If Gardening Were Tetris, July Would Be Level 93

Somewhere on God's Green Earth gardens exist where people actually plant things. I see them tooling home from the nursery, shrubs nodding gently in the back seat. I imagine them in their idyllic retreats, nestling lacy root balls into the ground, tamping loamy soil gently but firmly around supple stems. I've seen pictures that I believe are not faked.

This, however, is not my experience. In my world, gardening consists of a desperate scramble to remove marauding foliage before it engulfs the house. PLANT something? When? I suppose It might help if I were diligent. But I'm more of a diva gardener, awaiting the muse's call. Conditions must be perfect -- not too hot or cold or wet or buggy -- or I simply cannot set foot on the leafy stage.

But occasionally, the stars do align and I head bravely into the yard, where it's a more like a mad game of Tetris than the meditative, blissful communion with our plant brethren I see in magazines. The only thing I want is for weeds to disappear. Preferably whole sections at a time with a nice, satisfying poof. In the rare moments I do get ahead of the game, I still can't plant anything because... HERE THEY COME AGAIN.

If gardening is like Tetris, then July is level 93. Weeds sprout faster than hands can move and if you fumble for even a minute, the yard will COMPLETELY FILL UP TO THE TOP and it will be GAME OVER.

Friends occasionally suggest a more tolerant view of weeds if I'm not going to keep after them:

Me: Dandelions! They are the devil's spawn.

Friend: Just let them be. They're not too bad if you don't think of them as weeds.

Me: You mean, if it's inevitable, just lie back and enjoy it?

Friend: If they were truly legitimate weeds, the ground would just shut that whole thing down.

Me: So you're saying, since the dandelions are there I must have actually wanted them.

Friend: They may be a "gift" from a higher source. Someone who knows better than you.


2013-07-20-flameweeder.jpgHere's a pic of me going after them with a propane flame weeder -- pitifully underpowered. Think of it as a weed toaster. A friend has offered to re-rig it to shoot a 60 foot fireball of gasoline. I'm definitely thinking about it.

The weed invasion doesn't just blast in all at once. It's a subtle symphony of verdant encroachment that starts pianissimo -- a few dandelions in the opening measures of spring. Then notes of spurge and chickweed enter, followed by ominous strains of buttercup, crab grass and something called "herb robert" (I knew boys with those names in high school and just like them, herb robert is relentlessly annoying and smelly). Ivy is particularly galling, since we have no one to blame but ourselves for inviting it to play. Then, just as the weedy orchestra is reaching a frenzied crescendo, the grandaddy of Northwest weeds crashes in:


If dandelions are the devil's spawn, blackberries are the devil's much meaner, delinquent big brother. When I first moved to Washington, I was briefly seduced by the sweetness of berry season. But I soon learned the dark truth: Berries are whores, pimped out by swaggering, thuggish vines that only want to own your turf.

I dream of nuking them out of existence with my souped-up flamer thrower, but I don't dare. I'm pretty sure our house is built on an enormous blackberry nest and if we try to kill it, we'll just make it mad and be dragged down into the viny pit of hell, house and all. Years later, parents will point out the seething mountain of thorny tentacles where our house used to stand and use it to scare their children into behaving.

"There used to be a family there, a long time ago, but their kids wouldn't go to bed."