Saturday, August 17, 2013

Extreme Gardener

I have an experimental garden. It is roughly the shape of one of those idiotically dangerous trampolines you see in the yards of every otherwise obsessively cautious parent these days. Fortunately our trampoline did not claim any victims. We were among the lucky ones, and I relished the clanging sound of tubular steel being tossed into the back of a garbage truck the day it was finally hauled away.

What remained were pleasant memories and a large circular burned out spot on our back lawn. If Google had timed it right and updated the aerial photographs of our neighborhood it would have appeared like a crop circle or a large letter “O.” Well-placed pumpkins and a semicircular row of beans would have created a smiley face worthy of Forest Gump when viewed from the air.

I decided that half the work of creating a vegetable garden had been completed by the trampoline. All I had to do was turn over the topsoil with a shovel and water the Earth with the sweat of my brow. Lots of sweat. The area was loaded with rocks and crisscrossed with tree roots from Pines and Oaks. Only about two inches of rich black topsoil had supported the layer of grass we enjoyed prior to installation of the heat-focusing trampoline bed. Beneath that was clay and sand, a testimonial to the river-bed nature of ground conditions two blocks away from the mighty Des Plaines. In other words, the dirt was crap. 

I began to add things; “amend” as the professionals would say. Peat moss, mushroom compost and manure. I even rented a very fun rototiller and discovered a deeper layer of tree roots that caused the machine to kick and buck. I brought out an axe and a wheelbarrow to cut and haul the underworld cartilage. A week later I planted my crops.

I’ll just cut to the chase. It didn’t work. My vegetable garden yielded six tomatoes, five beans and a handful of lettuce. I now have profound respect and admiration for the farmers who grow our food and for the abundance and variety of beautiful items in the produce section at Dominicks.

So I tried something else this year.

I went online and bought a pound of zinnia seeds. I can grow these. Each year for the past half dozen, butterflies and neighborhood children stop to worship the colorful display I cultivate near our streetside mailbox. Zinnias require little care other than periodic watering and pruning that causes even more zinnias to bloom.

“Can we go see Mr. Vic’s garden?” ask the kiddies.
“Yes you can dear,” say their mothers.  “He’s a genius with a green thumb.”

If you’ve ever purchased a packet of zinnia seeds, you know that for $1.79 you get about two dozen lighter-than-air disclike seeds in the bottom of a paper packet. A pound of these “California Giants” is enough for Vincent Van Gogh to scatter over acres of land in preparation for painting a masterpiece if he chose to repeat the giant sunflower experiment. I used half a pound in my trampoline garden.

That was May. I planted the seeds in two waves so as not to overwhelm neighbors or low flying aircraft with the explosion of color that would burst skyward at ground zero. Google, prepare for something spectacular! This is the time for an update.

Well, I’m writing this in August, so you can imagine what I’m dealing with after ten weeks of unrestrained growth. Daily harvests of bouquets for my wife. Requests by artists to set up easels and chairs for the day while they paint. The photojournalists with their annoying clicking shutters and the legal contracts that Ken Burns insists upon before panning and zooming to the sound of harmonicas and the droning of a vaguely familiar narrative voice. Yeah, none of that.

For all my planning and dreaming, I never expected this. See the photograph below. I took it myself. Click for a larger, more stunning view.


  1. Ah, the joys of gardening! That's a daring little flower you've got there. Maybe it's the explorer, sent to scout things prior to the invasion?

    (The gardener in me asks don't zinnias need full sun, like out at the mailbox? Maybe the site is too shady.)

    1. You're probably right Kat. They get full sun from about 11-1 in the back yard. Nothing like near the street.

  2. This is one hilarious piece! Thank you for entertaining me at the very moment I needed entertaining. Hugs.

    1. Just another epic fail, but good material for writing practice. Glad you enjoyed!

  3. I loved the part about not overwhelming low-flying aircraft ... very funny. Your story reminded me of the time I decided to try to grow corn. I didn't know you only get one piece per stalk, two if you're lucky. I don't think I got any.