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I've made a wheelbarrow full of gardening gaffes in my life, most of which I've shared in print. To wit: I accidentally set fire to the lawn mower. The pickup truck had a blowout in the garden. And I sawed off a tree limb that I happened to be standing on at the time.

Backyard blunders, all. I've got enough material for a new TV show, "America's Funniest Loam Videos."

Readers often ask if I regret reporting my mistakes. I do not. My advice is: Lighten up, gardeners. It's a hobby, not a job. Laughter is good for the soil. Humus and humor should go hand-in-hand.

I love "dirty" jokes that start out, "Did you hear the one about the gardener who -- ?" Then I laugh and laugh, because whatever the poor schlump did, usually I've done it, too. Like planting tulip bulbs upside down.

I've never met a perfect gardener, and doubt I ever will. Everyone I know who shovels manure has, at some time, acted like a horse's butt in the back yard.

Have you?

That's what I thought.

What's your most embarrassing gardening experience? Have you ever turned beet-red in the vegetable patch? I sneaked outside at dawn, in my underwear, to pick lettuce. As I knelt in the garden, my shorts ripped. A passing motorist spotted me in a humiliating position and tooted her horn. I'm glad I had the lettuce. It served as my fig leaf that day.

Can you top that one? Give it a try. Enter The Real Dirt's Garden Blooper Contest. Send in those embarrassing stories and we'll bust our shorts laughing. Then we'll print our favorites and hold you up to national ridicule.

Perhaps you're wondering: Why should I publicize my most private gardening goofs? Well, you'll be doing me a favor by joining the club. It's lonely at the top. Moreover, the contest winner will receive an award -- a prize tailored to fit the best blunder.

Mail all entries to: Garden Blooper Contest, c/o The Real Dirt, Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Entries must be postmarked by April 1 and accompanied by humiliating photographs, whenever possible. Members of my family are not eligible. That includes my brother Will, who was once held prisoner in his house by a snapping turtle which seized control of the flower garden in his front yard and refused to let anyone pass.

Enter the contest as often as you like. I can cite at least one personal blooper for each of the 20 years I've been gardening.

Here are some all-time favorites:

*I drove into the tomato patch with a load of horse manure and drove out with a new $75 radial. Others can drive on city streets without problems. I get a flat tire in dirt.

*I ran over my foot with the lawn mower, requiring minor surgery to my big toe. Several weeks later, I accidentally torched the mower, adding to my disgrace.

*While rototilling the garden, I unearthed a mole which flew 3 feet into the air, flailing its legs wildly. I shrieked and fled, leaving the tiller chugging ahead. It (the tiller) destroyed a 10-foot swath of lawn before I could stop it.

*Recovering from a sprained ankle, I attempted to harvest cucumbers while hobbling on crutches, the tips of which became entangled in the vines. I wound up sprawled in the garden, yelling for help.

*My first attempt at growing bush beans failed when I mistook the voracious Mexican bean beetles for ladybugs, the beneficial garden insects, which they fairly resemble. I watched with pleasure as the beetles multiplied. The damn things ate the whole crop, and I let them do it.

*I dug a hole for a fence post, only to discover afterward that I had buried my garden trowel beneath 4 feet of dirt. I was too ashamed to retrieve it.

*Once I sawed through the limb of an apple tree on which I was standing. I felt like Elmer Fudd.

*While transporting a steaming load of horse dung in my pickup one frosty morning, I was stopped by a passing fire truck and nearly hosed down. The chief gave me a dirty look but no ticket.

I have also mowed over two wasps' nests, killed every house plant I've ever owned and stepped on countless rakes and hoes, each time cracking my skull.

So much for the skeletons in my garden shed. What about yours?

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