Mind Your Manners

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Life is bad enough when you have to deal with drivers who cut you off on the highway, rude shoppers in the supermarket, bicyclists who peddle three and four abreast—blocking one lane on two-lane country roads—and telemarketers who don’t care who they call at any time of the day.
We retreat to the garden for solace, for escape. And yet, there are some very rude gardeners. There are gardeners whose entire world revolves around only “me” and the rest of us be damned.

So this week, as everyone descends on the garden centers, gets down and dirty for the first time this season and begins the deluge of chemical sprays and noisy landscape machinery, I ask for a moment of reflection. A few minutes of introspection in which we all think about our gardening habits, gardening etiquette and what unintended effect we are having on our fellow beings. It’s the Buddhist in me asking for a gentler, kinder and more mindful approach to our love of gardening.

It all started with my neighbors. I have three of note. To my east is a wonderful couple from the city. He’s a computer whiz in the advertising world but a gentle and mellow fellow who stays out of the garden. His wife can only be described as a giver. She cares deeply about people, animals and is a wannabe gardener. We’ll call her June.

Now June likes to feed the birds and during the winter her yard and the trees on her property are always atwitter. Every bird within miles knows that there’s always a free meal at their house. But so do the deer.

The deer come to feed on whatever hits the ground. And they’ve also learned that they can suck up a meal by licking at the feeders.

Several times we’ve discussed the downside of bird feeding and I’ve gently tried to have her understand that attracting the deer as well isn’t necessarily being responsible. I also try to educate her that there are ways to feed the birds and not the deer. So far my subtle hints have not been successful.

The problem is that in order for the deer to get to her property, they need to pass through mine. On the way, they take a nibble here and a nibble there. Although there are only four of them, this year they did in four new rhododendrons (they adore the young foliage), several small shrubs and countless perennials, that were eaten to nubs.

This is a test of our friendship. It’s a test of my ability to keep calm and it’s a test of my ability to manage an interpersonal relationship.

It’s depressing what’s happening to my garden. Now it’s more fencing and more repellents. All the while I’m trying to resist Robert Frost’s admonition that better fences make better neighbors.

On to the east, I’ve got neighbors who are a couple with two older children. They show up sporadically over the year and are very entertaining. They allow their lawn to grow about 10 inches then call my son to see if he will cut it.

These are earthy folk, all with hair down to their waists and obvious holdouts from the 60s. They resent the use of power mowers so they went out and bought an ecological battery-powered mower. But they soon discovered that when they allow their grass to again grow 10 inches tall, the battery-powered mower is no match to my son’s gasoline-powered monster.

Three weeks later, they again send him an email. Could he come over and cut their lawn?

Now I applaud their environmental effort, but they never cut their lawn until early summer. As a result, in early May it’s a sea of yellow that quickly turns to a cloud of puffs as the dandelions mature, go to seed and the wind carries millions of dandelion seeds you know where.

I spend three weeks each spring pulling out dandelions. And yes, I’ve been known to sneak out at dawn and even spray a few because I’m tired of bending down and yanking for the 10,000th time.

Now to my west is Butch. He’s a redneck, complete with guns, but we’re on good terms. He has no lawn, doesn’t garden and smokes like a chimney but he’s really a nice guy. He lives in a house that his father built way back in the early 20th century and he’s dirt poor.

Butch heats his house with wood. Every so often a friend will drop off a truckload of logs. Not split wood but 15-foot-long logs.

As they drop off the truck some inevitably roll over into one of my perennial beds. I keep silent. Butch plows my driveway and watches my house when I’m not around.

But Butch also has some very large and old maple trees that are falling apart. Branches and limbs dangle precariously, waiting to spear and crush my plantings below.

Yes, he’s legally liable for any damage to my house, my garden, my property. Yup, I can sue him for every penny he doesn’t and will never have.

On to a more universal note. We’ve all got neighbors who allow their hedges to grow several feet into our yards and onto the sidewalk and never, ever trim them. And there are the well-healed all around us who continue to use toxic chemicals on their lawns and gardens and dump tons of fertilizers on their lawns right at the edge of the ocean and bays. It’s hard to believe this is still going on. It’s hard to believe we’re living in the same world.

And speaking of being inconsiderate, there are the local garden mavens who go through the garden centers finding plants they like, pulling off the tags and secretly pushing them into their pockets. When they get home the tags are added to a want list, so when you and I go to buy the plant, there’s no tag.

Sometimes it’s hard being a gardener and a wannabe Buddhist. I’m just so thankful that I’ve learned how to meditate and that I’ve learned the practices of mindfulness and loving kindness.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. And keep growing—in body, mind and spirit—and of course, in the garden.

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