. . . The satisfied non-gardener

BILL TAMMEUS

April 22, 1992|By Bill Tammeus

SINCE I gave up gardening several years ago, I am altogether a better person.

For instance, I no longer forget to water my tomato plants, causing them to wilt with wretched thirst. It's gardening without guilt. Or, more accurately, non-gardening without guilt.

No tomatoes means my relations with the Squirrel-American segment of our population has improved dramatically.

Back when I grew tomatoes -- or tried -- I would find myself hurling nasty invectives and species-inclusive epithets at Squirrel-Americans scampering up a tree with my 'maters jammed in their teeth.

Now, by contrast, I regularly howdy members of the Squirrel-American community. And not just them, either, but also Rabbit-Americans, since I no longer grow lettuce for their lazy selves to swipe from me.

I've let grass cover the small plot that once was my garden. I'm not much good at growing grass, either, but at least the area attracts green weeds. From a distance (say, a block or two) it's almost impossible to tell that the green on my old garden patch isn't nicely trimmed grass.

So non-gardening makes me look more respectable and tidy in the eyes of my neighbors, who sometimes stand around and admire me as I run the mower over the greenness of my former garden.

Quitting a garden, of course, also means I no longer dump metric tons of toxic fertilizer, insecticides and herbicides into the earth. I have, thus, become more environmentally friendly, and when I see my visage in the mirror I can think of the ecological damage I'm no longer causing and say, "You're a good boy." I am nearing a giddy peak in polls measuring my self-approval rating.

Because I don't grow tomatoes, of course, I buy them at the store. Thus I now add vigor to the local economy. Well, this is true in the off-season for local tomato growing. In mid-summer, when tomatoes begin to ripen in my neighborhood, there's no need to buy any in the store, since neighbors -- eager to unload huge daily crops -- leave them on my porch, in my mailbox and in my safety deposit box.

They fungo-bat and sand-wedge them into my yard. They stroll by, whistling innocently and, when they think I have diverted my attention, they drop a bag of them on my lawn and run.

I'm only too happy to accept these tomatoes (and occasional zucchinis). Some are edible. And all are cheaper than golf balls.

In my long and undistinguished career as a gardener, I did have a few successes. For instance, I once got an acorn squash plant to grow 467 miles of vine, though the result of all its effort was one smallish, rather ornery squash that tasted store-ripened.

Another time I grew 27 kilos of Swiss chard.

It did not occur to me until I began to reap this bountiful harvest that I had no idea what, exactly, one is supposed to do with Swiss chard.

The most successful thing I did with it was tape six or eight pieces on each side window of my car to serve as a sun screen. Well, that and every Sunday I would drop a handful in the collection plate at church. I do that, in fact, with lots of green things I can't figure out how to use, on the theory that God knows.

These days I see neighbors starting to putter around in their gardens. I watch with some pity and a fair load of self-righteousness. I know they will spend the warm weather months at war with bugs and squirrels and whatnot. They will suffer in the heat and berate heaven when it doesn't rain enough. They will pollute the earth to grow radishes their kids don't like.

No such ridiculous life awaits me. Instead, I'll spend my evenings and weekends in a lawn chair out where my garden used to be. I'll be reading and napping and thinking about what an excellent person I've become since I quit gardening.

Well, that and wondering how else to use up the remaining 25 kilos of Swiss chard still in my freezer.

Bill Tammeus is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.

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