I have said before that I am not a gardener. Not the out-of-doors, tilling the earth kind. I can grow all kinds of pretty green things in my refrigerator, but I haven’t much skill with tending under the open sky. When I was a kid, my mom would ask me to weed her flower bed. Despite the fact that the kidney-shaped bed was a small one, it would take me most of the afternoon. Not because I was doing a good job, but because I kept coming back into the house to get a drink, go to the bathroom, catch “You Can’t Do That on Television,” you know, basic needs. And when I did get around to it, I yanked off the green parts that I could actually see, and left the rest.
Fast forward 20 (okay, maybe 30) years, and that little bed is long gone. Before you get too excited, I’ll just let you know that she replaced it with a bed that spans the entire length of the backyard. This monster is roughly 40 feet long and 8 feet deep. Nifty. And it’s hard to keep up with on your own when your knee needs replacing, so when she asked me if I could help, I said I’d be happy to. And I meant it.
I am not afraid of hard work, but I was a little worried. The spirit is willing, but the skill is minimal. My idea of weeding a garden is tying orange yarn on the stuff I planted on purpose and taking a weed-eater to the rest. Mom gave me a basic tutorial on “this-is-weed-this-is-plant” before her appointment. I got it. Or I thought I did. And she made it clear that we weren’t just taking off the tops. We were digging for gold. That garden claw was to be used to dislodge every Bermuda grass root we could find. Dig it up, pull it out, throw it away.
I admit, I was a little distracted as she was giving me the run-down. I don’t know why. It’s not like a toddler can do that much damage with a two-by-four, right? Or a spade. Or a mattock. Silly me. I should have been paying more attention to the important stuff. The moment I was alone with a two-year-old and a garden, all of her profound teaching left me. I knew I was up a creek.
I did what I knew for sure. I know Bermuda grass. I dug those roots like nobody’s business. But there were other plants I was unsure about, Was that a delicate day lily or a brazen clump of grass? They look rather alike. When in doubt, leave it. My mother returned home to find that I had carefully weeded around the weeds themselves. I did learn something, though. If its roots go all the way to the center of the earth, it is a weed. If it comes up, roots and all, with barely a tug, someone paid a lot of money for it.
When my confidence was built (aka, I had a supervisor), I was able to claw with joyful abandon, making rapid progress. I was thinking I might actually finish this patch in one day. Until. I sunk the claw into a particularly think clump of weeds. As I bent down to remove the bits I had broken up, I discovered a toad. Don’t worry. He was whole. But he was scared, and it got me thinking. He was probably not alone in that mass of overgrowth. Seeing as how it would break my heart to uncover parts of toads, I was going to have to take the heavily grown parts by hand. Oh, joy.
I didn’t finish that day. Or the next. And we’re still not finished, but we’ll be back at it as soon as the weather clears up. And I think I’m getting kind of good at it. It’s relaxing to break up roots and follow them by hand back to their evil source. I’m sure I made a few mistakes in my zealous efforts, but as long as hydrangeas don’t actually need a taproot, it will all be fine.