Gardener knows no boundaries

July 07, 1996|By SUSAN REIMER

MOM," MY DAUGHTER called to me. "Susannah's dad is digging in your garden again."

"It's OK, Jessie," I called back from the laundry room. "I'm sure he's doing what he thinks is best."

My neighbor Bob is what I would call an imperialist gardener. An expansionist gardener. A gardener following his own territorial imperative. A nature-abhors-a-vacuum gardener.

My neighbor Bob gardens without regard to property lines, power lines, fault lines, zoning ordinances or personal space. My neighbor Bob gardens where his spirit moves him.

And he is good at it. He can get just about anything to grow just about anywhere, and before he is done, he just about will have accomplished that.

"I see it as remodeling the world as I go," says my neighbor Bob.

He does not say this in a bragging way or in a grandiose way. Actually, I think he is a little self-conscious about this need he has to divide yet another perennial and move half of it into a bare patch of earth. He is Johnny Appleseed with a spade.

"I'm not sure where I am going with this. If there was a plan, I've lost sight of it."

My neighbor Bob feels comfortable enough with our friendship to move the perennials in my yard where he sees fit. "When are you going to give up rows and do clumps?" he asks me. "Treat yourself to a dozen lilies. You deserve them." Some might find this candor bold.

But it is not just my yard in which Bob works, having gardened nearly every inch of his own. ("Grass is stupid," he says. "Lawns are ecologically dead. The only things that live there are things the lawn owners want to kill.") He will redecorate anyone's yard. I am sure our neighbors are reluctant to ask him over for a cookout for fear he will show up with a shovel and a head full of suggestions. It is like asking someone to dinner and having them TC rearrange your living room furniture.

We live near a wide, grassy median that was once a railroad bed and may some day, to the horror of my neighbor Bob, be a road. So he is planting the living daylights out of the five-block stretch of it that runs through our neighborhood. He seems to think city planners will walk right past it, failing to see the right-of-way for the trees.

When asked what motivates this rolling gardening, the answers my neighbor Bob gives me are not frenetic and aggressive. They are meditative.

"Why is it that the story of Adam and Eve takes place in a natural paradise?" my neighbor Bob asks rhetorically. "Why is it that putting our hands in garden dirt is different than putting our hands in engine oil?

"We are like lightning. Some kind of grounding occurs when we touch the earth and things that grow.

"We all lead very unnatural lives. We spend our days divorced from the outside world, in an air-conditioned environment," says my neighbor Bob, who walks to his lawyer job, even, I have seen, in the most foul weather.

"We come home and we ask, 'Where was the day?' By puttering around in the garden, you get a sense of where the day is by touching something that has been responding to the day, and to the night."

I admire the tranquillity of his relationship with growing things and his undisciplined expansionism. He plants flowers where others might plant lawn furniture -- right in the middle of the yard.

But my neighbor Bob does not weed.

Every evening, I walk past my gardens and pick stray weeds like a diner picking hairs out of his soup -- with a sharp eye and great distaste.

My neighbor Bob is blind to the uninvited guests in his gardens, and my discomfort with his weeds, I am sure, re-enforces whatever conclusions he has come to about me based on the fact that I am a row gardener as opposed to a clump gardener.

My neighbor Bob not only does not pull weeds out, he even encourages them to grow. "I'm waiting to see what it looks like when it flowers," he says.

But I think he does not weed because he has moved on, planting as he goes, never looking back, eyes scanning the horizon for some new stretch of grass to be his canvas.

"I design it to take care of itself after I am gone," he says.

My neighbor Bob claims to be mellowing. He claims to have realized that he cannot cover the earth with the perennial flowers he divides each spring with his spade.

"My next task is to stop and look at them all," he says.

I am not convinced. This summer, he dug a huge hole in his yard and put a pond in it. Now he is planting pond flowers around it and water lilies in it. This is the inescapable next phase in the life's work of my neighbor Bob.

He has run out of ground to plant, so he is planting the water.

Pub Date: 7/07/96

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