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My life in a greenhouse.


My dear wife was making an emergency run into town. Either to get an earring welded or buy sleeping pills for the cat, I've forgotten which.

"As long as you're going," I called from beneath the sink, where I was disengaging the trap to look for a fugitive false eyelash, "would you mind buying me a football helmet so I won't keep knocking myself silly on those blasted hanging plants of yours?"

Two hours later she returned, all aflutter--which was not altogether out of character--having forgotten the cat's sleeping pills, or whatever, and the football headgear, but, joy of joys, she had timed her trip to coincide with the biggest plant sale in the history of K mart. Car trunk full, back seat fuller, African violets sitting on the instrument panel, weeping willows strapped to the roof.

What else had she added to her current foliage menagerie? She had no idea. They had sort-of Latin names, she thought. As I brought up the wheelbarrow to help her unload, I wept copiously, directing my tears toward several specimens that looked as if they'd appreciate the moisture, remembering the dozen foot-high "Mountain Olives, or Harvest Olives, or something like that," that she had brought home to make a hedge along the drive. That hedge is already 20 feet high, obliging us to drive behind the grape arbor and across the garden to reach the road. The parsnips are getting pretty tired of it.

I hold the state of Indiana responsible for some of my problem --for offering trees in 200-unit lots at bargain prices. And if you know women and bargain prices, you'll believe that my big blue eyes were opened one morning by a UPS delivery horn, announcing the arrival of three lots, or 600 trees. And if you've ever planted 600 trees in clay soil, you'll also believe that my once-regal stature ended up reminiscent of a croquet wicket. It hasn't improved a whole lot since.

It is not so much her outdoor flora that has turned me into a contemporary Dr. Livingstone, however. Except for the hedge, we (flora and I) enjoy a fairly good rapport. The four redbuds that cost the price of a new set of golf clubs, including bag, have yet to sprout a twig. Anything that has managed to come alive on our billiard-ball clay knoll I can walk around or jump over. Or, if the situation permits, step squarely upon. And, due to some careless mowing on my part, I no longer have to fight my way down to the mailbox. Not that I didn't hear about it. In fact, a boiler factory hath no noise like that of a woman whose wisteria hath been shorn at the roots.

"You should have fenced it," I suggested during the inquisition.

"Anyone who can't tell wisteria --if that's what it was--from simple grass shouldn't be operating a mower," rebutted Mrs. Luther Burbank several times removed. I noticed the other day that the stuff is coming back again, which may bring on another case of ignorance in a couple of weeks.

Although the problems of an outdoor jungle are sufficient for any man, they are as nothing compared to the jungle this man has to contend with within the confines of his own castle, as a bachelor poet once referred to it.

Having beaten me to retirement, my dear wife has embraced with unparalleled bliss the lethal hobby known as macrame. This is the fiendish pastime of suspending plants in cast-iron buckets from the ceiling. Her greatest enjoyment comes from hanging them at a level carefully gauged to catch a man of six feet just above the eyebrows. A woman of 55 or less can, of course, sail under with no thought of a contusion or a concussion or having her head molded into the contour of a Hubbard squash. And once the husband has spoiled the game by remembering where the booby traps have been placed and begins walking along the back of the sofa to get from kitchen to bedroom, the wife accepts the challenged and redistributes the buckets, and the contest begins all over again.

For a little diversion during dinner a few nights ago, the wife I know best (which isn't saying much) rigged up a dandy. Slumping into my chair at the table, not fully recovered from a beaut she had nailed me with just inside the kitchen door, I was just beginning my salad, which looked to be a clever combination of daisy stems and moss roses, when I felt something crawling on the back of my neck. With visions of black widow spiders dancing in my head, I didn't wait to lay down my fork before reaching back to deliver a terminal wallop to whatever it was. What I succeeded in doing was burying all five tines of my fork in my left ear lobe. And not until my dear wife had laughingly plugged my wound with a paper towel did I learn that I had been attacked by nothing more perilous than a trailing arbutus she had suspended only that day behind my place at the table.

It naturally followed that my nightmare that night consisted of having the thing trail us into town, forcing me to step out of line at the box office and send it home: "You go home! Go on now, git! No, you can't see the movie!" And everybody was hissing and booing me as the vine finally turned around, put its little stigma between its calyxes, or whatever, and slunk away.

Our closed-in front porch I had conceived as a lovely bit of desert in our lush six-room oasis. A place where we could sit on long summer evenings without having any mosquitoes drain our blood or moths chew up our clothes. My dear wife offered not the slightest hint that the 12 windows would make the area ideal for a combination greenhouse-nursery and a proving ground for unidentifiable aberrations of nature. Not word one to indicate that the foot-wide board she requested beneath the windows would immediately disappear beneath a battery of pots, crocks, jars, bottles, a discarded hand basin, and four feet of leftover gutter, all sprouting flora designed either to run down the wall and across the floor to make walking a hazard, or to spread across the windows to obscure the view, our sole reason for buying this hilltop clayheap in Freedom, Indiana, in the first place.

One day, upon noticing that I could still wedge in a coffee cup on the extreme end of the board, she immediately plugged the gap with a bunch of cups containing cherry-tomato seedlings.

"Well, at last you've done something that makes a little sense," I said. "But why all this other crud when most of it could just as well be laid to rest in your so-called rock garden? Or would that disturb your weed arrangement out there?"

"I have the plants inside because they take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen," she sniffled.

"I'll buy you a respirator," I offered. "You've got so much junk in this jungle if one of us ever has hay fever he'll be dead before he can get to the couch."

"You wait until these are all in bloom," she said, tenderly pulling a wayward vine off the ceiling and draping it over the last hope of visibility through the eight front windows, "you'll be eating your remarks." I could have retorted they would be an improvement over her daisy-stem and moss-rose salad, but I thought better of it.

I moved the cherry tomatoes out to the garden just in time. They're already five feet tall, and counting. Too bad we didn't have them for a hedge instead of those Mountain Olives, or whatever they are. As for the front porch, my dear wife still fights her way out there with a watering can whenever she isn't hanging up a new bell ringer.

As for me, I have written the porch off altogether. The closest I approach it now is the doors that give out onto it. And only then whenever one of her eager-beaver vines has come creeping in over the threshold. That's where I put my foot down. If my dear wife isn't looking, that is.
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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1987
Previous Article:In memory of David Koop.
Next Article:Skiing all in the family.

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