Once a year, I clean out my garden shed. Usually, I can tell when the shed needs a tuneup. It's when the place is piled so high with old plastic flower pots that there is no room for the $500 lawn mower or the $900 Rototiller.

That's when I grab a shovel, if there's one to be found, and start digging through the debris. It is time to weed the shed. No sense waiting until it gets overgrown.

I tackle this job alone. No one offers help and I solicit none. The shed is my domain, my playpen. It's the only room into which I can track dirt without getting yelled at. It is my oasis, my haven from the orderliness of the rest of the house. I can spill compost on the floor and sweep it up three months later. Try doing that on the living room carpet.

This is my mess, and I'll clean it when I'm good and ready. OK, I'm ready. I charge ahead, man against shed.

Immediately I am immersed in clutter.

Here are three rusty saws, the world's dullest ax and the broken wooden handles of two long-gone tools. Why am I saving them, for firewood?

Here also are three leaky watering cans, all of which tend to dribble down the front of your pants in view of the neighbors; a lawn spreader that discharges its load of fertilizer in uneven globs; and an unopened packet of 15-year-old Brussels sprouts seeds.

Whoa, what's this? A spiked wheel attached to the end of long-handled pole, one of three bizarre implements I once bought at a farm auction. I've never determined their horticultural use; frankly, these torture tools give me the creeps. They look like something that belonged to the Marquis de Sade.

On one shelf sit five rusty Japanese beetle traps. They've been there ever since I learned the dang traps do more harm than good: They attract every beetle on the block to my garden. So I benched them.

Everything is here, including the kitchen sink. We had the old sink replaced last year and dragged it into the shed. I planned to make a planter of it, but never found time. Maybe next year.

But why did I keep a used bottle of liquid seaweed with two drops of goop left, or a bag of bone meal with five granules remaining?

Mysteries abound. What's inside the locked toolbox that hasn't been opened in five years? Someday I may find the key.

I do find four garden gloves, all left-handed ones. What became of their mates? Have they gone to sock heaven with much of my footwear? A search of the shed fails to find them. Nonetheless, I decide to keep the mateless gloves. What will I wear on my right hand? A mateless sock, perhaps. The missing gloves annoy me. I suspect Katydid, the dog, who is sniffing the floor and wagging her tail.

My housecleaning efforts have unlocked a new set of smells for Katydid to investigate. The shed has been a refuge for mice and rabbits and wasps and birds, even a stray cat that stayed with us last winter. Last spring, a barn swallow built a nest in the rafters. I examined her nest. All the materials came from inside the shed.

The building is a way station for wildlife. We've seen everything ,, but the neighborhood mole, but only because he hasn't found a way to tunnel through the cement floor.

My housecleaning efforts turn up some useful items. I find the goggles I should have worn while spraying the fruit trees last spring; the lost pruning saw I had to replace; and a brand new bulb planter, a gift that disappeared last Christmas.

But I also find a bag of 10-year-old grass seed, a 2-foot piece of garden hose and the plastic garden pot of every plant we've ever bought.

Where did this junk come from? I cleaned the shed just last year. Maybe "rearranged" is a better word. The only thing I trashed then was an old hibachi grill whose bottom had rusted out.

This time, I throw out the bottle of seaweed and the Brussels sprouts seeds.

The rest of the stuff simply changes shelves.

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