Last Laugh: Garden Braggers

Well sir, not everyone kin breed a prize foxhound, put themself through med-ee-cal school, or win a tellervision sweepstakes. And that’s where gardenin’ comes in. You see, people may tell you they grow all them vegetables and flowers because they love the beauty of green livin’ things . . . savor the savin’s at the supermarket . . . or go for the sweet, full flavor of homegrown produce. But jist get more’n one of those backyard bean pickers in one room an’ listen to ’em for a minute to hear the kinds of things they say to each other:

“What? You don’t have any ripe tomatoes yet?”

“I’m goin’ to have to stop freezing corn or buy a new freezer, one or t’other.”

“You know, I kinda hated to cut into that lovely 32-pound watermelon we grew.”

That’s right, gardenin’ gives ’em something to brag about! Now I admit, folks what raise good crops do deserve a little bit of opportunity for mouthing off. Tearing up that ground, hoeing out weeds, outfoxing insect prederters–it’s all hard work. But that’s precisely where the of reprobates of the Plumtree Crossing Truth an’ Veracity League have it all over the ordinary achin’-backed weed puller. Those boys have pruned away all the nonessential tasks of gardenin’ so’s they can better appreciate its true purpose.

Take the other day, for instance. Last Saturday was one of them warm, dry, sunshine days . . . perfect for toiling away in the vegetable patch. An’ sure enough, whilst all ordinary vegetable growers were workin’ up sweats sowing rows of Greasy Cut Short green beans or haulin’ loads of fresh manure from farmers’ feedlots (and payin’ fer the privilege!), the members of Plumtree’s Greater Civic Horticultural League was all stretched out on the front porch of the General Store, enjoyin’ the warm sunshine the way it was meant to be enjoyed, an’ doin’ their own special brand of low-labor gardenin’.

“Well, Cleedy, you plantin’ beans today?” Skeeter Ridges set forth . . . a question which, to the uninitiated, might seem a bit peculiar. After all, Mr. McCannon was leanin’ back in his chair with his straw hat so far over his face that only a long blade of chewin’ grass poked out underneath. He didn’t really look like he was in a laborin’ mood.

“Nope,” Cleedy replied. “It’s the wrong kind of weather. I’m waitin’ till it rains.” “Till it rains?”

Skeeter said, doin’ his bit to get things started.

“Yep. Right before a big of bundle of black clouds cuts loose, I’ll load my shotgun with all the bean seeds I got, stand in the middle of my plot, point that gun straight up in the air, pull the trigger an’–kerplooey!–plant my garden! That rain’ll pack all my seeds in the ground an’ water ’em at the same time!”

“Aw, plantin’ ain’t the hard part of gardenin’,” Lafe Higgins broke in. “It’s gettin’ that ground all turned up in the first place. I don’t care how you do it–with a machine, a horse, or a shovel–that’s one aggravatin’ task. Unless . . .” His voice trailed off enticingly.

“Unless what ?” young Billy Parsons jumped in.

“Why, unless you bury a silver dollar out in the garden, of course.”

“A silver dollar?”

“Fer certain,” said Lafe. “Then you gather up all the young’uns you can find an’ tell ’em that the one who uncovers that dollar gets to keep it. Those kids’ll dig that plot up from top to bottom! In point of fact, you kin flat guarantee that the job’ll get done thorough-like if you forgit to bury that coin!”

“Aw, shucks,” Lem Tucker contributed in a cultivated tone. “Tillin’ and plantin’ ain’t so bad. You only have to do those things once. It’s all that weeding that’ll get to a fella. Why, those one-legged garden invaders jist never stop growin’. It gets so everytime you turn your back, they’ve shot up another foot. In my patch, the groundhogs used to have to climb six feet up the weeds to get high enough so they could look for the crops!”

Used to?” Lafe and Cleedy both prompted.

“That’s right, used to. Then I trained Juniper, my beagle, to chase weeds. That dog’d come racin’ down toward the garden, yipping and a-yapping like she were fit to bust an’ with her teeth flared out like a wild boar’s tusks. Why, the weeds’d git so scared, they’d pull up their roots an’ run clear out of the vegetable patch! Yep, ol’ Juniper kept my garden clean as a preacher’s cuss words while she lasted.”

“What happened?”

“One hot day last August, that beagle got a little too uppity an’ tried to run off a multiflora rose bush that growed along the fence at the edge of my plot. [EDITOR’S NOTE: In case you’ve had the pleasure of not making multiflora rose’s acquaintance, take our word for it. It’s the most briary, ker-tangly, skin-snaggling wild thorn bush there ever was.] Well, that patch of devil’s whiskers got aholt of my dog an’ shredded her up so badly that when I come out to look for her . . . all I could find was strips of dried jerky hanging on the bush!”

“The way I figger it,” Purvis Jacobs pointed up, “is that if you give your plants the right sort of stimmy-lation they’ll outgrow the weeds. So one year I brewed some high-potency manure tea by runnin’ that foul-smelling juice through my still. I fed that three-digit-proof fertilizer to all my corn plants an’–jist like that–they grew faster’n interest rates after election day. The plants did have a funny tendency to sway back an’ forth a lot, though . . . like they had trouble keeping theyselves up.”

“How’d the ears taste?” Lem asked.

“You know, I never did find out. The night before I was going to pick ’em all, I got woke up by the loudest squealing an’ caterwauling an’ carrying on since Noah loaded the Ark. I snuck down to the garden to see what was causing the fuss an’ saw a sight rarer’n leftover whiskey. Raccoons had eaten all my ripe corn and gotten theyselves so drunk they’d hired in a frog band an’ was havin’ a hoedown!”

“Speaking of music,” Doc Thromberg chimed in, “that’s what I use to help my crops grow. It all started when I read that plants do better if they git to listen to some good music now and again. I borrowed my brother-in-law’s fiddle, and every night I’d go out there with that thing an’ scratch out a tune as best I could. I noticed after a week or so, though, that my beginner’s efforts seemed to be stuntin’ my plants instead of helpin’ ’em.

“When I made my diagnosis–it was a clear case of Turkey-in-the-Straw phobia–I knew jist what to do. I went out the next night an’ told those plants that if they didn’t start growin’ better, I’d keep on playin’! Well, they shot up so far after that I never had to break out that fiddle again.”

“Well, ya’ll can say all you want about tillin’, plantin’, weedin’, or encouragin’ your crops,” Newt Blanchard remarked dryly. “Ain’t none of them mean nothin’ to the labor of puttin’ up all the pickin’! I tell you, one summer twenty years ago, I swore I wasn’t never goin’ to can another tomato as long as I lived. I’ve kept my promise, too.”

“How’d you manage that?” Doc asked.

“Well, I decided to breed me a new kind of tomato. I jist stuck me a jar of canned ‘maters in the ground the next spring, kept it watered, an’ waited for a plant to shoot up. Afore long it did. Grew good an’ tall, too. When the vine’s flowers bloomed, they sprouted little bitty glass jars at their ends that slowly got bigger an’ bigger. After a few days, they stopped growin’ an’ started fillin’ themselves up with ripe, cooked tomatoes. When each jar was packed to the rim, I jist picked it off the vine an’ put it away on my pantry shelf!”

With that topper, all the fellas figgered they’d done enough work for one day. So they ordered up a round of Moon Pies and Nehi Sodas an’ then stretched out in their porch chairs for an afternoon siesta.

No sir, some folks do an awful lot of sweatin’ an’ laborin’ in their vegetable plots, just to have somethin’ worthwhile to talk about. Not our boys of the Plumtree Crossing General Assembly, though. Long ago, they figgered out the truly efficient way to enjoy the real benefits of home gardenin’.

To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch the renewal of life–this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfying thing a man can do.

–Charles Dudley Warner

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