Planting strategy rooted in limbs of the family tree

SATURDAY'S HERO

April 10, 1993|By ROB KASPER

I once was an indiscriminate planter. As soon as the temperature got above 60, I was out in the back yard splitting open the earth, sowing seeds. I planted radishes, cantaloupes, cucumbers, peas, lettuce and tomatoes in a back yard that a large truck couldn't fit in.

Back then, if you showed me a piece of ground that got more than an hour of sunlight, I would consider it prime territory for a pumpkin patch.

Meanwhile, my wife would have eyes on the same plot of dirt. She wanted to plant pretty things in it. Things that bloomed and were beautiful and things that look good, or so I was told, by just standing there.

Then there were the kids, who regarded all real estate as theirs, and were especially possessive of ground that could be transformed into a playground, a battleground or any combination of the two.

We were, in short, a family with its digging urges in conflict. Then, last year, we got a landscape plan for the back yard. We had family harmony, at least when it came to plantings.

Getting a landscape plan was quite a step for me. I have lived an unplanned life. I never got around to drawing up a career plan, a plan for retirement or even a plan for the weekly menu.

But now, I have a sheet of note paper, with diagrams and plant names. I refer to it regularly to see what is supposed to be growing where. It figures heavily in any family "permission to plant" decision.

Drawing up such a plan is one of the things landscape people like to do. I know this because several home gardening books have said so. These are books filled with swell photos of flowering trees and gorgeous decks. These books tell of people who grow incredibly productive tomatoes in redwood planters that, with a few tasteful twists, could be transformed into a table for 12.

The books also tell how, before hiring a landscaper, I should get references, examine other jobs he or she has done, and determine whether my landscaper and I had similar views on the importance of flora and fauna. This was all probably good advice, but I did not follow it. I got my landscape plan from Steve the Outfielder. Steve is so named because he and I played on the same softball team, the Mothballs, back when we were rookie parents and foolishly believed it was possible to have both children and fun with other adults on weekends.

Steve is fond of growing things and runs a part-time landscaping operation. And he likes the challenge of growing things in small, children-infested back yards, like ours.

So we struck a deal. We got the plan and bought some bushes. I was amazed at the results. When the new bushes were in place they diverted our eyes from the uglier parts of the back yard. The better-looking parts of the yard resembled places adults might willingly spend time.

The plan seemed to satisfy the "yard beautiful" dreams of my wife as well as my Farmer John fantasies. I got to grow fig trees and kiwi vines. This made me think I was capable of raising my own food, even if all the figs and kiwis have produced so far is foliage.

Despite the plan, our back yard is still far from tasteful and quiet. There is, for instance, a rough structure sitting on the patio. It is not on the plan. It is made of scrap lumber and covered with graffiti. I am told by its architect, our 8-year-old, that this is his "clubhouse." A place for him to hang out, to entertain his buddies. It has been there about two weeks and its days are numbered.

Then there is the question whether the viburnum, one of those pretty plants, is dead. My wife says it is. But Steve contends that the viburnum, like Elvis, may still be with us.

I have held my feed-the-nation planting fantasies in check and, bowing to the plan, have not planted any unsightly vegetables. But I got the feeling that all plants are not equal. Somehow tulips, removed from Sherwood Gardens during one of its yearly bulb digs, don't need plan approval.

I grouse about the beautiful getting better treatment than the practical, but mostly I let it slide. If I get to dig in the springtime, I'm pretty happy.

The other day for instance, Steve dropped off two good-size plants, a camellia and a whatchamacallit. They need to go into the ground soon, maybe this weekend.

I have a shovel lined up and a willing assistant, the 8-year-old, who can't wait to get up to his elbows in dirt and worms. All we are waiting on is word from the plan on where the holes should go.

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