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Tickseed's illusion of ease

In the earliness of Spring, it appeared that my garden would have an unexpected spread of coreopsis. Up from the cracks of the wall's rocks, downwind from last year's planting, came leaves of the same shape and size the tickseed I had known.

I told my wife that we would, in summer, have a wide carpet of yellow-orange flowers. I imagined the spread that the following year's seed would bring, and with pride imagined myself a very able gardener.

Now that May's heat and rain have grown these new plants, I see that they are covered with unfamiliar flower stalks, even as last year's tickseed has yet to grow up and present buds. I am beginning to believe that they are not at all garden plants, but a wild weed that has taken advantage of my scratchings in the soil, a weed that threatens to become rampant, crowding out all the domesticated roots, sucking on the nutrients of the designer dirt that I have added to my hill.

This is the rule of gardening: Expertise is rare, yet we fancy ourselves to have green thumbs. The early seeds we start indoors wither. The rows for corn remain half-dug through August. The color schemes go wrong in the outdoor light, unedited with Photoshop filters.

The true historical gardens are all covered over. The rest are just poses, little weed free Colonial Williamsburgs.

I want a new horticultural magazine: Failed Gardens. Throw out the Chappaqua estate gardens designed by men who wear turtlenecks in June and maintained by servants! No more advice about the hybrids that will really, honestly make everything all right in the garden.

Show me the raw hands that still leave weeds unpulled. Show me the poison ivy that invades the dahlias. Show me the lawn with bad patches, and the plastic grocery bags that blow into the lilacs.

Let's find beauty in the grass left unmowed for two weeks too long. The pile of plastic pots blown to the base of the hedge may have some merit in themselves. Overgrown edges blending into each other could be the next big thing in gardening chic, an authenticity inaccessible to the wealthy, who cannot find consultants to age the handles of their shovels or introduce cockle burrs fast enough to keep up with the trends that sweep savagely across the rest of our gardens.

Manhattan will visit my hill, setting up tents for coffee and a jazz trio next to the eroded gravel driveway. There will be nowhere to park, and clean, soft hands will bend down to feel the greasy softness of the leaves of the dock that I cannot get rid of. Coffee table books will show my half-done work in the dramatic light of the early afternoon. A pile of unplanted seed packages will be cited as the definitive piece of found art for the year.

The county agricultural extension office will not know what to do. And, as usual, neither will I.


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