Kali the Gardener

Mmmmm, that sun feels great on my back. And the belly-laughter from the kids next door…is there a greater sound on earth? My hands turn slimy brown as they root around in the cool earth. Koko snoozes in the sun as I encourage little lettucey life forms that will be tasty later in the summer, and until consumed, will help our planet breathe easier.

It’s extremely satisfying to push the shovel (oh I get it, shove-l) down into the heavy, damp clay, levering the long handle to pull up ten weed bulbs in one scoop. I squat, break up the clumps, pull out the bulbs that have multiplied like rabbits on Chlomid over the winter.

Such are my observations during the first five minutes in the garden. Then my feet fall asleep.


I stand up and wait for the dizziness to pass, working the shovel for a second scoop. This time, the bulbs lie just below my shovel tip and the shiny green stems snap off crisply, leaving the offenders buried deep in the clay. I squat again, breaking apart the hard clumps searching for lost bulbs that range in size from onions to pearls. My back starts to hurt and the dog moves into the shade.

Again I stand, supported heavily by the shovel as the blood rushes back to my feet and a blackout moment passes. Childish laughter has turned to squabbling as I unearth another batch of noxious weed bulbs (one shovel’s worth at left) and encounter a hard root that refuses to budge. I tug and see the razor sharp blackberry bramble across the yard rattle. I hack away and manage to break the root in half. Next year it will undoubtedly return at twice the size and strength. A bleeding finger and bafflement as to where the bramble originated temporarily take the focus off my throbbing back and tingling feet.

Giving up on the digging, I move to the less perilous task of pulling knee-high grass out of what used to be a planting bed. The roots rip satisfyingly easily out of the damp ground, though I’m feeling distinctly resentful at how well the grass thrives here in comparison to our bald, brown patch of “lawn”…much like the toxic blue flowers that have squeezed out my brother’s carefully planted daisies, dahlias and columbine. I ponder the perversion of weeds. So like humans to elevate anything labor intensive to that which is desirable. Tomatoes are divas (if pampered correctly, they’ll repay you with transcendence), dandelions the Everyman. And when the rosemary goes ballistic and takes over the herb bed and needs to be hacked back with a saw resulting in an unsightly mess? Brittany Spears. Or LiLo…take your pick.

I go back to digging to give my knees a break. I’m pretty sure I can hear my lower back creak as I stand. Done with the bugs, the mounting hysteria from next door and my audible groans, Koko the traitor moves inside. I picture the grass clippings and mud clumps she’s tracking through the house and onto the couch. I wonder if she’s mastered the remote and found the America’s Next Top Model marathon on cable.

Another shovelful of tops only, no bulbs. The earthworm carnage is getting critical (and no, cutting a worm in half doesn’t create two worms). My karma quotient is falling. The ranting in my head is getting shrill….or is it the child’s tantrum coming from over the fence? My back is officially in pain, I have a headache, it’s hot, I’m bleeding. I’ve now been gardening for 15 minutes and I’m completely over it. The space beyond the back door is once again officially dead to me. In a couple of years perhaps, lulled by the pretty pictures in Sunset Magazine and the delighted successes of friends, I may venture back out. But for now, I see it clearly.

If the kitchen is God’s workshop, the yard is the devil’s playground.


The fragrant Sellwood brilliance that effortlessly surrounds us is a torturous hallucination…move along now, this is not for you. You will always be the new homeowner who dilligently weeded out the Columbine, leaving just one plant to laugh in your face come May when it flowered. Make peace with the blue-flower bulb weed, because it’s the only flower you’re ever likely to cultivate.

Gardening is a dangerous past-time. Look at the cuts and bruises you’ve amassed in a quarter of an hour. You actually stepped on the rake and bonked your head like a Laurel and Hardy cliche, for chrissakes. Look how gardening managed to kill your dear, cherished 90-year-old neighbor last year. She worked in her fabulous garden every day, and where did that get her? (Or was it the sight of your ever-disintegrating yard that did her in? I’ll always wonder.) You tried and failed, nature has beaten you down once again. Character flaw, cosmic conspiracy, karma, call it what you like, but your 15-minute brush with a self image of nurturer, sower of beauty, giver of life is over.

Even the vitriol-fueled mental post composed in staccato bursts of loathing as I hacked, crumbled, picked, yanked and panted my way through a 2’x2’ patch of overgrown land is lost. In the cool of the house, with Tylenol in my system and a sweating glass of scotch rocks in my hand, the fire and brilliance wrought of extreme suffering has faded. I’m just a beaten woman with swollen wrists and new motivation to get a job. Gardeners cost money, you know.


  1. Tricia Said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 9:41 pm

    Wow, D, it’s like you’re describing my day in the yard! It’s taken 3 years in this house to care enough (or the shortage of money to buy veggies) for me to decide to build a raised bed and get some hens for eggs (nothing like a fresh kale and tomato omelette, right?). I foraged wood from friends and neighbors for the raised bed and chicken coop. A neighbor with power tools helped me put these things together. The next weekend, which was a hot one, btw, I borrowed a truck and brought home a yard of dirt (like a square yard? Really?), and shoveled into my new bed. Last weekend a friend help me build a frame for the fence around the coop so the chickens can actually get out and scratch. It’s been back breaking and I haven’t gotten to enjoy it yet. I think it’s gonna be a few more weekends before I can just sit in the yard and watch the chickens. It’ll be a few months until I can eat the veggies and fry the eggs. But it’s exciting. Until now I’ve only ventured a couple of tomatoes in pots and a small strawberry patch. It would have been easier to start all of this when I was 28 instead of 48…

  2. Christine Martell Said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 9:44 pm

    Yea, you said it so I don’t have to! There are moments I love my garden, but in reality the bulk of it is about the battle with the invasive weed species of the section. Why do I do this to myself? Especially when we have a farmers market somewhere nearby almost every day?

    You are so not alone.

  3. bb Said,

    May 28, 2009 @ 9:58 pm

    Thank you….for being brave enough to say what we can’t, or won’t, but is in all of our politically correct, do-the-right-thing, “going green with Michelle” minds!

  4. dds Said,

    May 29, 2009 @ 10:48 am

    Thanks for the kind words of absolution, all, I’m feeling a little less guilty (though still a little bitter that you undoubtedly have fabulous yards). Anyone know the name of those insidious blue flowers? If you live in Portland, you know the ones I mean….

  5. Helder Said,

    May 29, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    I always felt gardening and yard work was over-rated…paying someone to work my yard for the past two years has been blissful…also, how can you grow tomatoes without consulting my friend John Abbo? ;-)

  6. Helder Said,

    May 29, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

    Growing up lower-middle class, the garden shop and hardware store were the LAST places I wanted to go to on the weekend (or any other day for that matter) because it meant you came back home to WORK…never been able to shake that memory…I guess this back to basics stuff helps my more urban and info-overloaded friends feel more connected, but I’ve had plenty of that “reality” in my life, thank you very much. My idea of home improvement? Buying a new house. Maybe I’ll get back to it when I’m in my 80s…and can order the grandchildren around ;-)

  7. Grant Said,

    May 29, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

    I don’t know, you seemed to like gardening a lot when I would bring in a bowl of freshly picked tomatoes and some ears of corn from the yard at 503. I really miss having a garden. Now, if only I lived in old-timey-town, then I could come help you.

  8. Shayne Said,

    May 29, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

    What you are dealing with is a type of blue bell. Do not leave one sliver of bulb in the ground. It will grow and thrive. I’ve been digging up those bulbs for 13 years now and every year they return.

  9. Mary Said,

    May 29, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

    That’s depressing, Shayne.

    Denise, perhaps if you did your gardening in the morning, you could avoid the heat? Garden from 7 to 11 then collapse with a nice cup of tea and the paper.

  10. dds Said,

    May 30, 2009 @ 11:26 am

    Seriously Shayne, that IS depressing. And tea and paper instead of Tylenol and scotch, Mary? I’m going to have to think about that tradeoff. Helder, LOVE the idea of getting a new yard to wreck every five years; gonna have to figure out how to support that habit. And Grant, ‘old timey town’ awaits you…you just need to find your Italian countess sugar mama so you can be somewhere drier December through February.

  11. Jill Said,

    May 31, 2009 @ 11:23 am

    Oh Denise, I was laughing out loud reading this post! I can see it…I can feel it (been there)…I can empathize! I can’t get motivated to plant anything more than my 6 or 7 tomato plants and a couple flower pots each spring…the rest is up to Mother Nature.

    We have those awful little blue bells at Sumner house, too, and they’re awful. I pull them up every year and they always reappear.

    I saw your little plot last week and it looked to me like you were making progress! I’m with Mary – spend an hour first thing in the morning then be done with it! And feel good that even the best, most committed gardener can’t match your prowess in the kitchen! What good is growing the veggies if you can’t do anything creative with them?

  12. Cyn Said,

    June 4, 2009 @ 7:05 am

    D, so funny. I started out reading your post thinking, wow, this ‘time around the house’ is really making its mark.

    LOL. Guess not in that way, anywho :-)

  13. Richard Said,

    June 19, 2009 @ 11:27 am

    My good friend David has a theory about yards which is clearly visible to anyone who visits:

    Lawns are useless, thus the yard in front of his house is completely covered with concrete and gravel.

    He loves to garden vegetables, however, so the back yard is entirely devoted to raised beds full of them; not a blade of lawn grass or an ornamental flower or shrub to be seen.

    My point being (I swear I have one), is that gardening of any particular variety is absolutely not obligatory.

    If it isn’t fun, then why do it? Seriously …

    Grant yourself permission from the Universe to let the weeds have their way or (why not?) cover the yard with paving stones …

    … and spend your valuable food-loving time and energy in the kitchen, at the farmer’s market, or at the table.

  14. P. Annie Kirk Said,

    January 10, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

    Well, if this wasn’t “seeing it from the other side” (the dark side, I might add)…

    I’m having a Bill Murray moment, chanting “baby steps, baby steps”. And the possibilitarian in me believes that maybe, just maybe, container gardening is a good place to start. (? maybe ?)

  15. P. Annie Kirk Said,

    January 10, 2010 @ 8:53 pm

    … container gardening with a side of Tylenol & scotch… yeah, that’s a good place to start.

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