When wildlife threatened to destroy their first garden, Chris and Steve Wells of Catonsville immediately placed a fence around the vegetable patch.
"We patted ourselves on the back for having responded so promptly to this problem," says Chris.
Only later did the Wellses discover that, along with the peas and cucumbers, they had unwittingly fenced in a family of hungry rabbits.
"Our fence created the best of all possible worlds for the bunnies," says Chris. "They were protected from our dog, Lindy, and living in the middle of a vegetable patch."
Ha! What a couple of greenhorn gardeners! Imagine fencing in the wildlife. Thanks for the embarrassing anecdote, Chris. You've won first prize in "The Real Dirt's Garden Blooper Contest."
First prize is a bag of elephant manure from the circus that's in town. Great fertilizer, this pachyderm poo. I'll deliver it myself. It's easier than having the elephant back up clear to Catonsville.
Second place goes to Nancy Anania of Ellicott City, who recounts this gardening blunder: "The young, new homeowners across the street planted two trees on their front lawn that they had just chopped down from the woods. They expected them to root?"
What a hoot! Great story, Nancy. That couple might as well have planted fence posts.
Speaking of fences, Candace Dietz of Edgewood wins third place for sharing her husband Link's gardening blunder. Link refused his wife's offer to help rototill their garden last year, fearing she might accidentally smash into their new chain-link fence.
"I didn't say a word the next day when he came in looking for the wire cutters," says Candace. "But there was the tiller, totally wrapped up in the fence. I knew better than to say, 'I thought only a woman could do that.' "
All three winners will be guests of the Sun Magazine and myself at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, where people can stand in all the fertilizer they want.
Competition for the Garden Blooper Contest was fierce. The woods are full of scatterbrained gardeners, like Frank Michny of Baltimore, who planted his rosebushes upside down. And Karen Crocona of Shillington, Pa., who tromped out to her garden carrying two full drinking glasses. One had lemonade; the other, some plant cuttings that had been rooting in water for weeks.
While digging, guess which glass she absent-mindedly drank from? Yuk!
"Now I know not to drink and dig at the same time," she says.
Clyde Stephens' wife must have questioned his sobriety the day he trimmed the three dogwood trees beside their home in Woodlawn. Clyde kept hacking away until the handsome 16-foot trees were reduced to bare 5-foot posts.
"They did look uniform, though," says Clyde.
Wildlife has caused many a garden blooper. Linda Szortyka of Sinking Spring, Pa., was weeding her tomato patch when she began hearing frightful noises.
"Every time I stuck my pitchfork in the ground I heard a squeak, which sent me running out of the garden," says Linda, who fled several times. Finally she summoned up her courage, dug beneath the plants and found a family of field mice, which she promptly evicted.
Ann Hubbard of Cedar River, Mich., allowed her pumpkin vines to sprawl underneath a fence and into a nearby pasture, where some clever cows tugged on the vines and dragged all her best pumpkins beneath the fence.
Tools can make fools of gardeners as well.
Bill Rice of Hampstead accidentally started his riding mower in high gear and watched it roar off without him, across the street and toward a neighbor's beautiful shrubbery. Rice pursued the mower, caught up with it and, "like a cowboy of yore, vaulted into the seat" and stopped the dang thing before it trampled the bushes.
Roger Pfost of Taylors Island added so much compost to his garden that when he rototilled the bed, the tiller buried itself in the soft loam and had to be towed out of the garden.
Other bloopers occur when gardeners are simply, uh, distracted by their work. George Aldrovandi of Plymouth, Mass., thought he lost a bootie while working in his newly spaded garden and proceeded to dig up the yard for an hour before his wife found the missing footwear in the basement.
In his haste to play gardener, George had left the house wearing only one boot.