The Battle of a Gardener


There is no such thing as a “timid gardener.” A greater oxymoron has never been uttered, for timidity has no place in the gardening world. Ours is a world of ruthless lack of compassion, a place of daily holocaust and ritual destruction.

We sever unruly root balls, callously part parent plant from offspring, and mercilessly behead baby seedlings where we have planted too many. A lone hollyhock that has popped up in the front of the border gets an immediate dismissal and a mottled tulip sport is unceremoniously yanked from its moist spring bed. But it is all in the name of love and evolution.

A good gardener cannot afford timidity. Leave the delicate meandering along garden paths to the visiting tourists. Ignorant of such bloody battles, as well they should be, these folk see simple superficial prettiness ~ not the deep, rich beauty that only the toiling, sweating, bug-beating, back-breaking earth work can produce. The hard-won victory over slugs is something they can never appreciate whilst passing carelessly through the floating blossoms of a Japanese iris. They do not see the endless eradication of weeds that we must carry out daily ~ they are not supposed to see such things.

Gardening is often full of similar strategic subterfuge. The unenlightened masses can nibble on their cucumber sandwiches and daintily sip tea with unsullied hands; I’ll keep my shredded fingernails, with dirt so deeply embedded that no file will ever gouge it all out, and the satisfying ache of fingers spent grasping a cultivating claw for hours on end. Give me soiled knees over perfectly-pressed pants any day.

Ours is a greater satisfaction than that which they will ever come to know. It is the appreciation of the garden as an ever-evolving sculpture of our never-ending toil, the behind-the-scenes brutality of keeping rampant runners in check and declaring genocide on the Japanese beetles. It’s not always a pretty process, but the ends more than justify the means, and more often than not the means are pretty enjoyable too.

The rewards of a true gardener are not easily won. Hours of watering and weeding, pruning and planning, mulching and tending may only result in a tiny delphinium stalk or an unproductive crop of vegetables, where excessive foliage yields hardly any fruit. Grand visions of scaling horticultural heights soon fall flat at the feet of compacted clay soil or a waterless, windy summer drought.

Yet we continue undeterred. The plight of a gardener is sometimes a pretty one, and even our mistakes carry with them the promise of unexpected beauty. A happy accidental pairing of peas and a self-sown foxglove offer one another symbiotic protection and complementary good looks ~ the rabbits avoid the deadly Digitalis and in the proves overlook the delicious veggie platter in their midst. A forgotten, late-to-break specimen is overplanted by a new addition, and the merry mistake turns into a delicately intertwined melody rather than an inharmonious duet.

Such are the tender returns of the gardener’s battle. A sun-dusted head of hair and a weather-beaten brow are our daily combat. It is a valiant but beautiful struggle ~ the battle of a gardener.

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