EVERY MORNING, as I drive down Connecticut Avenue, I can see that Mayor Barry is behind in his weeding. The big stone troughs in the middle of the street, which in spring give us azaleas and magnolias, are sadly overgrown.
I say this, not in a spirit of criticism and certainly not self-righteousness. I, too, am behind in my weeding, although for reasons quite different from the mayor's. I presume his are budgetary or may have to do with an aversion, which I do not share, to the chore of pulling ugly, green, unwanted things from the ground. Actually, I envy the mayor his weeds. Even I can recognize them for what they are. I'd love to get my hands on them.
My garden, specifically the herb plot, is also overgrown, but I don't dare do anything about it. The rue, wouldn't you know, flourishes in my care -- ever bushier, lacier and as far as I can tell, useless. Everything else looks like an emergency ward. The golden thyme has hepatitis -- it is a hideous shade of yellow green. The sage has turned its face to the wall.
Right in the middle of these disasters is a rich growth of I don't know what. Sometimes I spot a weed like the mayor's and triumphantly yank it out. Otherwise, I go out and look at them all and ask for some form of identification.
My lament has its roots in the spring. You remember the sodden travesty of April and May. That's when we should have been out there digging, planting, and lugging in the rich leaf mold from the Indian Embassy grounds. We should have been dreaming dreams of blooms other than the inevitable impatiens, which, I regret to say, my dear friend Ray calls "the pigeons of the flower world." It's easy for him to say. He has a formal Italian garden, with lovely geometric intervals of exotic lilies.
We gardeners sat by the window and watched the rain. In the case of what is called the perennial bed, it caused the inhabitants to grow to such heights as to make an exhibit of unjolly green giantism. The ferns, which were brought from New Hampshire to provide a graceful woodland flourish, shot up in a in a manner I found almost menacing. The shasta daisies, those layabouts who give you one flower per plant when they get around to it, got as big as tanks -- and as aggressive. They devoured the phlox in their advance, at least those few which did not slide down the slope and into the park in the unremitting downpours.
There is not a spot of color anywhere. To relieve the jungle look -- I thought any day some Nicaraguan freedom fighters would leap out from behind the fern -- I bought some fat and seemingly happy ageratum plants. In a week, they had, I guess, jungle rot. Their cerulean blue has turned brown.
During the stormy weather, I opened a small greenhouse in the kitchen. I bought seeds -- larkspur, so delicate, and stock, so fragrant, and put them in those little cardboard eggbox incubators, which, the label said, are foolproof.
I watered, I waited, I watched. After several weeks, little tiny green threads appeared. They looked as fragile and pathetic as those poor little babies who need new livers.
Finally, I thought sunshine -- of which there were a few hours in mid-May -- might revive them. So I put them in the garden, pots and all, several weeks ago. I wish I could tell you what happened to them, but I haven't any idea. All sorts of green leaves have appeared on the site, but, alas, without name tags.
The seed package is no help. Seed packages do not have pictures of leaves, only of luscious, luxuriant blossoms, which I have never seen except in fantasy. Am I, I ask myself every day, headed straight for the title of weed grower of the year?
I planted some more larkspur seeds, not for the flowers of course -- I know better than that -- but for the leaves. I hope what has come up is not a weed, because it is my reference tool. I hold it against whatever is growing in the herb plot. But all leaves have a number of characteristics in common, so many, in fact, that I haven't pulled up anything in a week.
I sense a twinge of compassion for congressmen who have trouble voting on difficult issues. The difference in weeding is that there is no "bipartisan compromise" to get you off the hook.
You may well ask why I do not seek some other form of pastime. Gardening is in my blood. My father and grandfather were celebrated in the field, particularly with the spectacular fuchsia, which grows wild in their ancestral Donegal. I inherited the inclination, you see, but not the skill. I am doomed to endless effort and endless failure. Gardening, unless you give up and give in to impatiens, is the most humbling occupation I know, except for journalism, which is, when you think about it, mostly about weeding, too.
Mary McGrory is a Washington Post columnist.