Sunday, October 15, 2006

Where DO You Get Your Ideas, Ms. Scott?

Understand, I am not a gardener. Lisa was, and we made a deal long ago that I would happily supply unskilled labor — digging, pulling up plants as directed (I’m not reliable on what is and isn’t a weed), hauling mulch, and abetting trips to the garden stores (“oh, that’s pretty, you should get it”) — in exchange for enough pesto to freeze for the winter. And now I am faced with putting the garden to bed.

I have an idea of what to do, and friends I can ask if I run into trouble, but before I can even get to that point, I have to deal with the two-and-a-half months of almost total neglect. (Hey, I had abdominal surgery. I couldn’t pull weeds.) As you might expect, there were a few surprises.

Some were good: the mint, which escaped years ago from a pot and was not eradicated in time, has actually spread into an area where nothing else had thrived. It seems to be doing well, so I think I’ll leave it alone. Some one of my neighbors left a hash pipe in the sage, along with a Bud Light can. (You can have the pipe back if you take away the can.)

Some were bad, like the lavender that was overshadowed by the asters and is unlikely to make it through the winter.

And some were just plain ugly. There is a rose in the front “yard” — a two-and-a-half foot wide raised bed right on the sidewalk — that seems to survive weather, neglect, and sheer ignorance. (I have no idea what kind it is. All I can tell you is that the flowers are pale pink, and it has lots of really big thorns.) Every year it sends out suckers in every possible direction, and every year we clip them back before any children or dogs get hurt. Every year it blooms profusely, usually on branches that need to be cut back, and then it’s a race to see whether it will finish blooming before the branch has to go.

This year I didn’t get to it in September, and I was really pretty halfhearted in July, with the result that several of the back canes grew to be eight feet long and curled into fantastic shapes against the side of the house. The flowers and the dark leaves were very pretty against the pale gray paint, but the time had come to cut them back before they got any further out of hand.

The next time I need a natural menace in one of my novels, I know what it will be: the thorn snake vine. It’s neither fully animal nor truly a plant, but combines the mindless voracity of a lesser predator with the growth habits of bamboo. It’s studded with inch-long thorns that stick out at random angles so that no attacker can grasp its body without being stuck — and I expect it’s poisoned, too. The thorns can be stripped from the stalk, but have a half-life of their own, and they’re strong enough to go through shoe leather. The vines live in tangles, and, though each strand is an independent organism, if one vine is attacked, the others will shift to protect it, trapping an attacker on their thorns. As soon as one vine draws blood, the others are roused by the scent and redouble their attack. Anyone foolish enough, or desperate enough, to mess with a tangle can expect to have serious problems....

I got the rose trimmed. I think we’ll call it a draw.


At 12:32 PM, Blogger Dharma said...

I love "hearing" how a good writer's mind works. Gives me hope for myself and my writing.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger M-H said...

[shudder] :) Pruning roses is one of my favourite jobs in the garden. But you need long sleeves and strong gloves.


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