End of the Line: A Gardener's Lament

Illustration by Barry Blitt
by Roy Blount Jr. - Aug/Sept 2009

Can plants live up to the hype?

Harvest time is upon us, and we are stuck with what we have sown. In the garden catalogues and on their little tags and stickers, plants always sound so exciting—breath of Satan, sheepsizzle, giggling Leon, undulatiens, Celtic trousers, Eurasian blanc-mange, pixies’ cabbage, mysticium. So exciting, and so eager to please.

“In either mixed shade and sun or mixed sun and shade, in crumbly loam or clay base, in the doldrums or hurricane season, the Howdy Madame tomato yields plump vivid scarlet fruit the size of the average baby’s head and tasting, in fact, rather like a fresh-washed baby’s head smells, from July till hard frost. Just pray for light showers every night in June, and Madame will take it from there. She and Mother Nature, after all, knew each other in high school.”

So why, in the event, do these tomatoes look like the wages of sin? Wrinkled, yellowish-blackish, oozy, and covered with—okay, maybe those aren’t carbuncles, but who would ever want to venture close enough to find out?

“A traditional favorite of the Norwegian royal family, St. Orson’s hump will flourish in marsh, gravel, or carpet sweepings, and presides with equal gravity over garden path or dining room table.”

Oh, and it breeds fire ants.

“Ladysbane, so-dubbed in Victorian England by dint of its blossoms’ ever-so-slight fragrance of chewing tobacco, more than makes up for any olfactory surprise by blanketing that slope you don’t want to mow anymore with a veritable slope-blanket of color.”

If you count brown as a color. And ever since the ladysbane started coming up, the cats refuse to go outdoors. They stay under the bed in the guest room. You have to shove their litterbox under there with them. And whenever anyone comes into that bedroom who has walked anywhere near the ladysbane, the cats hiss and yowl and roll around among the dust bunnies until that person takes another shower.

“If you think your teenagers love to tweet, wait till you hear the way songbirds respond to a patch of ruffled purple who-shot-john. You will share your feathery friends’ manifest delight from May to September, whether the weather turns wet or dry. And do you know? It appears that the who-shot-john loves the birds right back.”