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The greenhouse effect comes home.


Green Thumb tries to block the view of old Black-and-blue Thumb by turning their homestead on a hill into a jungle.

Thumbs come in two categories: green thumbs, such as my dear wife's, and black-and-blue thumbs, such as mine. And one of the reasons for the black-and-blue thumbs--at least in my case--can be traced directly to the green thumbs.

Where I got off on the wrong foot--I also have a black-and-blue toe, in case you are interested--was in saying to Green Thumb, "Of course I don't mind if you have a few plants around the house." I took "around the house" to mean around the outside of the house. Had I suspected she would also be bringing the blooming flora inside, I would have put my foot down, black-and-blue toe and all. But we'll get to that.

She would first take advantage of my innocent approval of her scheme to go "cart blank," as they say, and convert the area around the termite-convention hall we call a house into Tarzan country. I place some of the blame for this jungle on the state forestry department. Had its ad for trees been in lots of six, say, or even a dozen, I might still be able to see the sun occasionally. The offer, however, was in lots of 200, take it or leave it. My dear wife took it. And as soon as my backbone no longer resembled the contour of a croquet wicket from planting the things, she ordered a second lot of 200 trees.

Have you ever seen a three-acre plot supporting 400 trees? Nor will you see it, I can clue you. This wilderness, now extending from the house to the space I call a garden, required me to blaze a trail to avoid being lost on my way to hoe the vegetables--the few that survive despite the fact that they get only a few minutes of sunlight each day at high noon.

Behind the three acres surrounding our abode we have ten acres of mostly woods. But would she want to plant the new trees out there where they'd have company? Heavens no. With no trees in the front yard, I might be able to reach our mailbox down on Big Four Road without having to climb the line fence and detour through Abrell's pasture. And if Abrell's bull happens to catch me at it, dear wife wouldn't want to miss the entertainment of watching me vault the fence faster than I went over the first time.

To keep snow from drifting across the driveway, she had me plant a "hedge" of what she called harvest, or mountain, olive--mountain olive being the most appropriate, because you can stand there and see the things mount. After they had attained a height of 20 feet or more and the branches extended across the tracks until I had to hack a trail through the trees for the car to reach the road, I cut the dumb stuff down to size. Dear wife was out there the very next day with a sack of Miracle-Gro and the garden hose, murmuring encouragement to the immortal remains. As of this writing our mountain olive hedge is again mounting toward the 20-foot mark, and I am again honing my pruning shears. And so it goes between us.

Considering the three acres surrounding our Taj Mahal, as the termites no doubt refer to our dwelling, one would think I'd have some lawn, wouldn't one? Not this one. Oh, I had a lawn--but only until the other one saw this vast 20- by 30-foot expanse being wasted on nothing but plain old grass. The area, she reasoned aloud, might better be converted into a rock garden with sandstone boulders lugged up from the creek bed by you-know-who. Never mind that you-know-who would be running the risk of being decorated by a truss for the rest of his natural life, if not beyond. And an angel wearing a truss in heaven would be so conspicuous.

And what by now has replaced my expanse of plain old Kentucky blue? You guessed it: beautiful Canadian thistle, lovely knotweed, gorgeous shepherd's-purse, and the exotic spotted spurge.

The view being our No. 1 reason for squatting on this high and windy hill, I agreed to underwrite the cost of enclosing the front porch with windows, eight along the front, two at either end. From this vantage point we could look down on the blinker-light settlement of Freedom (Indiana, that is) and the White River winding its way down to join the Wabash. Evenings would come alive with security lights dotting the bluffs across the valley.

And it worked out just the way it had been envisioned on my mental drawing board. For--oh, it must have been all of 24 hours. By that time my dear wife had filled the foot-wide ledge beneath the windows with flora carefully selected to block out everything but the eaves trough by day and the planet Venus by night. When finally I discovered a peephole that gave me a pretty good view of our spirea bush, she was quick to remedy the oversight by hanging a basket of trailing arbutus over the gap.

During the winter months, my dear wife's foliage, of course, must be brought into the house. We certainly wouldn't want the jungle to be wiped out by an epidemic of petunia pip, now would we? That's what you think. Anyway, that's where the Vigaro hits the air conditioner: where to stick the stuff once it's brought in?

Because the darlings must have access to light, my suggestion is tossed out pretty fast. Eventually they take over the window sills in both the kitchen and the living room. To get a view of the outside world, I must now unload the stepstool to climb up and peer over the tops of the begonias that won't be gone until weather permits. Once the window sills were filled, my dear bride of yesteryear decided it would be fun to plant the rest of her greenery in cast-iron pots and hang them from the ceiling. Macrame, she calls it. I call it a headache. She, being 5'5", can walk under these bell ringers with an inch or so to spare. I being six feet (I was six feet, but no telling what I've been hammered down to by this time), they meet me just above the eyebrows. Thus, my once-noble head, which would formerly have taken the blue ribbon at any state fair in the country, now feels in the dark like a Hubbard squash.

I know just what you're thinking. You're thinking, If encounters with these crackpots have left any sense at all in your battered skull, you would learn to avoid them. That's because you don't know the wiles of my dear wife. Once I have learned a safe route through her floriated minefield, she changes the layout of the place. My route to the bedroom--crawling along the back of the sofa--she took care of nicely by relocating one of her head bashers just beyond the end table I'd previously been bellying off before getting to my feet.

After a week of entering the house via the bedroom window, and having noted by the longevity charts that I had already outlived my life expectancy and therefore had nothing to lose, I straightened up and made a suggestion.

"Don't be silly," was the response. "If you took them up on the roof and hung them from the chimney, they'd get heat and sunlight all right, but don't you realize these plants are all producing oxygen for us to breathe? Or would you rather breathe something else?"

Don't you just hate it when a woman smarts off like this?

I know I shouldn't be harboring such thoughts, but if one of these cast-iron pots should fall and do my dear wife in, would the one who cut the chain be charged with pesticide?
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Title Annotation:gardening
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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