Strange people in the yard Lunacy: Face it. If you love grubbing around in the garden, non-gardeners are going to think you're crazy. And they may be right.


As a civilization we have come a long way from our roots, literally and figuratively. Most of society thinks this a good thing, and is content to be as far from the mud and dirt of crude planetary existence as possible. They are not really interested in where food comes from, as long as it comes from the supermarket and looks nice and doesn't dent their pocketbook too much. Flowers are all very well, but mowing grass and clipping a few shrubs is pretty much the limit of involvement many wish to admit to. After spring comes air-conditioning.

Yet, here we gardeners are, like strange beings in their midst, stubbornly cultivating our few acres or square feet of earth (it matters not which), concerned deeply about esoteric issues of leaf blight, mealy bug and scale, to be seen trundling cartloads of things like bone meal, dried blood, pulverized rocks, liquid seaweed and fish emulsion up and down the aisles of hardware stores.

Gardeners are mad. It's as simple as that. And of course, there is a kernel of truth in this opinion. We have obviously crossed the line of mental balance.

The confirmed gardener is an enigmatic figure in the eyes of many people -- including his/her spouse and offspring. We are usually harmless, and so we are usually humored, although we are occasionally prone to rampage and tear up perfectly adequate lawns to install fountains, perennial borders, rose gardens, French intensive vegetable beds and the like.

Those who do not garden tend to regard our predilection to stop suddenly and closely observe seemingly unremarkable plants and flowers as somewhat odd, like our forthright manner of exchanging words in an arcane language with each other in public. "Lovely clematis maximowiziana," one might say to another gardener, and receive the reply, "Oh yes, but now it's c. ternifolia!"

Other habits are equally bizarre. Our liking for doing nothing but sitting in and dawdling around a yard, often muttering to ourselves, pulling a weed here, pinching a twig there and sizing up lilac buds with the scrutiny others resolve for legal contracts is also viewed askance. We don't mean to be anti-social. Really.

It is no use feigning great dignity and purpose. Only English men or women in tweeds and Wellies can get away with such things. Besides, it is difficult for anyone in shorts or dungarees, kneeling on the ground, usually sweating and wrist deep in dirt, to look dignified. It is better to give up the pretense entirely.

No, by far the best thing is to admit our infirmity and make the most of it. How better to prove sanity than by recognizing one's own madness? Rather, it is a glorious obsession, one of the few that do more good than harm.

So let us garden away and learn to appreciate and chuckle at the eccentricities in ourselves. And if, as they say, insanity is contagious, I hope I am always infected with this one.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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