Joco Opinion

In the garden, hope springs eternal


My friend Ward is earning certification as a master gardener, and I couldn’t be happier for him. To become a master gardener, he must attend classes, take tests, write a research paper and volunteer for gardening hotline duties.

I, on the other hand, am a master gardener wannabe, which is similar just without all the busywork. To become a master gardener wannabe, one needs a super saver card to a 24/7  lawn and garden center and an underground sprinkler system.

When my husband and I moved into our Prairie Village ranch-style home 13 years ago, I was emphatic that the weed-strewn strip of dirt along our east-side chain-link fence be turned into a garden paradise. My vision was sheer genius. I would cultivate a perennial garden that celebrated every season of the year: spring’s pastels with columbine, azaleas and lilacs; summer’s firecracker colors with black-eyed Susans, and daylilies; fall’s jewel tones with sedum, purple sage and mums; and winter’s deep emerald hues with holly and evergreen.

My implementation was, if nothing else, consistent. I hoed, spaded, planted, watered, fertilized, weeded, mulched and prayed to Mother Earth. Times 13 years.

“It’s not my fault,” I cried to my husband some time around Year Five. “We have too much shade and not enough sunshine. Our soil is clay and doesn’t drain!

The rabbits are eating everything!

My husband remained silent on the topic, which spoke volumes. I noticed, however, this didn’t stop him from pointing out every lovely and well-tended garden in the neighborhood while we were out walking the dog.

Even some not so well-tended. There were the raised beds overgrown with flowers and vegetables in the elementary school yard. Then there were the abandoned street islands near our home that produced the heartiest Knock Out roses I’ve ever seen. Finally, there was the side yard of coneflowers that were still putting up the good fight — even when decimated by a bulldozer razing one house in order to build another. All were more life-affirming than my sun-torched hostas and sun-starved peonies.

In a period of temporary insanity last summer, perhaps inspired by my friend’s new gardening credentials, I decided to enlarge my perennial garden. That’s right. Make it bigger. I moved my hostas to shady areas, replanted my peonies in sunny areas, fertilized my azaleas and mulched my astilbe. After a trip to the lawn and garden store, I completed the masterpiece with some annuals. I set the underground sprinkler on “Auto” and put my feet up.

I started planning the dinner party when I would invite Ward and others over for a casual outside dining experience that just happened to have a good view of my garden. I could hear the compliments rain down on me from the master gardener himself.

Before that could happen, however, my sister’s family from Wisconsin scheduled their annual visit. My sister and her husband are rehabbing a Victorian-style home along with a stunning garden that produces blueberries, rhubarb and vegetables galore.

As my brother-in-law and I toured my garden, I felt my chest swell with pride. Yes, 13 years, but it had been totally worth all the work, I said. And then came a question I did not expect.

“What were those?” he asked politely, pointing to some rabbit-nibbled stalks, species unknown. Suddenly, the rose-colored glasses were off.

But only for a brief moment. This lovely shaded spot would be perfect for leadwort, I thought, already planning my next trip to the lawn and garden store. You see, all gardeners regardless of their skill level share one common but important trait: eternal optimism. There’s always next growing season.

A few months later, my friend Ward presented me with a calla lily as a gift for proofreading his master gardening research paper on pear trellis rust. It brought tears to my eyes that he would think me worthy to care for this beautiful plant. Then he gave me its instructions:

“It requires full sun.

“Oh, and it needs well-drained soil.

“And be sure to protect it from rabbits.”

Laura Luckert lives and gardens in Prairie Village.

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