The Inflexible Gardener

The Inflexible Gardener

There is a war going on in my garden.

Like most of these things, it involves a border dispute. There has been evidence of spying, reconnaissance missions, and casualties. Sometimes, civilians have been hurt. There are surprise surges, weekend attacks, and outbreaks that looked small at the outset, but which ended in blood.

I should begin at the beginning.

When my husband and I bought our little house at the beach, there wasn’t much of a garden there. There was a yard, definitely, but the grass was not lush. In fact, it looked as if 300 people, 400 children and a mid-sized herd of elephants had stampeded it the night before (which may have actually happened—I’m not sure how the old owners celebrated their last night in the house. I do know that they did not spend any time cleaning or packing up their trash, so anything is possible).

On one side of the house, next to the trash cans, there was a large stand of orange daylilies, straining to stick their brash flowers out of the shade.

I, of course, pictured rolling waves of colorful plants around the entire house, and I soon set to mapping out that picture with a flexible garden hose and a sharp, flat-edged shovel. I jumped up and down on that shovel all weekend—slicing into the grass (which, although it was patchy, seemed determined to hold onto whatever dirt it could), and etching in the shape of my new beds.

I soon called in a landscaper and a team of professionals to help me with the task, and they made my vision a reality, just two days and a thousand gallons of Gatorade later.

My vision had no room for garish orange, and the daylilies ended up in a sad wilted stack on the back of the landscaper’s truck.

The battle began soon after.

It was stealthy at first. One weekend I noticed a few stray blades of grass, creeping stealthily back across the border. I didn’t think much about it, but simply pulled them out and threw them on the ground as a warning to their friends.

In a few weeks, I found myself in a small skirmish with the daylilies, their troops lined up in formation exactly where they had been when I bought the house. I attacked with vigor…pulling them out and digging away the roots.

It soon become all out war.

The daylilies marched back with vigor, destroying the prettier, but less strong plants in their path. They moved like Sherman, deliberately, as if they knew that they would win in the end.

Remember when you were in school, and you learned about the different types of conflict? Man versus Man, Man versus Himself, Man versus Nature. I always thought that Man versus Nature was the most boring of conflicts…after all, Man had dominion over Nature (or so I thought at the time). And writers seemed to agree with me…even today, I can only think of two examples that we put in that category—The Old Man and the Sea and that one short story about a man trying to build a fire.

I was not going to lose this conflict. I grabbed the bottle of Round Up and attacked the errant daylilies.

Why did I revert to chemical warfare? The Hague Convention of 1899 banned chemical weapons against your enemies on the battlefield, but this battlefield was under my control. And I was tired of pulling the daylilies, because they broke off in my hand. If you’re an experienced gardener you know that that is the true sign of a weed: weeds have roots that extend somewhere to Asia, whereas “real” plants pull out easily, sometimes even popping out of the ground with no provocation (this usually only happens to the really expensive ones that you’ve sent for through a catalog). I tried using a shovel, but these combatants left little sleeper cell roots behind, springing up with enthusiasm to attack when I least expected it. So I reverted to blanketing the area with poison. And lots of it.

It was satisfying at first. The remaining daylilies shriveled up and turned brown.

That’s when I noticed the collateral damage. The beautiful purple columbine and pink astilbe that I had planted nearby were withering and dying as well.

I cried out when I saw what I had done. And then I went to the store and bought new columbines and astilbes, both of which cheerfully grew where I had killed their comrades.

Today, I have come to terms with having a couple of orange daylilies in the midst of my otherwise calm color palette. I still pull out the orange daylilies when I see them, but sometimes I wait until the following day.

That’s what I call embracing change in the garden.