The optimistic gardener | Living the Country Life

The optimistic gardener

So you're living the country life

I'm not a particularly good gardener, but I'm an optimistic gardener. Or I'm -- as the seed catalogs like to call me -- a sucker.

I'm a believer in the Robert Browning quote, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp/Or what's a heaven for?" But the quote doesn't really address what it's like for a woman to be married to a man whose reach is often several feet beyond his grasp.

I can do that

A few years ago, my wife and I toured Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. I took a lot of pictures so I could re-create the whole thing when we got home. There were some problems with this plan.

First, on Vancouver Island, it rains every nine minutes and hardly ever freezes, which is a vastly different gardening experience than the prairies of western Minnesota where the wind blows 90 mph and the temperature range is between 114 F. above and 40 F. below. (I'm not kidding; look it up.)

Second, the Butchart Gardens have been planted, tended, and expanded for 102 years. I don't really have that kind of time.

Third, the whole project was started by a multimillionaire.

As I was busy snapping away, my wife was supportive but a little noncommittal. When we came to a row of pine trees 30 feet tall that had been pruned into a ginormous hedge and I explained that I could do the same thing when I planted a row of pine trees and waited for them to get 30 feet tall, I thought I detected a tiny sigh. But she muffled it well. After all, this wasn't her first rodeo, landscape-wise.

Back when we were first dating, we were poor even by the standards of college students, so our recreational and cultural opportunities were limited to the ones listed under the "Free" section in the Sunday paper. As a result, we spent many weekends walking through the Conservatory at Como Park. I would tell her, "I bet I could do something like this."

If just once she'd have said, "No you can't. That's a palm tree, you dolt, and we're in a giant greenhouse staffed by a crew of professionals who work constantly to keep these plants alive and flourishing in a hostile environment," I might have sulked for a little bit, but I would've gotten over it.

And there's a chance that as a result of her tough love, I might have developed a more realistic view on my own capabilities. But she smiled and said nothing.

After years of marriage, I've discovered that sometimes when I say something and she smiles and says nothing, it's her way of saying, "You idiot, that will never work." It's a pretty subtle message; I don't really think I can be blamed for not picking up on it right away.

Just give me time

So if you should come by our place and see the beginnings of a giant pine tree hedge (which will require another 100 years to come to fruition) or the remnants of a dead palm tree in the shell of a greenhouse, you should know one thing. It's my wife's fault.

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