The best dirt I ever tried to garden in was the darkly rich soil in north central Wisconsin. Hollyhocks, delphiniums, lilacs. . . they were incredible! On the other hand, after two years of having my tomato plants freeze before I got a single ripe tomato picked from them, I learned that dirt wasn’t everything.
Now, here in the south, we have plenty of warm weather ( the master of understatement!) but the dirt is . . . um. . . it isn’t dirt at all. It’s either clay or it’s sand. In this neck of the woods, we’re dealing with sand.
In this neighborhood of villa homes, every house looks the same. Has to. Paint the front door a color other than white and the architectural review police hunt you down like a coyote with chicken breath. So it is reasonable that some of us would like to do something to differentiate our houses from all the clones on the street if for no other reason than to make recognition more simple. I’ve turned into the wrong driveway on more than one occasion. . . and yes, I was stone sober. Even the dog forgets which one is ours. I looked out the window today and saw a woman with a walker coming up our front sidewalk. She’d been aiming for the house next door.
Landscaping seemed the only way to show a little personality. Although the shrubbery types in the various yards aren’t identical, the treatment of them is. The community yard crew has one direction regarding the shrubs: stick ’em in and round ’em off (plantas y recortar en forma redonda.) After a decade or so of having these guys buzz through the neighborhood every week. . . and believe me, buzz IS the operative word. . . everything looks the same. Azaleas, gardenias, hydrangeas, hollies. . . you can’t tell them apart when they’re butchered into meatball mounds.
Our yard was landscaped with holly bushes–the non-native holly shrubs with the killerleaves– horned, stiff, prickly. That’s what we were stuck with (no pun intended.) Ho hum gardendom.
Sand is not difficult to dig in, so how hard could it be to dig out a few ten-year-old bushes? I figured to have those varmits out in no time. I figured wrong. Those roots were well on their way back to their native country and had gotten as far as somewhere between Beijing and hell. Removing them was definitely not a one-woman job, but one woman was the only one holding the shovel.
Dearly Beloved is a hoss when it comes to stuff like that, but because of his obsessive “neat and tidy” predilection, closely sheared, symmetrical, uncluttered shrubbery looked fine to him. “Let’s leave well enough alone,” he advised.
Ha! “Well enough” was definitely coming out of there and I’d do it myself. The ant moving the rubber tree plant. . . .
Under cover of darkness, I called in the horses. . . my old blue station wagon, all six cylinders of her. I wrapped one end of an old coil around a plant and attached the other underneath the back bumper of my station wagon. If the holly bush won the pulling contest, I’d just let the neighbors guess as to how my car came to be standing on end out in the street.
The holly offered impressive resistance, but was no match for Old Blue. A buried orange wire sprung out along with it, standing crazily about four feet tall. I left it there just in case a bewildered neighbor woke up without cable, phone, or power. I dragged the conquered bush out to the curb, then repeated the process with the next one– digging, then hooking up for the big tug. Only one meatball gave me trouble, but I saw the sprinkler system pipes running through it in time to whack at the roots without setting off a major disaster waterspout.
The discarded bushes looked like they’d jumped their beds and were running away–lined up along with curb like that. Big Foot-sized holes pocked the area where only crazy orange wire still remained.
I was back inside before The Today Show even began. And since the tv, cable, and phone still worked, the wire must’ve originated elsewhere. Perhaps phone service was out in Taiwan. I left it standing sentry like that for a couple of weeks, then cut it back to about six inches. Still there, I suppose, under the azaleas I planted that fall.
DB did have an definite opinion about how the front beds now looked. He’d left a neat, normal yard and returned two days later to find that it looked like the cratered surface of the moon.
Hey, he had to concede one thing: no trouble recognizing which house was ours.