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Berger’s Burg: Gardener’s growing grief buds from seeds of spring

He sang a song so lovely, so carefree and so gay,

That slowly all my troubles began to slip away.

By Alex Berger

I awoke early one morning, the earth lay warm and still,

When suddenly a tiny bird perched on my windowsill.

He sang a song so lovely, so carefree and so gay,

That slowly all my troubles began to slip away.

He sang of far-off places, of laughter and of fun,

It seemed his very trilling brought up the morning sun

I stirred beneath the covers, crept slowly out of bed.

Then closed the window on his toes to shut his chirping head.

I’m not a morning person!

-Internet poem

With or without the weatherman’s assistance, spring arrives in these parts on March 20, much to the pleasure of this frosted columnist who is mighty weary of Ol’ Man Winter. Isn’t this the season when a young man’s fancy turns to baseball, fishing or something?

Nonetheless, I know that it is time for me to admire the fauna and flora, which soon will be sprouting and flourishing all over TimesLedger land. I will also be walking the walks of our streets with Gloria under a brilliant sun, moon and stars. Ah, the glory of spring.

There is one fly in my ointment, however. Every year, the very minute the calendar strikes “spring,” an unwelcome ritual begins with my beloved and me. Gloria will coo sweetly, “The flowers of tomorrow are the seeds of today. Don’t you know that to garden is merely for you to get down to earth?”

“Really?” I say.

She will then hand me a rake, a hoe and a spade and point to the door. Whenever Gloria does that, the first thing I try to dig up is an excuse.

My good wife places a packet of seeds alongside my Giants cap so I can’t and won’t miss seeing them. “And go grow these,” she purrs sweetly.

“I forthwith protest,” I boldly entreat. (What a word. Anyone who uses it certainly is not a gardener.)

I will look her squarely in the eye and say, “Have you seen pictures of the moon? It has a gardener like me.”

Gloria will look back at me, squarely in the eye, and throw a packet of potato seed along the others lying on the other side of my Giants cap. “How long after I plant do I start jumping on them to make mashed potatoes?”

Gloria’s glare is convincing, so a gardener I will be. I will pick up her packets of seeds and the unused seeds from last year — roses, hyacinths, jonquils, carnations, horseradish and a redwood tree, grit my teeth, gird my loins and set forth to conquer.

However, reality soon strikes and it will be déjà vu all over again. Gloria knows when it comes to gardening, I don’t know a rhododendron from an elephant garlic. She also knows that since I began gardening, I have developed a black thumb. Whenever I plant, I feel like a murderer because everything in my garden dies. I also grew a brown thumb. Once I brought home a hanging fern and the rope died.

On the other hand, Gloria has a green thumb — from pulling out all those $10 and $20 bills at the gardening store. She paid a fortune for a philodendron and it died before I learned how to spell it. Even the carnation I was wearing at Gloria’s end-of-year school party attacked the principal.

My fail-safe plan this year was to plant peas, carrots and tomatoes, but I changed my mind. What would I do with the cans? It seems that my garden has a Peter Pan complex. It never grows up.

I grabbed a gardening catalog and thumbed through it until I came across a pretty orchid from Africa. I wanted to order it but Gloria stopped me. “Darling,” she said, “those flowers would take two years to bloom.”

“I know that, dear,” I replied. “I’m using last year’s catalog.” Glare!

I reminded Gloria of my horticultural failures. The Venus flytrap I planted to eat the flies and the mosquitoes turned out to be a vegetarian, the century plant I killed in a week and the guy at the nursery suggested I begin talking to the plants. “What should I say?” I asked.

“Pest in peace.”

Nonetheless, Gloria insisted so I began talking soothingly and lovingly to my green monsters. I whispered sweet nothings in their ears and, guess what? They died of boredom. Gloria encourages me by saying that gardening is simply a case of trowel and error. In my situation, it is a case of grovel and terror. But does Gloria care? Nooo.

Last year I tried to defuse Gloria’s obsession with gardens, so I planted a rock garden and six of them died. I did have one shining success, however — weeds. I learned that if you give one an inch, it will take a yard. I keep trying, but nothing grows except my frustration. Someone, please help me.

Keri, my 4-year-old granddaughter, said that if I were afraid of the plants growing too tall, I should plant them a little deeper. My neighbor, Gerard, advised that the first thing I should do to make my garden really spiffy would be to turn it over to someone who knows what he is doing.

And, Harvey Goodman, this newspaper’s “Plant Doctor,” gave me sage advice. After looking at my garden, he said, “You should try planting in the Mojave Desert. The results would be the same, but you would get to see a few cacti.”

There are two reasons why I know I would never be a good gardener. The first is that bugs eat my plants. The second is that the bugs eat me. And, I hate anything that eats more meat than I do. But don’t get me wrong, I really like plants, but only those that are planted by someone else.

I appreciate Gloria’s love for flowers and plants, so every year I bring her to the Queens Botanical Garden in Flushing. “Why don’t we bring our garden here?” I suggest. Her cold look could bring back winter, which wouldn’t be such a bad idea. No gardening.

But, spring is wonderful. As Franklin P. Jones once said, “It makes you feel that you are young enough to do all the things you’re old enough to know you can’t.” Frankie, you certainly knew your beans. I will remind Gloria that old gardeners never die. They go to seed. Gloria, put down that garden snipper.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 140.

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