One man's weed is another man's flower
"It seems that your Harry loves gardening almost as much as Fred," my neighbor Martha said. The two of us sat on my back porch and sipped lemonade as we watched our husbands toil in their gardens.
"Harry has studied plants all his life, but this is the first time he has ever planted a garden of his own," I replied. "He taught botany and natural resource management at the university for 35 years, but we always lived in the city where there was no room for a garden. He's been like a kid on Christmas morning ever since we bought this place."
"You'd think Fred would be sick of digging in the dirt after 50 years of farming, but he isn't," Martha sighed. She cringed as her 70-year-old husband attempted to wrestle a garden tiller out of the back of his old pickup truck. "When I finally convinced him to sell the farm and retire last year, I hoped that we might spend this summer traveling, but that probably isn't going to happen. He's traded his wheat and corn fields for a backyard vegetable garden, but he's as obsessed with planting and harvesting as he ever was. I guess you can't teach an old farmer new tricks. I wish I could sit and visit longer, but I'd better go and help him before he has a heart attack."
After Martha left, I called to Harry, "How's it coming, honey?"
"Great!" he said, pushing up his glasses and patting the soil around a newly planted prairie rose. "This is the last one." He brushed the dirt off his knees and walked over to give me a hug.
"Katie, this is the most fun I've had in years," he said, picking me up and swinging me around. "I've dreamed of planting a native prairie garden like this all my life. The prairie is the most endangered ecosystem in the country and there isn't even a national park to preserve it." Whenever Harry talked about the environment, his face lit up like that of a preacher at a revival meeting. "Less than one percent of the prairie in this part of the country is still in its native state. It's the most fertile soil in the world, so it's all been plowed up or turned into cow pastures. Someday, little gardens like mine may be the only place the native species exist."
If I didn't distract him, he would go on like this for hours, so I asked, "Are you sure it was a good idea to plant it right now? You won't be here to water it when Susie has the baby. We'll be gone at least two weeks."
Our youngest daughter, Susie, who lived at the other end of the state, was expecting her first child any day now. She and her husband were terrified at the prospect of caring for a newborn, and Harry and I had agreed to help out for the first few weeks after the baby arrived.
"Oh that won't be any problem," Harry said. "It's supposed to rain this weekend, and none of these plants need much water other than an occasional rain. I have yarrow over there, leadplant there, coneflower and blazing star there, and wild prairie roses right here. All of them are perfectly adapted to the xeric summers around here."
I was wondering what "xeric" meant when I heard the phone ringing in the house. I raced to answer it and heard my daughter gasp, "Mom, my water broke. We're leaving for the hospital right now. Oh Mom, I'm so scared!"
"Don't worry honey, you'll be just fine," I said. "Your father and I will be there as soon as we can."
I hung up the phone, opened the door, and called, "Harry, Susie's on her way to the hospital. We have to go."
The birth of our grandchild was the only thing that could have dragged my husband away from his own new babies in the garden at that point. We arrived at the hospital just in time to welcome our new granddaughter, Hayley Elizabeth, to the world. We spent the next three weeks getting acquainted with Hayley and helping her nervous parents learn to deal with diaper changes and 2:00 AM feedings.
On the way home, Harry said, "I just had an idea. Why should I stop with just a garden? Why not the whole yard? I don't understand why people plant Kentucky bluegrass lawns. It's a cool season grass that looks fine in the spring, but no amount of water can make it look good in the summer. It would make a lot more sense to plant something adapted to our hot, dry summers, like blue grama or buffalograss. That's one of the biggest problems with the world today. People don't respect our natural resources. They try to force nature to do what they want instead of working in harmony with it. When we get back, I'm going to replant the whole lawn to native grasses and wildflowers."
"That's a good idea, dear," I mumbled, only half listening. I had forgotten how tiring babies could be.
When we pulled into our driveway, Harry jumped out of the car and rushed to the backyard to check on his garden. I followed him, ready to chew him out for leaving me to unload the bags by myself, when I heard him yell, "Oh my God!"
I raced to the backyard and saw my husband staring at his garden with a shell-shocked expression on his face. Every one of his beloved wildflowers was gone. Only freshly tilled black earth and a few scattered rose petals remained.
"Who could have done this?" Harry whispered. His face was so white that I was afraid he might faint.
I noticed Fred in his own garden, attacking stray weeds in the neat rows of emerging vegetables with a hoe. "Fred!" I called. "Did you see who vandalized our garden?"
Fred leaned on his hoe and pushed his gray hair back from his wrinkled, sun-browned forehead. "It wasn't vandals," he said with a smile. "It was me."
"But, why--? How--?" Harry stammered.
"Somebody must have sold you a bad batch of bedding plants," the old farmer replied. "There was nothin' comin' up in that garden but weeds and wild brambles. I figured you'd want to start over, so I tilled it up for you. Them prairie weeds, especially the darn roses, are the devil to get rid of. Could've taken over your whole yard. I don't know if any of 'em escaped to your lawn, but you might have to reseed it if they did. I've got plenty of Kentucky bluegrass seed in the garage."