At Large : Leaf me alone
I don't like gardening. I can think of about 40 things more pleasant than tending the perennial garden, or the vegetable garden, or the foundation plantings. Weeds, insects, blights, the right amount of water, every morning or every evening, or once a week, a good soaking or just dampen the soil, wet the leaves or don't wet them, enough sun, or shade - the rabbits, the squirrels, the deer - the soil pH, the right fertilizer, the right mix of loose and clayey soils - the which plant goes where debate, the how big will it be when it's full grown question, etc., etc., etc.,: it's all too bothersome, a second or third full-time job, and for what?
On the other hand, I like reading about gardening. All those colorful photographs, which remind one of the manicured grounds of the funeral parlor in my old Fairhaven neighborhood or the gardens at Versaille, not duplicated in my hood, as far as I can remember.
And, I love listening to gardening programs on the radio. (Baseball games too, more brilliant in the mind's eye than in real life.) Part of the appeal for me of garden advice DJs is that they appear to be utterly agnostic about national or international politics. Japanese beetles may provoke a swoon but the U.S. dollar-Japanese yen exchange rate means nothing.
There are two types. One listens to the caller's problems and prescribes what must be done to resolve the dilemma. He is never stumped. His prescriptions always include buying a product, some brand of something at the local garden center, and the application of the newly bought, preferably organic, substance. The show is a three-hour meandering infomercial. Plus, from time to time, listeners can sign up for tours, here and abroad, to visit celebrated gardens with their radio host as tour leader. I'm not going to sign up.
The other, a woman, chats with her callers, about equally men and women. She is sometimes stumped. She recommends re-potting, amending the soil, picking insects from the underside of leaves by hand. When she advises the application of some product, it's usually a generic recommendation, and she always asks the caller to call again and tell what happened. She has a charming voice, and I imagine her, impeccably turned out, standing on the patio out back, and directing a platoon of deeply respectful young gardeners to be careful with those darling nasturtiums.
The one is a flack for current and prospective sponsors. The other just likes talking about gardening. Despite their different approaches, each is cheerful and encouraging. Neither says, You did what? Oh, you are such an ignoramus. Put away that trowel, hang up that gardening sombrero. No more gardening for you.
Recently, I've been looking for advice about leaf removal. Where we live, despite a 20-year campaign to eliminate the puckerbrush and the deformed scrub oaks that dominated our lot when we moved in - let me add just a word of thanks to the winter moths, the caterpillars, and assorted other vermin for their help in thinning the misshapen herd of trees - the leaves, and this year the acorns, are killing me. The advice I was looking for had nothing to do with picking up a rake and performing energetic to and fro motions. Nor was I interested in spending a small fortune on a leaf blower. I figure to blow all those leaves upwind to the edge of the woods might take, oh, a year or maybe a little less. I think what I wanted to hear was, Don't worry about them. They don't do any harm to the grass underneath, etc.
But, what I heard instead was that lawns need to breathe, and right now just as in the spring and early summer is when they do their heaviest breathing. I am smothering my lawn, just when it's trying to revitalize itself, trying to get a little vitamin sun to shine upon it. Plus, unwanted vermin (which are the vermin you do want, I'd like to know) make their winter quarters in a thick fallen leaves layer, from which they make daily sorties into the garden or the eaves.
I decided I couldn't put up with that sort of skullduggery going on in my neighborhood, so Moll and I bought a leaf sweeper. Fifty inches wide, 26 cubic feet of leaf capacity, this is a big job piece of equipment. You just drag it around. No engine, no blower, inexpensive, but I did have to spend three hours assembling it, which is a euphemism for build it from scratch. It was like a build it yourself MG-TD that you buy in kit form, figuring it will be a great project to do with your son, except he prefers playing video games.
Anyhow, by then, convinced that the my hard-won grass beneath the leaves was descending into a deep sunlight-deprived depression, what I didn't need was "Why raking leaves is dumb and you are even dumber for doing it." That was Brett Watts's contribution to my research.
"Leaves fall to the ground every fall and land on people's lawns, much like your own. Dumb people like you rake these leaves up with your Walmart rakes, and put them in paper bags at the curb to be picked up by large trucks. These gas guzzling large trucks will drive all around your neighborhoods picking up these leaves and then transporting them to a landfill where they will decompose. Because these leaves do not decompose on your lawns and in your flowerbeds, the nutrition these leaves hold is not returned to the soil from which it came. Thus you are breaking up the natural cycle of life and polluting the environment with your trucks and rakes. Now when spring comes and the snow metals [sic] (This guy's no literary wonder. DAC) (huh what? Why don't you shovel snow off your lawns? O that's right its good for your lawn like the leaves) and you see all your grass is dead you freak out and go buy lawn products from the same Walmart you bought the rake and pour it all on your lawn to help it grow ... You people are dumb and are screwing the planet over." I don't know this guy, and I don't want to.
I'm thinking, wait a minute, I'm just trying to clear away these damn leaves, to make the place look better. And now, this pious know-it-all has accused me of disturbing the cycle of life, polluting the planet, and even screwing it.
Well, ultimately, I'm not taking Brett seriously. I'm betting he's become deranged over the years, that the leaves have got the best of him, and that he is as fed up with the leaves as I am. But his fallback position is to do nothing about them and make up a reason why that's the right choice. Still, it doesn't give him the right to lash out at the rest of us the way he has.