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Every year the same scene is played out down at Strout’s Tru Value Hardware store by the serious gardeners in town. One group - always wanting to be first at everything, insists on planting their tomato seeds as early in May as possible. They even pay extra for "vigorous" seeds and then buy things like frost covers for their hearty seedlings. Next they'll buy any other garden gadget or chemical they come across that might save the precious lives of their early tomato plants.
The other group is made up of more traditional gardeners who read almanacs and insist that here in Maine you never know when we might have a killing frost, even in a month like May. They argue that here in Maine you shouldn't put any seeds in the ground until the traditional Memorial Day weekend. These people feel that no matter how unpredictable Mother Nature may be here in northern New England, not even she would dare spring a killing frost on us that late in the season. In years we do get a killing frost in June these gardeners insist it's just the exception that proves their rule.
Over the years I've put both gardening theories into practice. Some years I'd plant early in May and other years I decided to plant late. What were the results? I must say that the results were pretty consistent - my garden failed no matter when I planted – early, late or in between.
I’d envy people with lush green gardens that I could never achieve.
I’d seek help from the gardening shows on cable television and even started listening to a popular garden show on the radio. I got a lot of great ideas and gardening tips, but my garden didn't improve enough to notice.
I continued to envy my neighbors with their lush, verdant gardens.
Sometimes I thought my failure resulted from not spending enough money on all those fancy tools. So, when I'd see a television ad for something like the garden claw or the tilling weasel, I'd go right out and get one. Sometimes I'd buy two just for good measure.
While at the store I'd always see a few other garden gizmos I thought my garden might need, and I'd scoop them all up and take them all to the checkout counter. I brought hundreds of expensive tools and clever gadgets back home to add to my extensive collection.
One year I read that the way to have a good garden was to have “mounds” running up one side your garden and down the other. So, I went out and bought a few hundred feet of railroad ties and spent the better part of a week laying them down in squares and filling them with rich, black loam. I can't say the mounds did much good but building them sure kept me busy and out of mischief for a while.
This year I got the usual seed catalogs in the mail and paged through most of them looking at all the fancy tools that were available for the new growing season. And, when I'd go into the store every morning for my coffee, I'd listen once again to the arguments for and against early and late May planting. I listened but I didn't participate.
Last winter I sat down and figured out how much I spent on last year's garden and according to those figures last year's tomatoes cost me about $52 a piece.
So, now I've decided not to get green with envy but take all the green all that money - I'd normally spend on my pathetic garden and book Mother and I on a cruise instead.
Happy Gardening.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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