Have you ever sterilized your pruners? Oiled a shovel? Or are you one of those nutjobs who keeps a garden diary in which you press flowers, paste photos and write down natureful thots? Me neither. Get real-I'm a reckless goofball who buys a new pair of pruners every year, thinks oil belongs in a sauté pan and leaves the shovel out in the rain. I have no thots about my plants much deeper than, "Wow, I really like that" or "Well, that was a bomb." Or, possibly, "Jeez, look at the bugs." In fact, I have a positive loathing of most record-keeping, because it takes away time from the actual thing to keep records about and because if I have to be that organized, I don't want to do it. The actual thing, I mean.
Then why do I have a messy notebook with maps of my flowerbeds and instructions on caring for some of my more valuable plants and trees, despite being one of the world's most haphazard people? Well, as one gets, um, older, one's memory begins to suck rocks. Also, we elderly become fond of our plants and fear that after the last dog dies and we sell the house, the new owners will be maniacally grinning scissor-handed freaks who will cut down the Kousa dogwood which we babied from a gooey mess of sticks into a showpiece, the morons. With their sick desire for a world of nothing but vertical and horizontal lines, they may sadistically slice our sassafrass plants flat on the top, ruining the balance and grace of our beloved garden.
Tragically, this happened to my brother and his wife. They grew a spectacular clematis vine across their front porch-the thing was like kudzu on crack, thick with hundreds of blue flowers-and when it bloomed, cars would screech to a halt in front of their house for people to admire it. When my relatives sold the house, the new Homeownerus Ignoramus-yep-whacked it down, the bloody-minded clematis criminals.
Some of my garden notes say things like: "Get fer il" (get fertilizer ... something) and "bak grot no pt," which means ... no idea. Some notes are intended as stern warnings for the next owner of our house, in case they are related to the Clematis Murderer. But most of them are reminders of things peculiar to my garden. I print out blank monthly calendars and keep notes on when I last fertilized or sprayed and what was used. If something doesn't work, I make a note of it for next year, such as: "REMEMBER 2006: DO NOT SPRAY MAPLE, PISSES OFF SQUIRRELS" and "WHEN ROOF COLLAPSES, PRUNE HONEYSUCKLE."
There are things even slapdash gardeners can do right now, in summer's doggiest days, to keep that poppin'-fresh look around longer. You can do these things in your robe and slippers when you go out to get the paper in the morning, at least until you are arrested and put in mental health lockup.
First, it's important to keep visiting your flowers. Just because it's hotter than two cats in a sock does not mean your blooms don't crave your admiration. Walking around with a cup of coffee is the preferred method. Observe: what is being eaten by bugs? What needs deadheading? What has collapsed and needs staking or tying up? What in the hell is that shoe doing there? Don't forget to speak encouragingly to your plants-the neighbors already know about your little problem.
Even if you don't really garden, you probably have petunias and impatiens, which get leggy and start putting out pathetic little weenie flowers instead of the full blooms of June. It's the perfect time to cut them back to the shortest thick part, just above some new growth and then pour on some bloom food and water. You'll get more fresh blooms in about a week. Many other annuals benefit from this as well. At www.orchardsedge.com/articles/deadheading.jsp">www.orchardsedge.com/articles/deadheading.jsp, you'll find the best article I've seen on how to keep things blooming longer.
I like www.backyardgardener.com for organic bug control products. (Many are available locally at Zamzows, Franz Witte, Far West and other nurseries). It's important to remember that organic products don't work as well as the kind from Ginormous International Chemical that can turn your golden retriever into a manatee, but I prefer to put up with a few more bugs. I'm fond of our doggie Honeybear, and manatees don't walk nicely on a leash.
FOLLOW-UP: Two weeks ago, a challenge was issued to certain Vista and Broadway business owners to landscape their businesses with flowers so that the two main entrances to our city look like an actual civilized tribe lives here. There's been very little progress so far, but I hope things are better for the final report in my next column in two weeks. Send snotty remarks to email@example.com.