The Hole Truth

THE REAL DIRT

June 13, 1993|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

Gardeners are always digging, but how many of us count the holes? Besides me, that is.

I dug Hole No. 10,000 yesterday.

Imagine that. In nearly 20 years at this address, I've dug 10,000 holes in the yard, carving out homes for trees and shrubs and vegetables and flowers.

Of course, I cannot prove this. The holes have long since $H disappeared. All I can offer as proof are three broken shovels and a yard rich in plant life.

Along the way, I've recorded every milestone. I dug the first hole for a tulip; the 10th for a tomato. The 100th hole was claimed by a dogwood; the 1,000th by a delphinium.

Hole No. 9,999 belonged to a short-lived marigold that had no luck at all. I sheared it with the mower while cutting the grass.

I'll be more careful with my latest acquisition. The 10,000th hole belongs to a redbud tree.

The redbud is a beautiful tree, with heart-shaped leaves and purple flowers. At the nursery, my wife, Meg, was smitten by the tree's grace and charm. I was cowed by its massive root ball which, wrapped in burlap and baling wire, was roughly the size of Rhode Island.

Meg could picture the tree growing in our back yard. I tried to imagine lifting it into our truck.

"Could we adopt something smaller?" I asked.

Alas, we bought the redbud. The nurseryman dragged the tree onto a handcart and wheeled it toward the truck, where we managed to hoist it into the bed while grunting like a couple of Bulgarian weightlifters.

Getting the tree off the truck was easier. I shoved it over the side and let it drop onto some pillows I had placed on the lawn to cushion its fall. The root ball stayed intact, and so did my back.

tTC Gasping, we dragged the big green monster into the back yard where it promptly fell on its side, and we fell on ours. I suspect it will be years before that tree restores all the oxygen we used in hauling it around.

We still weren't quite sure where to plant the redbud. Rather than move it around like a stick of furniture, I offered my services as stand-in. "I'll be the tree," I said. "Where do I go?"

Meg directed me around the yard, with these instructions: "Stand on your tiptoes, turn around and raise your arms to look like branches."

I felt more like a ballerina than a tree.

We finally settled on a planting site and broke ground. Planting trees is no easy task. The roots-to-come need lots of elbow room, so I dig each hole twice as deep and 1 1/2 times as wide as the root ball.

Planting the redbud required that I dig a pit 3 feet wide and 4 feet deep. Egad. Hole No. 10,000 would resemble a crater.

I winced at the job ahead. I imagined myself digging the hole and collapsing in it. Then, like Citizen Kane, I would croak a single word with my dying breath: "Redbud."

The script played out differently. The job was a breeze; the soil was soft and stone-free. Digging together, we finished in one hour. Then we stood around, sweating and admiring our work.

Some neighborhood kids appeared, as kids do, drawn by either the hole or the dirt pile beside it. They begged to be lowered into the pit and to have their pictures taken. Next came the dog, Katydid, who enjoyed sniffing for long-lost bones. Then came our new kitten, Patrick, who scrambled up the side of that hole with the grace of a mountain goat.

Then everyone left and we planted the tree. That part seemed almost anticlimactic.

All went smoothly until cleanup, when I began collecting my tools. That's when I realized my pliers were missing. I'd used them to remove the wire netting from the root ball of the tree. Uh-oh. Could I have buried the pliers in the hole?

I felt like a surgeon who, after sewing up the patient, finds one of his instruments missing. Frantically, I searched the yard.

I found the pliers in Katydid's mouth. She must have found them in the hole and thought they were a wishbone.

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