“Green thumb,” she said admiringly, rolling down her window, “I do so envy you master gardeners!”

My neighbor Rick choked on his coffee, trying not to laugh.

Just as I’d leaned down to pluck a weed–I THINK it was a weed–this stranger drove up to compliment my gardening prowess. I could see where she’d get that impression: I was standing in the midst of 52 pots of lilies, all waiting for the gardener to tuck them into my front yard.

“Why, thank you,” I said graciously, glaring at Rick. He guffawed.

gardening-window Actually, that was my first weed-pulling since childhood and Rick knew it. He grabbed the newspaper and chortled all the way back to his house.

I do have a beautiful yard. The folks who lived here before me were master gardeners, and they filled the place with rhododendrons, hostas, sequoias and many other plants I can’t identify. Visitors drive up every spring just to see the big blooming cherry trees, and once the rhodies get going the whole place looks like a Monet riot.

No thanks to me. I love watching nature. I don’t mind sitting in it. I love photographing it. I even love eating it.

But I will let it rot in hell before I grub around in it. I am not, and never will be, a gardener.

At the age of 10, hot, sticky and buggy dirt-covered, facing a whole ‘nother row of weedy tomato plants, I vowed that when I grew up I’d NEVER EVER EVER garden again. I’ve kept that promise.

My determination to let nature take its course in the yard has caused problems with the neighbors. “Cynthia, that’s a weed,” they’ll say helpfully.

I’ll peer down to the greenery at the end of a pointing finger. “Ah, so it is,” I’ll say, and change the subject.

I didn’t actually intend to buy a house with a beautiful yard. In Glassland, we build stilt homes into largely vertical cliffs, and I’d wanted one of those, thinking that gravity would be the perfect excuse not to garden.

Then my realtor made a hesitant suggestion. “I know you don’t want a yard, but I just heard about this house that’s perfect otherwise…”

She was right, and before the day was out I’d bought this place. I do love it, but it’s got the biggest, most-landscaped yard in the neighborhood and keeping it up is a headache. Around here, things grow so fast that an orderly flowerbed can become a jungle the minute you turn your back.

I tried bribing friends and relatives to do my yard in exchange for web services and glass art. “I cleared the weeds in THAT section,” they’d say, “But I think I have to go now, so why don’t I do the rest of this later…”

Unfortunately, “later” never comes, and the weeds take over.

Periodically my neighbors would stop by to point out the lengthening greenery. “You know,” they’d say sadly, “this USED to be the most beautiful yard in the neighborhood…”

Feeling guilty, I’d go bribe someone else…until I ran out of friends and had to turn to the next best thing: Gardeners. I go looking for gardeners every April, trying to stay ahead of the green stuff popping out all over the yard.

Gardeners are not cheap,* but they do (mostly) show up each week to put the weeds in their place and mow the yard…until about June. In July, the weeds get progressively taller and the neighbors start frowning over the frothy, blowing dandelions.

The gardeners smile and promise to remove them, but by August I need a machete to get to the front door.

I fire the gardeners in September. (except for Greg, who refused to believe he was fired and showed up every week until I sent him a registered letter (YOU ARE FIRED! DO NOT COME BACK!!) in November). The yard languishes through the winter, and in April I start the whole thing over again.

gardening-placementThis year I checked Angie’s List for someone I hadn’t fired (it’s getting harder and harder), and came up with Jose. He gave me an earnest, thoughtful estimate, suggested that there were a lot of gaping holes in the landscape where neglected plants had croaked and would be removed.

His family has 12 acres of greenhouses out in the country; he invited me out to tromp around in the mud and pick out replacements. We had a nice chat, I saw enough greenery for the Black Forest but picked out 40 stella d’oro lilies, 12 agapanthus, a dogwood tree, 6 deciduous azaleas and a yellow magnolia tree.

I also got chased around the greenhouse by a mildly irritated rooster, but that’s another story.

So…when that lady rolled up, Jose and his buddies were doing the equivalent of moving the furniture around, waiting for me to decide where to put all that stuff.

So far, the new gardener’s given me hopes that we can make it to a second season. It’s June, and the yard looks better than it ever has. My friend Tami installed two raspberries and two lingonberry bushes near the backyard blueberries, and Jose wants to follow them up with more, maybe even a fruit tree. We’re talking about fixing the sprinklers and, next year, possibly replacing my tumbledown back deck with a concrete patio. He’s got an idea for a water feature, if I don’t run out of money.

He seems to have an innate prejudice against bamboo–I suggested using them in the flowerbeds since they seem to grow so well. He pulled out two big ceramic pots and offered to plant some in there instead. But he’s clearing out the old dead rosebushes to make room for a kitchen herb garden. I bought a few packets of herb seeds, just to get into the spirit of things.

Heck, one of these days I might even pick up a rake.

*I may not have money for food or gas, but by golly I’ll pay the gardener whatever it takes to get me out of weeding.