The Essay is a daily personal piece submitted by readers.
I’ve never been a natural at gardening, but every year I set out earnestly with renewed hope.
This summer, I went off to the garden centre to execute my new “graduated blooming skills,” gleaned from my sister. This year, each plant that was a candidate for my garden would be evaluated based on whether it’s an early bloomer, a late bloomer or a continuous bloomer.
Staggering your bloomers, I had learned, is the pinnacle of the métier. One can always gaze into the backyard and see something in flower.
What I was about to find out was that, while we think we can plan for success, a good measure of street smarts is required to coax a garden to its full glory.
Once I had my little blooming schedule figured out and had purchased all the plants, soil, fertilizers and weed controllers, I was ready to plant.
What I hadn’t anticipated was the Darwinian order of life in the backyard, which has very little to do with me. Faced with a large plot of newly laid soil (which smelled like poo and worms), I bravely engaged my trowel and plunged roots into soil again and again until I was done.
After I’d strangled my last weed and laid my Bellis perennis (the Latin name for daisy – using Latin makes gardeners feel more scholarly about putting moo poo in the soil), I realized that the soil was alive. It wasn’t just an inert black canvas awaiting my touch.
I got up close and personal with more worms, spiders, bees, pill bugs (like Tweedledee and Tweedledum rolled into funny balls), and ants than I could ever have imagined. Luckily, without my reading glasses, everything tended to blur into a vision of pretty flowers and leaves dancing softly in the breeze.
It went well those first weeks. I would go out and check on my tiny utopia and sigh with satisfaction: Time for another lager and lime while I watch a mother robin take a dip in the birdbath.
Occasionally, I’d notice a little hole in a leaf here and there. No matter. I couldn’t see these holes from a distance.
The only small incident in those first weeks occurred when I, while bragging of my green thumb to my husband, dramatically bowed to sniff a blush rose and inhaled an earwig that had been snacking on the petal.
Well, and there was another time, when I caught a bug perambulating through the soil that looked like an army tank with a forklift in front – grey and yellow and, apparently, eating some other visitors to my nascent garden.
This was a classic case of foreshadowing, which I ignorantly missed. Now I know that evil was lurking beneath the top sheet on the soil bed. A gazillion ravenous bug eyes were looking at me. Apocalypse Now was about to happen. And then it rained. It rained. And it rained.
A couple of weeks later, there they were: slugs.
Slugs, I have decided, are the biker gang of the garden – they hang out in large, bullying groups. They have a slimy, hulking appearance, even if they tear easily under pressure. They only come out under cover of darkness. And they love beer.
These thug slugs were systematically stripping all the tender leaves off my plants, greedily shoving baby flower buds into their wet maws and slowly lumbering their way through my $400 worth of early, continuous and late bloomers.
At first I was just disgusted, and then I got mad.
I dug deep holes and “planted” party-size cups of beer throughout the garden. I circled the plants with cornmeal, said to rip slugs’ tender skin to shreds as they silently creep over the perimeter.
Every morning I would find the cups of beer littered with the floating, bloated bodies of drowned slugs. My husband was incensed that I was consuming more beer than he could stock in the fridge.
They kept coming. Several of the little buggers even brought their houses on their backs – ready to move into my garden, snail style. There I was each night at 2 a.m., flashlight between my teeth, reading glasses propped on my nose, dressed in a green garbage bag with a hole for my head, tweezing the little suckers off the leaves while they feasted. It was grim work, but it was war. They couldn’t win.
I learned that slugs get slimier when they are stressed. As I deftly grabbed the obese bodies with some tweezers, they would emit gobs of slime, attempting to glue themselves to their dinner. I went to bed and had slug dreams. I saw slugs in cracks on the sidewalk. I felt imaginary slugs on my arms. I had entered the world of slugs and couldn’t escape.
I had to take a few days off. The slugs were consuming me. I went away for the weekend to regroup. When I came back, my five salvia plants, once full of long, proud, purple flowers had been reduced to thin, brown stems of barren matter.
I acquiesced. The slugs persisted. I fought the slugs and the slugs won.
I’ve decided to take off my reading glasses. This gardening escapade was meant for those made of sterner stuff than I am.