Her beau's gardening gene finally germinates

The Englishman has, at long last, discovered the joys and perils of gardening.

I've heard it said that the need to garden is imprinted into British DNA. But my beau managed to remain astonishingly ignorant about even the most rudimentary aspects of this popular activity for more than 50 years.

I distinctly remember my first visit to his property about six years ago. The man was squirting water onto some droopy tomato plants.

"Are they heirloom?" I inquired.

"I think they're tomato plants," he replied with a sigh.

After a series of round-robin questions, I eventually came to understand the plants had been left behind by his ex-wife.

"I hate tomatoes," he said. "But I can't let them die. They're just plants."

I think I started to fall for him in that moment. You have to appreciate the soul of a man who will rescue a plant left by a woman who broke his heart. Especially if that plant bears a fruit that is detested by said fellow.

"Do you want them?" he asked, hopefully.

The plants came home with me. The Englishman, it would later be discovered, flicks offending tomato bits from his salad like they are snips of snails or puppy dog tails.

During this early courting phase, T.E. helped me set up a raised bed garden at my riverside cottage. But pounding rebar into drilled cedar posts and dumping heavy sacks of potting soil into the beds was as far as he wanted to go with this project. Perhaps there were too many tomato plants for his comfort level.

Last spring a friendly neighbor gifted my beau with "some squash thingys." After I delicately declined his generous offer to share, a bewildered T.E. plopped the plants into 50-gallon whiskey barrels at his place. And, as anyone who has ever planted a zucchini can attest, the inevitable ensued.

"They're going crazy," he said. "They're taking over. I think you can literally stand there and watch them get bigger!"

The Englishman's success growing zucchini and pattypan grew his fascination with the wonders of photosynthesis. A frugal fellow and an avid salad eater, my beau was also intrigued by the financial savings to be gleaned from growing one's own greens.

This season he decided to go big or go home. The whiskey barrels were replaced last fall by a 500-gallon, in-ground pool. The man has a tractor. Filling the gigantic bed was no problem. Deer-proofing the whole with pipe and chicken wire? Also no problem for this handy fellow. He even studied up on proper soil preparation and found a local worm wrangler.

Ground squirrels? Problem. The little devils have invaded his carefully cordoned-off garden. And they are doing unspeakable things.

At first T.E. found the grey diggers amusing. They had watched him climb the ladder, followed suit, and "squirreled" their way in through the gate, he said.

He moved the ladder. But the little buggers climbed up two stacked cinder blocks. Intrigued, T.E. started watching more carefully. Once inside the enclosure, the little beasties made a beeline toward the cardboard worm houses.

"They lift the tops off and then they do a little dance," he said. "They hop about, jumping up and down. It's rather cute."

Unfortunately, upon closer inspection, my proper fellow realized the varmints' dance was actually marking behavior.

He called me immediately. Let me just say, you have not heard true indignation until you've heard an Englishman express his outrage at the violation of his garden.

"They are pooping!" he thundered. "The little monsters! They are pooping in my garden!"

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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