Perfect gardens in May a torment to procrastinators

Barbara Brotman
Chicago Tribune

To: The Management

Re: Unfair Gardening Practices

I would like to lodge a complaint.

It has come to my attention that there are people who are gardening in a way that is cruel and hurtful to less-accomplished gardeners.

In recent weeks, I have seen numerous gardens already in states of utter perfection. Their flower beds are turned, edged and weeded. Their shrubs are precisely trimmed. Mulch is spread out neatly to the ideal, uniform depth.

When I saw planters already filled with perfect arrangements of foliage and flowers — in April! — I could be silent no more.

These are clear violations of the rights, or at any rate the feelings, of the garden-variety gardener.

I haven’t even started, and these people are finished!

I lost the race before I even began it. I haven’t even laced up my running shoes (OK, I haven’t even bought running shoes; OK, I haven’t even finished looking through running shoes in catalogs), and they’re already eating their post-race celebration dinner.

What kind of jumping the gardening gun is this? I have yet to put away my garden hose for the winter — that would be last winter — and they are already basking in summertime glory.

And how do these gardening wizards do it? The unofficial gardening season didn’t even begin until very recently, and their gardens are spectacular. How is the ordinary gardening mortal supposed to compete?

You may say that there are legitimate reasons for their prematurely perfect gardens — that they actually worked for them, or paid someone else to do it.

But what kind of society would this be if we did not care about the emotional well-being of our fellow gardeners? Should we not garden unto others as we would have them garden toward us? How would they like it if one of their neighbors ran radiant heating wires under their yard and began planting in January?

These actions are all the more egregious considering the brevity of the Chicago gardening season. By which I mean not the climatological one, but the actual one.

For we lesser gardeners, this is the time between our enthusiastic vows that this year we will finally craft a glorious garden, and our humble acceptance that, alas, once again, we did not.

It’s already a short trip. Too soon, the euphoria of early spring, when you can dream of vanquishing the violets or planting a mini-farm without actually having to do the work, is replaced by the reality of true gardening season.

It turns out that those great plans would require great amounts of work. And in the full flush of summer, with bike paths, beaches and backyard deck chairs beckoning, you have to decide how much time you really want to spend working in the garden. Especially once the sun starts baking that clay soil solid.

At some point, you have to either buck up, lay in a supply of Aleve and start digging, or plant a few begonias in pots and call it a year.

The elapsed time from dream to capitulation is brief enough. But being surrounded by early garden perfection makes it even shorter.

It puts an end to that glorious time in early spring when you can daydream about your garden without putting a shovel into it.

The time may come when our hopes will be dashed. The containers we planned to fill with exotic new combinations may end up filled with the usual begonias. The mini-farm may end up a maxi-weed patch.

But for now, we can still dream.

Until we see the gorgeous state other gardens already reached in early May.

Why attempt a grand plan when you are already so far behind? Why hope for success when it feels like you have already failed?

Thus, my complaint — and a plea.

I beg of my gardening betters: Can’t you wait at least until full-on gardening season to prove your superiority? Must you destroy, in the first week of May, my will to garden?

Give the rest of us a break. Slow down a little. What’s the big rush?

To The Management, I say that these unfair gardening practices must be stopped. We should all be gardening on a level playing field.

And the playing field at my house is nowhere near ready to be mulched.