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Don Kinzler, Published February 21 2014

Growing Together: Pondering the ways of gardeners

Artist Claude Monet said his greatest masterpiece was his garden.

Mark Twain was more homespun when he suggested a cauliflower is nothing more than a cabbage with a college education.

Much is said about gardening. Have you ever wondered if other gardeners have similar thoughts and idiosyncrasies as you?

Maybe you’ve experienced the old adage that the easiest way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out easily and unintentionally, it’s the valuable plant.

Or you planted perennial flowers to eliminate work only to discover dandelions and quackgrass consider your perennial beds a safe haven.

You know you’re a diehard gardener if you’ve grabbed non-blooming Easter lilies and poinsettias from your church as they were being thrown because they deserved a nice home, and you wanted to see if you could coax them to re-bloom.

You enjoy houseplants in your windows, so you don’t mind re-varnishing the windowsills from any resulting water drips.

You’re a true gardener if the neighbors no longer think it odd that you wander around your yard on Saturday morning in your pajamas with coffee cup in hand as you admire your plantings. And the first thing you do upon returning from two weeks’ vacation is rush to the garden to see how the vegetables are growing. Your lawn shrinks each year as you lose ground to your planting addiction.

You rationalize your plant purchases because you don’t golf, smoke or gamble. And you excuse sky-rocketing summertime water bills because you don’t own a plane, a condo in Vale or a racehorse.

You’ve purchased plants on sale even though you have no space for them. At any given time your vehicle trunk has remnants of leaves and potting soil from previous trips to the garden center.

You know you’re a serious gardener if all visitors to your home are treated to a tour of your plantings. You let your housework slide during summer because the growing season is short and you’ve got all winter to dust and scrub indoors. Besides, you’ll keep houseguests occupied outdoors as you regale them with stories of when and where you obtained specimen plants.

Have you ever had the urge to pull weeds from your neighbor’s flowerbed when they’re not looking? Maybe you’re tempted to violate keep-off-the-grass signs at public display gardens in attempts to get cuttings for propagation. After all, you’re sure the do-not-pick signs refer to non-gardening people.

On hot, windy summer days you water wilted patio flowerpots with the concern of a doctor trying to revive a patient on life-support. On chilly autumn nights gardeners are outdoors in the dark with a flashlight covering planters, flowerbeds and gardens with bedsheets and blankets because frost is forecast and maybe we can get a couple more days of bloom and a few more tomatoes.

Dedicated gardeners go out with friends for a beer and find themselves deadheading spent geranium blossoms from the beer garden planters while their friends are flirting with the wait staff.

While driving down the street the sight that turns one’s head is an attractive garden center.

Although gardeners are a cheery bunch, we do have our annoyances. Like the garden hose that always kinks 100 feet from where I’m standing rather than within reach. Raccoons never raid my sweet corn until the night before I’m planning to harvest. When I finally apply city water to the vegetable garden during dry spells, rain comes that night. When I plant radish seeds sparingly to avoid having to “thin” them out later, germination always seems poor, leaving a half-empty row. But if I plant thickly to compensate for possible poor germination, every seed sprouts into a crowded mess.

Gardeners have learned to take with a grain of salt the descriptions of plants in catalogs and sales brochures. Certain phrases cause our eyebrows to rise. “Zone 4 with protection” is a code phrase for Russian roulette played with plants. “Vigorous” means the plant has a compulsion for world domination. “Moisture-loving” means the plant is ideal if your backyard is a swamp. “May require support” means you’ll spend a weekend trying to rig up a contraption to keep the plant from sprawling across your yard and the neighbors’.

Gardeners lead a simple existence. A major life question is whether to plant the same geraniums that performed so well last year, or do we throw caution to the wind and try a new planter assortment this spring? The matter will require careful consideration as my wife Mary and I weigh the consequences, and fellow gardeners will understand the enormity of the decision.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler’s Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.