Thursday, May 15, 2008


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (5/15/08)

After we finished dinner, our waitress, addressing meine Überfrau, asked: “Would the two of you like dessert? I have a dessert menu right here.” Gretchen replied, “Oh, no, I don’t think I’ll have any tonight. Thank you.” When the waitress turned to me, I said, “Yeah, I think I’d like a slice of apple pie with a slab of cheddar cheese and some vanilla ice cream.” Gretchen put her hand on mine and said, “Don’t you think that’s a little heavy, D.P.? Remember you’ve got an appointment with your cardiologist next week. Why don’t you order something lighter, like lemon meringue? It’d be a lot better for you.” Fearing the doctor’s apocalyptic “hmm” as he reads my cholesterol count, I said, “OK, a lemon meringue.” The waitress asked Gretchen if she would like one, too, to which Gretchen replied, “Oh, I’ll just take a few bites of his.”

In the twinkling of an eye, I saw a flash of silver streak across my field of vision over to the lemon meringue, spearing lots of few bites. As a consequence, I was quite prepared for the doctor’s appointment, left, as I was, with a few tufts of meringue, bits of lemon filling, and shards of crust. With Teutonic cunning she claimed the moral high ground of abstinence while enjoying the indulgence of dessert. When I squeaked in protest, she said, “Honey, it’s what’s best for you.”

There’s lots of flim-flam in gardening, too, largely on television, all of them appealing to sloth, that is, the avoidance of the time and effort it takes to spade the soil. One of the most appealing is strips of bio-degradable material embedded with flower seeds and nutrients. The promise is that the slothful gardener will have a brilliant flower bed simply by laying down the strips and watering. Of course, the premise of the advertisement is that flowers have no roots so that they won’t need well-aerated soil rich with organic matter in which the roots can find a home. If a backyard is clay, decomposed granite, limestone, sandstone, basalt, or volcanic rubble, the gardener will end up with a garden of weathered organic looking strips covered by wilted greens, sine flowers.

This promised malaise applies as well to those advertisements for grass that will grow on concrete blocks as though there were a big market for concrete block lawns. Unbeknownst to television gardeners, grass for lawns needs soil into which the roots can penetrate or else they will peter-out. This means spading organic material, such as compost, into the soil to a depth of several inches in preparation for the grass seed. Without soil for its roots, like everything else, the grass will never thrive and will eventually die out. As in life, gardening requires depth.

Next in the flim-flam of television gardening are the Tomato Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Now, indeed, much of hydroponic gardening with tomatoes hangs the vines from above or upside down. Any traditional tomato gardener knows full well that tomato vines have to propped up inside cages, so letting them hang down has merits if they’re supported. The word “vine” is a dead giveaway. Also, hanging them upside down promises to avoid soil borne maladies.

However, cues to the flim-flam are such phrases as “very little effort,” “need almost no attention,” and “easy way to grow tomatoes.” Nothing about tomatoes is easy, requiring little effort or attention. If an advertisement is too good to be true, it is and thus a snare for those who want an easy-way-out garden. Beautiful gardens require work. Even not-so-beautiful, flourishing gardens require work.

Upside down tomatoes save on space, require lots of attention and about the same amount of work as do tomatoes growing right side up, and cost a lot more. Also, tomato vines are fragile and pendulous and need support. Just hanging, the branches have been known to break off if they’re successfully carrying lots of heavy fruit, like big, fat beefsteaks.

Paraphrasing the late John Houseman, “We garden the old-fashioned way, we work for it.”

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

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