A (spray) can-do approach to fighting the skeeters

July 27, 2002|By JACQUES KELLY

THERE WERE two words my grandmother Lily Rose used to lambaste a summertime condition she detested: hot and buggy.

Were she alive today, she would have condemned this month with full fury. Each week has delivered violent temperatures, but even in the Baltimore of asphalt and brick, this has been a stingy summer, too. I have placed cans of insect repellent by each chair on my back porch. I spray myself almost every night; then, as the inevitable bites become welts, I grease up with anti-itch cream.

I would like to know the source of all those mosquitoes in a city where anything that doesn't move gets covered in Formstone - or is torn down.

After all, I live practically downtown, far from the kind of vacation homes with flapping screens, backyard swamps, rickety boat docks and too many overhanging loblolly pines - the kind of set-up Lily Rose really campaigned against.

I inherited her dislike of the hot and buggy - and benefited from her summertime prejudices. The vacations she supervised were long: Her cardinal rule was to exit Baltimore completely during the seventh month). Also, find a well-screened house directly facing the ocean - no second-rate bays would do.

And, back in the environmentally innocent 1950s, it was all right with Lil when the mosquito control plane dusted heavily and flew low. I can recall her running down Rodney Road in Dewey Beach one morning in 1953 when the anti-bug pilot misjudged the neon sign's height on the Redwood Motor Lodge and busted up. We believed in death to mosquitoes, no matter what we all were breathing.

Visitors to my home like to blame the fish ponds that have become so popular these days. They may well be right, but I do not feed my goldfish. They are supposed to dine on the larvae. I prefer to point a finger at the CSX Railroad, whose tracks sit in a deep, water-filled cut a half-block south of my back porch. The source of the water that fills up beside the rail track ballast? Of course it's those underground streams that all Baltimoreans know course under the city as famously as the sewers of Paris. And let us not forget, we had a very mild winter, too.

It's also annoying because I truly like my garden, which is having a banner July. Being a Marylander, I think there is no finer July flower than our black-eyed Susan, which I cultivate in a wild and a fancier variety. They all popped about two weeks ago; they are the ideal flower for a stinking hot day, about the only thing that looks happy.

Except the zinnia. I also did my homework early back in April (if you recall, it was a warm spring, too) and now have a fine zinnia patch. For years I've tried to master this most simple of seed. I even made a pilgrimage to the Burpee factory store in Warminster, Pa., in search of the perfect zinnia. But no matter what I've tried, I've flunked the seed test miserably.

This year I threw aside all my do-it-yourself inclinations and purchased nicely growing plants from the Waverly Farmers Market and a produce stand on Route 16 in Delaware known by all its many fans as Farmer Bill's. Then I selected the hottest part of my garden, with full broiling city sun, and nature did the rest.

So, now that the cicadas are sawing away at night, I enjoy my flowers and walk the garden path with an aerosol can.

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