We long for lush, neatly-edged lawns, perfectly placed shrubs, lovely flower beds. We want a place that evokes eternity. Easter. Eden. Sanctuary. A GARDEN.
But every time I pull a weed or move a stone, something wriggles.
And the grass is growing up around the bottom of the picket fence.
and tent caterpillars have made a home on a peach tree
and the lawn is as much weeds as it is grass
and there’s a bare patch on the lawn where we had to dig up the septic. again.
Gardening is a battle for which one must be properly armed. We need an action plan and we need TOOLS.
My plan of action is simple: work my way around the yard fixing things as I go. Mulching the lilac hedge, weeding stone stairs, digging trenches under fences and laying weed block, collecting creek stones to fill the trenches, as well as mowing and trimming as needed. I started in April and now, near the end of May, I’m about halfway around the yard. I will probably make it all the way around by the end of July. And then I’ll start again, improving and completing what I started the first time around.
My tools are also simple. I could wax poetic about hand tools allowing one to be intimate with the earth, the well-worn wood of each handle, the history, the lost skills, how the tools have come into my possession, environmental responsibility, and how truly calming it is to work in relative quiet, but really it’s that power tools give me the fits. I have a tendency to bend back a fingernail or punch myself in the nose when I try to start the weed whacker. Things with motors are always breaking or out of gas. I can’t be bothered.
My hand tools are repaired and maintained by me with a sharpening stone, oil, and a rag. Wiped after each use and put away carefully. It’s simple, and being so meticulous makes me feel very German.
Of course it takes CONSTANT VIGILANCE to keep hand tools from walking off on their own. They seem to enjoy lying down at the most recent site of use to be forgotten until rusty. I know you, dear reader, would never allow that to happen, but I can’t seem to get the borrowing garden elves to be as scrupulous as they ought.
It seems I’m always looking for my bent old dandelion fork. Tap roots are a bitch and the majority of gardening is weeding. So, I look and I ask and finally I find it sticking straight up out of the ground like an industrial flower.
I’m not sure how I came to own three hoes but it’s good that I have because they keep disappearing and reappearing in the oddest places. This year all three of them were huddled together in a disused corn crib where some thoughtful person placed them at the end of last fall. Unfortunately, thoughtfulness and forgetfulness sometimes walk together.
My old-fashioned hedge clippers, pruners, loppers and saws don’t wander as much as the other tools, but my shovel vanishes constantly and my lovely, lovely reel mower has occasionally taken off for the vegetable patch without so much as a by-your-leave. I think it says something about my introverted nature that I love being able to mow quietly. So satisfying.
Mysteriously, my boots also occasionally relocate themselves to the far side of the porch with the inserts all twisted up inside. I’m using a pair of Muck chore boots. They have almost no tread and spring mud can be treacherous so I’ve learned to take some truly tiny steps, but they make up for this deficiency by keeping my socks from squelching and being thick enough to stand on a shovel.
I almost never misplace my gloves. After years of messing about with pretty gardening gloves that didn’t do shit, I’ve finally been converted to heavy leather work gloves through which I can feel nary a squiggly worm.
The gloves are important because, you see, hands are the tools I use most often in the garden. There are no tips or tricks, no gadgets or amendments that eliminate the need to do the work with my own two hands. Every shortcut comes with a price. Every tool, product, method, plan has a down side. Just like every other kind of work, the only way to do it is just to do it.