Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Our Neighbor - The Gardening Guru

When we first moved to New England from Southern California, we were shocked at the amount of work necessary for gardening, not to mention the much shorter season. In Southern Cal, we could plant impatiens in our back garden, and if we simply kept them pruned, they stayed there forever, constantly blooming, even in the middle of winter. New England soon taught us that nothing stays the same and annuals must truly be planted again and again, year after year. We also learned that the leaves will fall. We knew this would happen, but in California, it was a non-issue. Sure, some of the leaves fell off some of the trees, but it was more like brushing a dog and having it lose a bit of hair. Shedding: that's what the trees in Southern California did. The trees in New England dump every single leaf and they are miraculously attracted to any smooth, grassy lawn. They cannot be ignored nor can they be left alone, or they will rot, and that's a whole 'nuther story.

Being a busy family, we did the best we could do when we got here. We chased after the leaves, watched as the snowfall covered up many of them until spring, and then we chased them some more. We planted our garden a bit early, it turns out, but we were fortunate it wasn't affected by frost. But nothing we did compared to that of our next door neighbor. Our neighbor, Keith (not his real name), is in his mid-30s and lives alone, or sometimes with a girl friend. He is an extremely hard worker with a type A personality. He works 40+ hours per week at a local retail store, and the rest of the time, weather permitting, he works outdoors on his garden, his lawn, and even the woods surrounding his property. Keith loves to garden. His front lawn is the envy of all the neighborhood. Granted, he pays for a professional crew to come in once each month during the summer to treat the lawn for pests, parasites, and weeds, but he also waters it lovingly every day, which, in New England, is not really necessary, and he mows it every five days, like clockwork. We have actually seen Keith mowing his lawn at 10:00 at night, when it is completely dark and dangerous, if you ask me. But he is rabid about staying on schedule; and it shows. The lawn is pristine.

Keith is also very proud of his gardening abilities. He grows a few vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, and a couple of corn stalks; but most of Keith's gardens are full of flowers that look like they stepped right out of a nursery that day. Or as my children would say, they all look fake. Keith's gardens are weeded, fed, pruned and tended each and every day. He loves his flowers and it shows. We even see Keith weekly raking and sweeping (yes, sweeping) the woods around his property every couple of weeks. The forest floor is smooth and looks like a well-kept picnic area.

In contrast, our lawn is half-green at best. We water it only if we have more than a week without any precipitation, and we mow it when it gets tall and scraggly looking. The only flowers we have managed to grow successfully are impatiens or geraniums in our window boxes, and a few rose bushes scattered around the yard. Our vegetable garden is our only real success, as it gives us plentiful tomatoes each year; but only tomatoes. Nothing else will grow successfully. Our hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and even lilacs have ceased to bloom. The only pleasure is our faithful forsythia bush out front.

One day I made the mistake of talking to Keith about his lawn. Keith loves to talk about his gardens, his veggies, his flowers, and especially his lawn. I made a passing joke about our lawn compared to his; about how our lawn was not too terrible, but next to his, it looked like dirt. Keith immediately ran home and was back in a flash with a huge stack of hardback gardening books. There was one for beautiful laws, one for vegetables, one for annuals, one for perennials, and one all about pests and parasites. What Keith did not understand is that our family's take on gardening is pretty much riding the tide; winging it. Yes, we have learned the ebb and flow of New England's seasons, and how a certain amount of work is required during each season, whether it be planning, planting, tending, harvesting, or cleaning; but we were not looking for a showcase garden, I had merely complimented Keith's success.

I kept Keith's books for a time and honestly looked at them once or twice, knowing he would ask me about them. Finally, one day a few weeks later, I had my son run them over to him while he was mowing his lawn. I knew he would not break his stride and the books would not have to be discussed. I was right. The next time I ran into Keith, he casually asked me how I liked the books. I thanked him, told him they were wonderful, and then changed the subject. Now that spring is here, I look forward to taking care of our lawn and gardens this year. I already have everything planned. It will not look anything like Keith's masterpiece, but I really don't care. It will be homey and pretty and enjoyable, and that's what really matters, right?

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