Berger’s Burg: Black thumb in growing greens causes the blues

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But the merriest month in all the year - Is the merry month of May. – Anonymous

I have a Peter Pan garden. It never grew up.

If flowers don’t talk back to you, are they mums?

May is...

By Alex Berger

There are 12 months in all the year- As I hear many (people) say.

But the merriest month in all the year - Is the merry month of May. – Anonymous

I have a Peter Pan garden. It never grew up.

If flowers don’t talk back to you, are they mums?

May is supposedly a beautiful month. The arrival of warm weather is the time of year I walk the walks of our streets, hand-in-hand with Gloria under a brilliant sunshine sky to admire the beautiful fauna and flora that has sprouted throughout TimesLedger country. May also celebrates teachers, family, our military, seniors, labor, physical fitness and sports, better sleep, clean air, the tuba, American bicycles, national museums, kindness to animals, barbecues, pickles and Asian/Pacific American heritage. Do I dislike May because of these observances? No.

The month also includes a few notable dates such as May 1, May Day, which celebrates the beauty of spring with little children dancing around a Maypole; May 5, Cinco de Mayo, the victory of the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862; May 6, National Prayer Day; May 8, VE Day, ending World War II in Europe in 1945; May 9, Mothers’ Day; May 10, the day migrating birds return to Central Park from Florida, the Caribbean and South America; and May 15, Armed Forces Day.

In addition to the above occasions, May 17 commemorates Norway’s gaining independence from Sweden in 1814; May 17, the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education, the school desegregation decision in 1954 that changed our schools forever; May 18, the most popular day for weddings in China; May 19, my granddaughter Keri’s fifth birthday; May 24, the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge 121 years ago; May 25, my beloved mother’s birthday; and May 31, Memorial Day.

Do I hate May for any or all of the above celebrations? Negative.

Why then am I unhappy that May will be here? As a football fan, do I object to baseball’s arrival? Nix. Is it ducking as Gloria and I bird-watch? Au contraire. Or is it the month I finally put away my snow shovel? No way. Promise you won’t laugh and I will tell you. All right. It is the arrival of warm weather and the time for Gloria to try to make me a gardener once again. Hey, you promised not to laugh.

Why is it that the moment May steps in, Gloria hands me a rake, a hoe and a spade? “The flowers of tomorrow are the seeds of today,” she will say and then remind me that gardening is merely the tools and me getting down to earth. Ugh. When Gloria starts talking gardening, the first thing I do is dig up an excuse. Goonish Helfen. My good wife will not listen. Never does.

She always places a packet of seeds alongside my Giants cap and orders me to “Go, grow these.”

“I forthwith protest,” I will entreat. (What a word. Anyone using it certainly is not a gardener.) I will then look her squarely in the eye and say, “Have you seen pictures of Mars? It must be full of gardeners like me.”

Gloria will smirk, look me squarely in the eye, frown and then throw a packet of potato seeds on the other side of my Giants cap.

“How long after I plant these potatoes do I start jumping on them to make mashed potatoes?” I inquire. In lickety-split time, I soon will be staring at a mountain of seeds for roses, hyacinths, jonquils, carnations and … two redwood trees.

Why? What did I do to deserve this? Gloria knows very well that when it comes to gardening I don’t know a rhododendron from a road kill, but still she doesn’t care. I don’t exactly have a green thumb, you know, as she does from pulling out those $20 bills to pay for my “hobby.”

I am cursed with a black thumb. Whatever I plant, dies. Last year I even killed a bouquet of ceramic tulips and a flagpole. I must also have a brown thumb because I took care of Gloria’s hanging fern, and the rope died.

It seems I can’t do anything right when it comes to gardening. Our Venus Flytrap I planted to eat flies and mosquitoes turned out to be a vegetarian, and our century plant died in a week. I tried talking to the plants at the suggestion of the guy at the store.

“What should I say to them?” I asked.

“Rest in Peace!” he suggested.

Don’t think I am nuts, but I did begin talking to my green monsters — soothingly and lovingly. I whispered sweet nothings in their ears and, guess what? They died of boredom.

I learned that gardening is simply a case of trowel and error, but in my situation it is always a case of grovel and terror. I once tried planting a rock garden. Two of them quietly passed away on the following morning.

When it comes to gardening, I am at a loss; however, I welcome all suggestions. Keri, my 4-year-old granddaughter, gave me very sage advice. “Grandpa, to prevent your plants from growing too tall, you should plant them deeper.”

My neighbor Sheldon advised that the first thing I should do to make my garden spiffier would be to turn it over to someone else. With suggestions like these, I threw away my “How to Garden” handbook.

There are two distinct reasons I dislike gardening. The first one is that the bugs eat my plants. The second is that the bugs begin to eat me. But don’t get me wrong. I really like plants but only those growing in other people’s gardens.

I’ll keep on gardening, however, because as the old Chinese proverb teaches: “If you want to be happy for an hour — get drunk; if you want to be happy for three days — get married; if you want to be happy for eight days — kill your pig and eat it. But if you want to be happy forever — make a garden.

In the meantime, I will bring Gloria to the Queens Botanical Garden to restore her faith in planthood.

Readers, do you know that old gardeners like me never die? We just go to seed. Gloria, put down those garden snippers.

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

Updated 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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