Penkava: Confessions of a junior assistant apprentice gardener
My ties with gardens go way back. My grandfather’s yard was filled with a plethora of plants. I especially remember how well the ferns flattened as I tromped into the flowerbeds wearing my bright red US Keds sneakers seeking to retrieve my wayward baseball. The peonies offered a bit more resistance, but their flowers easily yielded to the swings of my Nellie Fox Autographed Model baseball bat. My batting average was low, but my PBIs (Peonies Batted In) was impressive.
Needless to say, trips to grandpa’s house usually ended up with a bent, old, hoe-toting gardener chasing a skinny, wide-eyed, bat-flailing plant destroyer out of his yard. Ahh, the sweet memories of family and childhood.
But that was a long time ago. Since then, I have met the flower of my life and have spent decades under her patient horticultural tutelage as her Junior Assistant Apprentice Gardener. During this somewhat extended residency internship, I must admit that I have not only been converted from plant destroyer to plant advocate, but actually have blossomed into a moderately skilled dirt digger.
That is not to say I know the difference between a hosta and a hydrangea. Nor am I yet able to cross trowels with a Digitaria Sanguinalis or a Taraxacum Officinale. And I must admit to being a bit overwhelmed by the whole compost process. But I have progressed to the point that my mentor has allowed me to work relatively unsupervised with a variety of pointy objects.
In fact, I have been given some special assignments. For one thing, I am in charge of the weeding of all of our garden paths.These pebble-filled trails practically invite the invasion of all kinds of spiky green stuff. I think it’s grass or some kind of weed. Anyway, my job is to pluck these aliens from among the pebbles and haul them to the compost pile. All by myself. But that’s not all.
There are these cracks in our driveway. My job is to make sure that nothing grows in these cracks. Thus, it is not unusual to find me on all fours sprouting a three-tine hand cultivator or a half-round transplanting fork or even a Dutch potting trowel in my efforts to maintain the aesthetically pleasing linear appearance of driveway lines. Once again, all by myself.
I must admit that I am not yet entrusted with certain tasks. The general weeding of the flower beds has not yet been granted to me, ever since the “The Great Semper Augustus Tulip Incident.” You see, I was taught to remove weeds all the way down to their roots. Well, I followed these suspicious stems down into the ground and came upon a whole bunch of bulbous protrusions of obvious malicious purpose. I dutifully snatched them up and crushed them, seeking to destroy any malevolent maggotlike larvae inside. Evidently, they were something called “bulbs.” And evidently “Semper Augustus” is some kind of historically important tulip. Hey, I’m a Junior Assistant Apprentice Gardener, not a scholar.
Thus, here I am, still in training after all these years. But what I lack in skill, I make up in passion.
So as I sit on my front porch swing enjoying all the greenery, once in a while I see a kid walking by. He diverts off the sidewalk and cuts through our parkway plants. Yep, right through the Kimberly Queen Ferns! And the Herbaceous Lactiflora Peonies! And worse yet, I think he is wearing US Keds sneakers!
Geesh. Where’s a 7-inch swan-neck half-moon garden hoe when you need it?
• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He currently is doing assigned reading in the book,“Tulip Bulb Identification for Dummies.” He can be reached at email@example.com.