Round Robin: Garden Mambo

DENVER, Colorado–I’m a low-tech gardener and happy about it. I see tempting tools and gadgets in catalogs that are supposed to make my life easier, but I rarely succumb to their charms. If I wanted my life to be easier, I wouldn’t garden.

As a boy, I hated manual labor. By an ironic twist of fate, nearly everything I like to do now involves a great deal of manual labor, especially gardening. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the simple ways of doing things, with good tools that help me accomplish what I want to do. A couple of different spades, a digging fork, several trowels, sharp pruners, a lopper, a Japanese gardening knife, an ax, a couple of rakes–that’s about the contents of my storage shed. The basics make my life easier because I don’t need to find more storage space.

Some people claim that a sprinkling system saves time and energy in areas where rainfall is undependable. I wouldn’t have one if it were given to me. It would be much too easy to fall in a trap of watering whether the plants need it or not. Dragging hoses around isn’t fun, but I’ve planted the most drought-tolerant plants farthest from the house, and they’ll really have to show signs of stress before I’ll get motivated to lug the hose over.

As everyone knows, it’s important to water deeply. It’s good for the plants and easier on hose jockeys because they can wait that much longer before they have to do it again.

I coil my hose in a big, round twig basket so that it resembles a cobra ready to be charmed. Hoses are so ugly; why do they have to be that grotesque shade of green that only a plastics company could invent? A gardener I know hates the color so much that she spray-paints her hoses brown.

I don’t have time anymore to do that. My old established garden could get along without me for long stretches of time without too much deterioration, but my new garden has had me on my toes. I’ve had lots of manual labor to do, and a new garden aid to do it with: a Walkman. When faced with a slew of chores, I turn on some high-energy music and get down (to earth).

So there I was one day this fall, trowel in hand, letting my chores fly by to the sound of Gloria Estefan. It’s her fault–that Latin beat gets me every time. As I rumbaed across the patio to grab the hose to water seedlings, bobbing my head and shaking my booty, I came face to face with the repairman who’d come to install the dryer. We were both a bit startled. It’s not every day you find a man doing a Carmen Miranda impersonation on his patio.

I’m getting used to humiliation. It’s probably my destiny to be known in the neighborhood as the crazy old man who dresses like a shepherd, sings like a crow, and mambos in his garden. But I didn’t start gardening to make my life easier. They’ll just have to get used to me. The Walkman–and Gloria–stay.