My Turn, Len Clark: Out of the mouths of babes

Published 9:42 pm Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The landscaping around our home of over 30 years is continuously changing. Some parts through serendipitous neglect: “Hmmm, that looks better than when I used to tend it.” Some by planned obliteration: “If I build a deck there, I won’t have to plant anything at that spot ever again.” But most areas transform through my annual freefall into hapless, horticultural horror. My failure rate is beyond reckoning; I could easily cover the whole yard with concrete at far less expense.

Herbs, shrubs, trees, flowers, vegetables — if you can name it, I or my army of critters have destroyed it. Three years ago I was elated by three tomato plants bearing sumptuous fruit, only to walk out on the morning of my planned harvesting to discover every plant stripped bare by squirrels. Two years ago I built an elaborate cage to house the tomatoes and keep out the squirrels. Apparently bumblebees don’t like chicken wire: no squirrels but no pollination — and no tomatoes.    

By sheer attrition, some plants were successful. Thousands of dollars’ worth of attempts over many years yielded a few successes, which brings me, cheerless and challenged, to my latest floral fiasco.

I stored my surviving pots and plants in the sunroom during prior winters. A precious few — Ficus Benjamina, Philodendron Xanadu and Schefflera — I managed to keep alive for over three decades. But the cat has taken over the sunroom, and there are now too many pots anyway, over 50 of them. So I invested (hah) in a temporary, plastic greenhouse to keep everything above freezing for the winter.

It was straightforward to construct, probably less than an hour. I built it on a deck for greater stability and also wrapped a tarpaulin around and under the frame for extra insulation before I covered it with the included pre-shaped, plastic sheeting.

It was an unmitigated failure. The door-flap zipper snapped the first time I touched it. The insulating value was perhaps two degrees at most. The roof collapsed approximately one minute after the first snowflake fell on it. It now boasts an 8-foot outdoor patio heater to support the roof (“Yes dear, it is turned off”) and numerous pieces of added plastic bubble-wrap clamped to what’s left of the frame to keep the whole mess from disintegrating. Its only remaining saving grace is that it provides a rudimentary space to contain the heat from an electric fan I had to put in to offset the drafts from all the tears and holes. All to no avail, as I believe just about everything has died.

I related this depressing tale of woe to my 4½-year-old grandson. Thomas immediately suggested I save up to buy a “solar-powered glass greenhouse” and subsequently delved in great detail as to how it should be constructed. Amazed as I always am by the boy’s intellect, I was speechless for a moment as I carried on pushing him in the swing. His father asked him how I would pay for it. “How should he save the money?” Without a pause Thomas replied, “Well, he could stop buying so many plants.”

Len Clark lives in Salisbury.