Under a Dirty Shovel 

Gardener categories revealed, political bents and all

We quilters, you know, have our subcultures. One such group is the Quilt Police, who must have historically accurate patterns and fabrics, and all their points have to match. On the other hand, the Happy Wacky Flappy-Burlap Textile Artists express themselves in an improvisationally obscure manner with more glue than stitches. There are other types too horrible to mention. And then you have your Regular Quilters. We plunge right into our fabric, slicing and dicing merrily away, and there are no rules.

Just so, there are species of gardeners. We must dispense with the category of People With Gardeners, which is clearly not a subculture of gardeners at all, but rather of either the desperately busy, the desperately rich, or speedboat owners. Earth-Worshippers attend composting seminars, know the Latin names of plants and own more than 10 books on gardening (which they bought at a used bookstore). They throw around words like "ph levels" and "friendly insect applications" not to mention "community supported agricultural endeavors." They wear Birks with white socks, are serious Democrats and often don't get the point of a joke. In extreme cases, Earth-Worshippers may be caught stealing raked-up leaves from your yard to add to their compost, or stealthily leaving paper bags full of surplus zucchini in the back seats of strangers' cars at the Co-op (as if people who shop at the Co-op need any more zucchini). And Earth-Worshippers, in a criminal endeavor designed to invoke the wrath of people with some sense of color, plant orange wildflowers next to purple ones. Gack.

Then there are the Suburban Assault Forces, who own homes with rigid, prescribed beds, and plant the same annuals of the same color in the same place every single year. Their tools all look like murder weapons, and they violently chop their hedges flat on the top. They may pick up leaves on their lawn by hand, every day, or use the dreaded gas-powered air-blower to neaten things up. In extreme cases, these people may be seen laying out grids with sticks and string and planting their zinnias in perfect marching symmetry. Worst of all, the Suburban Assault Forces have junipers, and they are Republicans. Gack.

Weed Farmers, another category, cultivate dry dirt and have old appliances in the side yard. You know. Gack, and don't forget to send them a voter registration card.

One of my favorite types are the Insanely Rich and Organized, with their gleaming shovels from Smith & Hawken which they actually wash before putting away in a the exact right place. The I.R.&O. are really quite charming because they want to do everything right, often with great success, mostly due to the fact they can cruise down to FarWest Landscape in their Beemers and buy 27 matching daylilies at $15.99 apiece, all at once. Who knows their political affiliation-they're always out of town on election day anyway.

And then you have your Real Gardeners, like me. Our gardens are enthusiastic perpetual works-in-progress. We kill a lot of stuff through experimentation and ignorance. We usually buy our annuals at Freddy's, put our pruners away dirty and get bored by the end of July because nothing looks fresh anymore. We plant things we remember our mothers planting, even if she lived in Tahiti. We own only the Western Garden Book, which we had to buy as a botany textbook in college. It takes us years to figure out flowers look best when the same kind are all planted together, and when planted in odds; sometimes our tall (gasp) are at the front of the border and our mediums in the back. Politically, we're Unitarian. We really don't give a rat's ass how our houses look in winter-we're in it for the gripping gratification of a wildly blooming spring and early summer. Our crime? We use too much Miracle-Gro.

It is my humble opinion that we are the real gardeners. Unafraid, we slog right out there and stick our hands in the proverbial dirt. Insanely observant of other people's yards, we try what looks good to us, then stick it in the ground and watch. Sometimes it's hard to give up on our impractical favorites, and we only throw in the towel when at least 17 summers of dead experiments have defeated us.

So this year, my 18th in Boise, my yard will look the best yet. I'll plant clumps of nine or 13 of the same damned thing instead of a straggly petunia here and there. I will never again try to grow those hanging tropical fuschias, and I will grow more lavender and coneflowers and things that don't need much water. I'll even dilute the damned Miracle-Gro and cut roses just above a five-leaf formation, I swear, on the freakin' diagonal.

Earth-Worshippers will probably disapprove of the purchased bags of dirt on my deck, but they'll take mental notes on my bright blue bed of delphinium, foxglove and African daisies. The Suburban Assault Forces will sneer at the asymmetry of my clearly-unplanned plots, but I figure they are secretly jealous of my climbing roses and clematis with blooms the size of an elephant's foot. Neither the Weed Farmers nor the Insanely Organized will pay one scrap of attention to my yard, but who needs them, anyway. Because my garden produces huge bouquets of my own flowers, week after week, and my dining room table, front hall, kitchen and hearth burst with blooming vases all summer. Now that's real gardening, in my world.

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