of nurture.

At last the seeds arrive!  Comes now the drawing board and tape measure to lay forth....The Garden Plan--otherwise known as the first time the True Gardener discovers that he has bought far too many seeds for the amount of space he has in which to plant them.  Turning to his library, he finds little help in "How to Truck Farm Commerically in Twenty Square Feet," so there is nothing for it but to.....extend the garden space.  For that--the rototiller.

There is an undisguised authority, now, as the proud owner reads the warranty card on his new machine, a visible swelling of chest, a slight jut of the chin:  "Congratulations! for choosing the most power garden tiller made in America today.  Just read and follow the simple directions carefully and your tiller will give you years of labor-free gardening pleasure."

"O.K.  Now.  Fill the crankcase with oil.  Check.  Fill tank with gas.  Check.  Check the oil level.  Check.  I guess we're ready..."

With the first pull of the starter cord a surge of robust power is unleashed and the True Gardener knows immediately who is in control--the rototiller.

Kids, dogs, and cats watch in utter amazement as the unsuspecting soul suddenly finds himself plunging through the strawberry patch (which did not need tilling) completely at the mercy of this wild and wanton monster.  From a distance the scene is vaguely reminiscent of an enraged Brahma bull charging at full tilt.  Somehow, stuck to the tail end is a wild-eyed, slightly manical-looking creature, contemplating his last will and testament as he sails past the dog house, heading for the beehives.  Mercifully, the thing hangs up on the fencerow and comes to an uneasy rest, but not before making breakfast sausage links of the hose.

A quick re-check of the instruction sheet and one small adjustment--taking it out of gear--sets things to rights and the garden plot is suitably enlarged to accommodate the gourmet assortment.  And now a metamorphisis occurs.

Note:  Part Two on Monday. 

(I wrote this piece over twenty years ago.  But things haven't changed.  Today, January 7,  2011, guess what MM was doing?  Shopping the seed catalogs!

See you on Monday everyone....I'll bet a lot of you, too, are shopping for seeds and pining for summer!
Thanks for stopping to visit!  I've enjoyed your company so very much.  It's snowing lightly here, JOTOLR...looking for more this evening. 
Have a great weekend! 



  1. That is priceless! I have tears of laughter running down my cheeks from you rotary hoe story!
    I've just had a laugh at myself too - just pulled out one of last seasons catalogues to identify a tomato that is most definitely not Early Girl as the packet stated and laughed at how many items I had circled in the catalogue when I was garden planning / dreaming in the darkest days of last winter. I would have needed another acre to plant it all if I hadn't thinned the order out due to $$$!!
    Happy garden planning and dreaming :-)

  2. Julia!

    You sweet thing! So glad I gave you a chuckle!! The second part comes on Monday!
    Hope all is well in YOUR garden!


  3. Terrific post! Our first seed catalog arrived yesterday. Ah, the dreams of vegetable grandeur!

  4. Elora -- What a great piece of writing -- brought smiles to my face when I read about the truck farm and the 20 square feet to garden in -- also the rototiller story. Gardening can be fun and games as well as hard work. -- barbara

  5. Oh man that is one of the funniest posts yet Elora! Great one, I can just imagine MM cling onto that rototiller for dear life :) Lol

  6. I remember my mom showing me the seed catalogs. She enjoyed them almost as much as I enjoyed the Sears Christmas Wishbook. Best of all was when the box of seeds arrived later.

  7. Thank you so much, Vicki! Yeah...ours are arriving daily and our order is taking shape! And thank you, Barbara! I so appreciate you! Thank you, Elora!! And BTW, I loved your list of good things in your Italian life! NCMW, you are so right! MM has his nose stuck in the seed catalog as I write, and when the seed box comes, he races to open it just as if it were Christmas!

    Thank you, all! I am counting the days until HSI enters my life so I can make comments on others' blogs more expeditiously! Thanks for your patience with me!!