The other day I happened to be gazing out the front window of my little suburban hacienda and noticed that the street was barely visible through the weeds and grass in the front yard.
Clearly, summer is nigh -- time once again to weed, cut and otherwise hack my way back into some semblance of control over my garden environment.
A short tour of the grounds might have proved, for many folks, mildly alarming. The ivy has completely enveloped the back of the garage. There are brown and bare spots here and there around the lawn. The patio is overgrown, the hedges wild and woolly, the rose bush drooping and bedraggled.
I kind of like it.
Moseying around the place, I felt a surge of happiness at the beauty of God's creation -- just as it is. Me, I'm not naturally attracted to gardens, but to the woods, the desert, wild places. Maybe in some subconscious way I'm trying to help God along right in good old Silver Spring by promulgating a gardening doctrine of extreme noninterference.
Nonetheless, there are the neighbors to be considered. To say nothing of resale value.
I hiked on over to Wheaton Hardware and -- for seven bucks -- picked up a weed stabber, a trowel, a little three-pronged thingamajig for roughing up hard soil, and a nozzle for the hose, which I think may still be somewhere in the garage with my other key gardening implements -- rakes, shovels, ax, pickax, mattock, and sledgehammer.
The sledgehammer actually comes in quite handy when you want to break up rock, as I did at my summer place last year to create liners for a drainage ditch. On a whim, I brought back some big, heavy chunks of that wonderful northern New York granite at the end of the summer and tossed them around the yard.
Voila, ornamental rock garden.
Just to find out if I'm alone in my special view of the gardening arts and sciences, I checked in with a couple of pals.
"I do not do any gardening," said Stuart Maynard, a psychotherapist. "I say that ashamedly because my parents were both farmers. They grew flowers and had a wonderful garden and I don't do any of that. Worse, I live in a development where I don't even have to mow my own grass. I'm very happy about that. I hate cutting grass.
"At one time in my life I had to cut my own grass and I felt that kind of, you know, home-improvement pride. But on the whole I don't like that kind of work, so I pay somebody else to do it for me.
"Isn't that terrible?"
No, Stuart, it isn't. It seems that you are authentically in touch with your inner garden, just like me.
"I grew up on a sidewalk in New York tenements," Al Dinsenbacher, an engineer, told me. "Gardening was something done in parks by people who sort of were never seen, or by people with funny accents in British movies.
"Now that I've got my palatial 1/3-acre estate, I sprinkle wildflowers in front of my two tomato plants so that my front-yard vegetable patch isn't so obvious. If the wildflowers don't take care of themselves, I hope the weeds are colorful.
"By the way, is mowing the lawn considered gardening?"
Absolutely, Al. In fact, it may be the only form of gardening that will prevent the police from ticketing your house.
Speaking of front-yard vegetable patches, my next door neighbor Ray Battistelli has one beside his rather awesome mulch pile. He's got tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans, spinach and potatoes -- which is a lot of stuff considering that the entire garden is maybe nine feet square.
"It's cramped," Ray admitted the other day. "I need to weed it. I think I have some broccoli in there." He said the front yard is "the only place I've got any sun. Even so, I only get about three hours of full sun, which is barely enough. Everything tends to grow slowly, and come in late."
I asked Ray what draws him to gardening. "I guess I like it because it's kind of solitary," he said. "It gives me some time to myself." With two lively kids around the place, that makes plenty of sense.
My friend Vince Vallely, a retired foreign service officer, found the charms of gardening irresistible over the years because of job stress. "Gardening was a good form of relaxation," he said. "To get down and dig in the dirt seemed very natural and refreshing. At the office I was working with paper and intangible things, and gardening felt more rewarding.
"You could see the results of your labors."
Of course, there were problems. Animals sneaked in and feasted on his crops, forcing Vince to finally move the tomato plants next to his house where he could guard them. "A big fat woodchuck was getting all" his produce, he recalled. "I'd go out and there'd be a tomato with a big bite out of it. I'd been waiting till that tomato was red and ripe. I guess he was watching it, too."
Well, enough of this. Time to get out and weed.
I have to admit, however, that for me the prospect of all this hot-weather labor is bringing on serious thoughts about acquiring the most sure-fire gardening tool known to man.