Survival of the Fittest

I do not read instruction manuals. Well, I do, as an absolute last resort, after I have pushed every button and combination of keys, turned it on and off, arranged all the pieces five different ways, or failed to find a place for the last screw. Sometimes it’s a spare, sometimes it’s not. I have built a piece of kit furniture and wondered how I got so far with a piece obviously missing, something I’d have noticed if I counted the number of bits in the box, as instructed to do by the manual. I have complained for two days that my new headset doesn’t work, only to find it is set to mute. I have reached the end of a game only to find that if I had actually read the quest notes, I might have turned in those five mysterious eggs in exchange for an awesome weapon/talent/game-changing magic button that would skip that last, frustratingly difficult fight that was designed to challenge dedicated gamers a quarter my age with four times my reflexes.

I use chairs as ladders and reach beyond the reach of actual ladders. I have hung from cabinets, gutters and rooves. I have operated machinery without knowing all the functions, compromising when the thing won’t do the thing I need it to do, only to find it will do that if I push the button over there. Not a week passes without me burning my hands because reaching into the toaster oven with my bare hands is faster than turning around to get the gloves. Flipping something in a frying pan with my fingers is quicker than searching the drawer for the tongs, then fighting with the locking mechanism at the bottom of the handle.

I could go on and on (and on) and you might either wonder how I reached my forty-fifth birthday completely intact, or you might be nodding and grinning, quietly commiserating and congratulating. “I do that. Yep, I do that, too. You managed that?”

On a scale of one to ten, my stupidity is relatively low—either that, or my luck quotient is really high. I am not a statistic, yet. I have not received my posthumous Darwin Award. And I do learn from my mistakes. Sometimes.

The first iris to show its brave face.
The first iris to show its brave face.

Take gardening. I have never read a book about how to care for my garden. I just do stuff. I mow the lawn in alternating patterns because it just seems that’s more sensible than allowing the mower wheels to trace the same path. I don’t want ruts in the lawn. I weed the paths so my house doesn’t look abandoned. I plant lovely green things in the beds and mulch around them because I’m too lazy to pull out weeds on a daily basis. I pull weeds out almost daily because it’s actually kind of restful and it’s sunny outside and the grass smells good and the flowers are pretty.

I spray noxious crap on my flowers because I don’t like the deer eating them. They are my flowers, grown for my enjoyment. They are the hardy survivors of my chaotic approach to gardening.

My garden is full of survivors. The lavender does well, though it’s looking all woody around the base. I broke a few pieces off this year, to try and pretty it up. No idea if that’s what you should do to an old bush or not. I suspect it should be dug up and replaced, but as it has managed to stay with me for six years, I’ve grown attached. Maybe there is a way to prune it at the end of the season.

I know about pruning—as in, I am aware of the practice. It has little to do with dried plums. Not sure when it’s supposed to happen, though. Before I get out there, snow often covers the plants I think could do with a good cut. So pruning often happens in the early spring, here, when everything is frozen and hard. I cut back desiccated and dead-looking stalks because they are ugly—and they bend and they just look dead.

Who wouldn’t feel warm and cozy under this?

I replaced a dead rosemary bush three times before I figured the corner I put it on was just too exposed in the winter. I put the next one in a more secluded spot and it lived for two years only to succumb last winter. Rosemary is supposed to be hardy. I’ve been wondering if I should cover it with one of those cloth bags. Been wondering what those bags are made of, too, and if I can buy them at Home Depot. Maybe I could use this fun material instead.

I did mean to make a tablecloth out of it, or pillows that might embarrass my husband. But I don’t know how to sew. I could read a book, I suppose, or I could tell you about my irises and lilies.

My flowers are my success stories. I don’t know how or why they manage to survive from year to year, but they do. They flower later than others I’ve seen around the area, but they seem hardier. Maybe because they’ve survived the Kelly Test. I’ve dug up the irises and moved them a couple times, carelessly chopping off bits that just won’t come out of the ground, and they continue to flourish. I’ve split off the new little lilies that grow out of the side of the old clumps and poked them into another piece of ground. All such children have grown. Just moved a grandchild yesterday. I watered it. Seemed the right thing to do, eh?

I love hydrangeas. They remind me of my nana, who I loved dearly. I have two bushes of them now and they don’t seem to thrive here quite like they did in Australia. They wither back to a stump every winter and require some of that dead stick removal, then green up again every spring. I’ve seen really large bushes of them around and wonder how they get to that size when they have to grow from a stump every spring. Maybe they should be covered by shirtless drummers as well.

Regardless of how I bumble through, my garden does bring me joy and it does look pretty. The plants that valiantly return every spring have survived years of abuse and neglect, but they are also well cared for in a way. I reward their loyalty by watering them, trimming them, and generally spending time with them. (Come on, you already knew I was a little bit weird. I’ve fallen off a ladder.)

So, to wind up this largely pointless ramble, I will suggest that I am on the verge of buying a book about gardening. It will have to have a lot of pictures, preferably the step by step kind. If I’m going to read an instruction manual, I want it all laid out in small words with a nice drawing showing me exactly where I need to cut/splice/wrap. It will feel like a departure from my Darwin approach to, well, everything, but I suppose at some point, survival isn’t merely about surviving, it’s about adapting, right?

3 thoughts on “Survival of the Fittest

  1. Jenn Burke May 29, 2013 / 3:42 pm

    I love your approach to gardening. It’s really your approach to life, too, isn’t it?

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