Clearing The Clutter

THE REAL DIRT

January 08, 1995|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

The garden shed is full of junk; debris has reached the ceiling. I open the door and recoil in terror. Out tumbles a family of field mice, who don't scare me, and an avalanche of other stuff, which does.

Shovels and saws and things that crawl land at my feet. The mice keep moving, one step ahead of the avalanche, which buries me to my knees.

The place is a mess; that's why I'm here. It's time to straighten the shed.

I clean it every year during the holidays. Winter is the best time for gardeners to tackle such chores. We can't do spring cleaning in the spring, with all the hoeing and mowing and planting on tap. Besides, most of April's tools are toward the back of the shed. If I waited until spring to find them, I'd be planting my flowers in fall.

I plunge ahead, tunneling into the shed as if digging out of a blizzard. Here are broken toys and bent nails and rusty cans half-filled with mystery goo.

What's this? A transistor radio, circa 1960, stuffed in a broken clay pot. I turn the knob. It works! Little Richard screams through a wave of static.

A wop-bop-a-lu-bop, a-wop . . .

Bam.

A paint can falls off a shelf and onto my head.

Boom.

I collapse in a heap on the floor.

When I stagger up, there's a bump on my head and the radio is dead. No matter, there's work to be done. The injury has cleared my brain of clutter. Junk starts flying out the door and into the garbage. I'm through saving stuff in the shed for a rainy day. When it rains, who slogs out to the shed?

Here is a partial list of what I throw out:

* Three old garden rakes, with half their teeth gone. Why did I save them? They don't make dentures for rakes.

* A bag of 3-year-old walnuts, still in their shells. Heaven knows where they came from. We've never owned a nut tree.

* Fifty-two ugly plastic pots in which nurseries sell shrubs and small trees. They're history. Perhaps the pots can be recycled into something useful, like those plastic snakes used in the garden for scaring birds.

* A dozen odd-shaped garden tools whose use remains a mystery. I bought them at yard sales because they looked weird. I'm trashing them for the same reason.

* An 80-pound lump of lawn fertilizer. That's when happens when the bag gets wet. Now it's a solid block of 10-10-10. You could sculpt with this stuff.

* Four near-empty containers of organic pesticides. There's 1 inch of liquid in each bottle, reminiscent of the milk cartons in the refrigerator.

The shed looks better; mission accomplished. On a roll, I leave the shed and head for the basement, which serves as a nursery. It's a wreck. Abandoned in May, when the last seedlings were moved outside, the nursery -- which consists of a redwood plant table and two plant-growth lights -- soon vanished beneath a mountain of clutter. (Junk is like weeds; it just keeps spreading.)

I roll up my sleeves and dig in, peeling away layer after layer of debris, and wondering why it's sitting here. What were my gardening plans for this old baseball bat, a Rocky Colavito model? A club to beat up on moles? What about the golf clubs I last used in college? Next year's tomato stakes, perhaps?

Here's a pair of Bullwinkle ears -- to frighten garden varmints, no doubt. And the bag of my old underwear? Cloth strips to tie up sprawling tomato vines.

I also find two tattered old beach umbrellas that I saved to shade the cucumber patch on hot summer days; yet another stack of black plastic pots; and a slide trombone that has been gathering dust since high school. It would make a neat planter.

When the dog chewed up the garden hose several years ago, I kept all the bite-sized pieces to try to reassemble it. Never did it, of course. The hunks of hose are still stuck in a box. They look like big green macaronis.

Eh? What's this? At the bottom of the heap is a stack of scratchy old Elvis records, including three copies of "Don't Be Cruel." OK, I won't. The records can stay. Maybe I'll even play them for my seedlings this spring. Music is supposed to stimulate plant growth.

That's fine. As long as it doesn't stimulate junk growth.

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