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  Updated 1-2-08




























Southern Humorists Present ...

March and April are Diggin' in the Dirt Months!
Click here to join the Dixie Dispatch Yahoo Group!

Spring is springin' and the Southern Humorists are grabbin' their hoes, work gloves and weather radios to spread manure and hot air. So grab a cold drink and get to laughin'!

Thanks for readin', y'all!

Visit for more Southern Humor!

| Invasion of the Dandelions | The Homegrown Tomato Blues | Yard Man | The Cyclonic Harvester | Gertie Meets the MRP | Dandelions ala mode | Floral Splendor or Gastronomical Delight | The Black Thumb Disease | Cletus on Spring | Dragon Does Dandelions | Suburban Blights | Organic Gardening Secrets Revealed | Planting By the Silvery Moon | Cool in Spring | Rooted in Disaster | Poke Salet Recipes |

Genesis 1:11:
[New Internat'l Version]: Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so.
[Southern-ized Version]: "There's gonna be plants out yonder as far as y'all can see: okrey, corn, peas, and beans plus trees that'll have fruit so sweet that you'll wanna slap yo'self silly." And that's the truth.

Invasion of the Dandelions
By: by Sheila Moss © 2005 All Rights Reserved

Once again it is spring and time for chemical warfare. The dandelions have arrived in my lawn and are joyfully celebrating the arrival of the warmer weather with a spurt of growth ecstasy.

I don't know what it is about a dandelion that freezes my blood and turns me into a crazed executioner. Somehow whenever I see their little yellow heads, I begin to plot murder, and I know that these weeds must be done away with.

My pitiful flowerbeds seem to become more infested every year. I used to actually enjoy gardening. I still like flowers, but the gardening part is getting more and more questionable and the easy solution of a mulch ground cover is becoming more and more attractive with each passing season.

Normal women, of course, take care of the home on the inside and leave the yard work to obliging or, at worse, disgruntled husbands. Liberated women buy condos. Stupid women have partners who grew up in the city and think dandelions are wildflowers that should be left alone.

Who am I to question their right to exist," says my honey.

Argh! Everything is a philosophical debate - even weeds! It is simpler to do the deed myself than to justify the existential need for it!

As any gardener knows, dandelions are one of the most sinister of weeds to deal with. I develop an insidious plan of death, carefully calculating my premeditated murder. Dandelions are born survivors.

These innocent looking yellow wildflowers will turn into raging savages overnight, sending up hideous growths of ugly seeds that scatter in the wind and spread their demon offspring. They have deep roots like carrots that are brittle and really cannot be pulled up without breaking. Leave one tiny root and the weed will soon recover and reappear reincarnated and ready for a second life. This means they practically have to be dug out of the ground, a job I detest.

For the lawn, I finally had to resort to calling in professional help. One day in the throes of a guerilla assault from foot-high dandelions with roots that spoke Chinese, I realized that my defenses were too weak. I was being overrun and I had to have reinforcements& quickly.

The lawn service came to the rescue and treated the yard. It only costs me an arm and a leg - small price for dandelion control, they said. Plus they threw in control of other weeds for no extra charge. However, unless I sign up for the full service for which I must take a second mortgage on my home, sign a contract in blood, and mention them for an inheritance in my will, they won't come back for follow-ups.

I decided to save money and take care of the follow-up part myself. This means that the yellow-headed monsters reappear quickly along driveways and sidewalks where the grass is scarce. It is maddening! How do you get rid of these things? Land mines?

I went to the local hardware store where there is a giant arsenal of weed weapons geared to the different militant needs of gardeners. You can kill weeds without killing grass, kill selected weeds, or just kill everything at random. I usually opt for the "kill weeds only" spray unless it is for a place where absolutely nothing needs to grow, like the cracks of the sidewalk.

There were no automatic assault weapons available for defensive dandelion warfare. What a shame! The ammunition comes in "ready mix," but the condensed type that is not pre-mixed is far more practical. The smell of the stuff is indescribable, sort of like rotten eggs, boiled cabbage and paint thinner. I respect chemicals - who wouldn't with a smell like that? It probably could gas the weeds to death without touching them.

One must have a weapon to spread the chemicals, either a spray can to pump, or an attachment to put on the hose that mixes the poison automatically. Either way, application is an all out commitment. For entire lawns there are dry mixes, but these need to be applied to wet lawns, are not as effective, and are really not too good for treating small, specific areas.

Even after messing, mixing and spraying, the weeds shrivel and cough for weeks before they finally succumb. The dose of death seems to actually stimulate them and they rush to mature and seed before they depart the world. In their last hurrah, their yellow hair turns gray and the seeds are blown to the wind to create another season of torment.

I wish I could adopt a "live and let live" attitude towards weeds. I try to ignore them, but sooner or later, I always relent. The longer I wait to attack, the worse it is, of course. I made my first round the other day, a sniper with a premixed hand-pump knocking off a few selected victims: a squirt here, a spray from behind a tree there, an around the corner maneuver. My neighbors didn't even blink when they saw my fatigues and combat boots.

I think I will call the professional mercenary weed killers again and see exactly how many rounds I have to agree to before they will do a follow-up assault. A few of the stubborn renegades always seem to escape, lay low for a while, and then counterattack as soon as my defenses are down. I am sure the dandelions will dig in, as usual, and the war will continue all through spring and into the summer.

I didn't know life in suburbia would be so complicated. Nobody told me about these annual dandelion skirmishes. I think I may have to concrete the lawn and paint it green. Now I know why cities developed. It had nothing to do with population density. It was a means of self-defense against invading dandelions.

The Homegrown Tomato Blues
By: Angela Gillaspie © 2005 All Rights Reserved

I yearn for my very own homegrown tomatoes. All winter I have put up with the plastic and tasteless tomatoes from my local grocery store, and this summer I am going to do something about it. You'd think the produce manager would know that you are supposed to leave tomatoes at room temperature, because as soon as tomatoes are cooled off, they lose their flavor.

Straight from the vine to sliced and dressed with a bit of oil and vinegar is a delight to my palate. Yes, a garden filled with my own homegrown tomatoes is what I need. For my budding family of five, about twelve plants should take care of our fried green tomato and nacho needs. As I imagine smelling homemade tomato sauce bubbling on the stove, I place my mail order for twelve tomato plants.

Around the first of May, my plants arrive, and I rip open the box and find all the plants to be accounted for. I fuss over them like a new mother. My six-year-old helped me mist the roots and place the plants in a dark cool place until we could plant them.

The following weekend was designated as Family Planting Time. I called and rented a tiller, and spent the next two days pumping my husband about our garden-to-be. The night before Family Planting Time, he was ready. Visions of BLTs and tomato pies danced in our heads while we slept. When we awoke the next morning, we were refreshed and ready. We were on a mission.

The first step was to choose the portion of our manicured lawn to dig up. We made sure that this part of our yard had good drainage and was within shooting distance of our BB gun. While my husband retrieved the tiller, the kids and I partitioned off an eight by twenty rectangle that was to be the garden. I drug the mattock out to the yard and began a trench around our garden-to-be. The kids assisted me by punching each other, pouring dirt down the baby's diaper, and filling the wheelbarrow with balls and headless Barbies.

When my husband returned with the tiller, he wrapped his hands in gauze, donned work gloves, and tilled the soil for two hours straight. He stopped only to dig up rocks, scream "NO," rake grass clumps, and throw a child or two out of the way. I assisted him by pointing out the spots that he missed and pulling the kids out of the tiller's pretty blue smoke cloud.

After the rich soil was turned, my husband went to take the tiller back to the rental shop while the kids and I threw the rocks out of the dirt. The one-year-old really enjoyed throwing dirt and piling it on top of his head. Later, I decided to reuse the ten pounds of dirt I found in his diaper as potting soil for my dahlias.

With much effort, I made three squiggly rows that resembled snakes with epilepsy. I carefully measured the distance between plants allowing three to four feet between them for future growth. Next, I gently laid the plants in their new habitat, while I sprinkled fertilizer on the roots and covered them two-thirds of the way with soil. My husband returned from dropping off the tiller just in time to water our new garden. Our eyes grew misty at the thoughts of the bounty we were going to harvest in the coming months. We turned to walk in the house to rest after our hard labor, and then we heard cackling behind us. Turning around we saw the one-year-old sitting in the muck with a tomato plant in each hand, and grinning a muddy smile at us. I scooped up 'Dirty Harry' and my husband replanted the tomatoes.

In the coming weeks, we noticed small yellow blossoms, and then little green pearls that appeared in their place. Each day we would stroke the infant tomatoes and compliment them on their growth. When the tomatoes reached the size of golf balls, the kids noticed them. I thought the kids were as taken by the beauty of the tomatoes as I was, but my sweet offspring was more interested in the "splatability" of my tomatoes. It seems that these tomatoes fit easily into small hands making them easy to transport without detection. In addition to this, they can bounce off a younger sibling's head without damaging the tomato too badly, thus making them reusable.

By the end of July, there were four small pale orange tomatoes that survived the heat, Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, mice, and children. My husband and I carefully picked our hard toiled over vegetables and placed them in a bowl on our kitchen table. He took pictures while I videotaped.

The tomatoes turned a deep red a few days later and I gingerly sliced up three of them and placed them between lettuce and bacon. After saying the blessing, my husband and I shared our BLT sandwich made with our very own homegrown tomatoes. The fourth tomato had a small blemish on it and my indecision on what to do with it lasted too long. Alas, white fuzz began to appear on one side, and hesitantly and filled with much emotion, I wrapped it in a Ziplock baggie burial shroud and threw it away.

There were to be no more tomatoes from the dried up plants. Looking back over our gardening experience, we learned several lessons. Birds and other varmints will eat tomatoes no matter what. We covered our precious plants with netting. We hung tin pie plates next to the garden, and we put rubber snakes next to the plants. We even played the Hank Williams Jr. CD loudly and repeatedly while we shot the BB gun at the critters. One little field mouse looked as if it was slow dancing with the rubber snake to 'Old Habits' while munching on a green tomato. I saw a Mockingbird preening in front of a pie plate and checking to see if there was a tomato seed stuck in her beak. I swear I saw one chipmunk use the netting as dental floss for her tomato-juice-stained teeth.

Next year, we will buy dirt from Wal-mart, drill some holes in the bottom of ten-gallon buckets, and grow porch tomatoes! There would be no renting tillers, no blistered hands, no large dirt parties, and virtually no weeds. Besides, no critter would ever venture up on our porch due to the presence of 'Dirty Harry' and the gang. Now, if I could just interest the kids in water balloons or June Bugs instead of green tomatoes, I might actually enjoy more than one BLT next year.


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Yard Man
By: Ben Baker © 2005 All Rights Reserved

When I first sat down to write this column, it was incredibly boring and made no point.

The subject at hand was why I wait so long to mow the yard, which I recently mowed. It was getting to the point the neighbors were getting ready to declare the place a wildlife sanctuary.

Rather than write something boring, I engaged my journalistic instincts and set about investing the story journalism style.

The first thing I tried to do was interview people.

ME: Mrs. Baker, it's been said your husband waits almost forever before he mows the yard. Do you know why?

SHARI: What? Ben what are you doing now?

ME: Following a story Ma'am. Trying to get the facts.

SHARI: What? Put that note pad away. Hey. Wait a minute. This better not show up in one of your columns.

She then waved a spoon at me in a threatening manner.

ME: I'll just record that as "no comment."

I next turned to another source familiar with me.

ME: Mr. Baker, I understand that you've known Ben Baker all your life. Can you tell me why he waits so long to mow the yard?

J.R.: Gah.

ME: Can I quote you on that?

J.R. Da-dee!

He then hugged me, took my reporting pad and methodically tore the pages out, which he began to eat.

ME: I see. I'll just record that as "Did not wish to be quoted."

My next option was what we in the journalism trade call "checkbook journalism." In other words, I tried to pay off a source.

ME: Hiss (Hiss is our female cat), therešs a can of salmon in this for you if you tell me why Ben Baker waits so long to mow the yard.

HISS: Rrrrooooow.

She then ran off to the equipment shed. I tried another source, one that usually succumbs to bribes of all sorts.

ME: Archimedes (my bird dog), herešs a bag of Milk Bones if you can tell me why Ben Baker waits so long to mow the yard.

ARCHIMEDES: Uff. Arrouroar.

He then went and scratched his back on the boat trailer.

ME: I see. Not willing to talk, eh?

Rapidly running out of sources, I decided to pursue the last course available to a responsible journalist. I went directly to the source. I confronted myself in the bathroom over the sink mirror.

ME: Mr. Baker, can you tell my readers why you wait so long to mow the yard?

ME: No. Go away. You're nothing but a media vulture.

ME: Mr. Baker, please, I'm trying to present a balanced story here and I really would like to have your side.

ME: No. You're not interested in a balanced story. All you want to do is print trash.

ME: Mr. Baker, please...

That was as far as I got.

I punched myself.

ME: And you'd better not come back around here any more. Tomorrow I'm going to have a restraining order slapped on you.

I slipped out the back, intending to hide in the bushes for a while to see if I'd come out and mow some more of the yard. Around dark the mosquitoes got so bad I had to go back inside, keeping an eye out for myself as I didn't want to get in another fight.

I told Shari what happened.

She promised to talk to the doctor the next day to see if she could get me some help.


6 years after writing this column, Ben Baker still does not mow his yard. Finding a commercial yard care company to mow it is only slightly easier than catching the Loch Ness Monster on a flyrod. Anyone interested in reading his weekly drivel should come mow his yard and email to [email protected]

The Cyclonic Harvester
By: The Folks At Bonco, Un-Inc., home of abominations they pass off as inventions, and as told to their reluctant press secretary, Mike Bay © 2005

"Necessity is the mother of invention" -- Plato.

An intellectually stimulating way to start a column about the newest product in development by the folks at Bonco, UnInc., the same folks who brought you useful* things like the ABDOMINATION-IZER, PHFFFT Asure, and that unanticipated hit among the urban renewal sect, the anti-insect BugaBOOM!

"What crazy mother thought it necessary to invent this?" -- Me.

A back-to-reality way to prepare you for the rest of what follows.

Spring is in the air, and in many places with spring comes the gardening itch. To get out and get ones hands in the dirt, to feel the earth between ones fingers, to plant, nurture and watch Nature perform its annual splendors in a flower or vegetable garden. Of course, it is also the time that the foundation of the world food supply -- the farmer -- begins preparation for the season, a season he/she hopes will render up a bumper crop from their particular agricultural specialty.

Assuming, of course, that Mother Nature cooperates. And as many a farmer knows, just ask Captain Queeg about the value of assumptions, be they made about the Navy or Mother Nature. One ill-timed visit by mesocyclonic super-cell thunderstorms, and those waves of amber grain, so painfully and expensively sown, are reduced to the botanical equivalent of Kenny on South Park.

Without this in mind and some months before, I was re-watching a pathetically laughable scene from the movie Twister with a couple Bonco technicians. You know, the scene where the two scientists had just sacrificed his new truck with a jury-rigged tornado laboratory aboard, into an F-5 tornado in a cornfield, and as the two scientists are looking for a Motel 6 where they can celebrate their expensive success, the twister shifts track and begins harvesting corn in their direction.

Before I could comment on the thorough absurdity of the scene -- no two humans alive could outrun an F-5 tornado, advancing in their direction at what amounts to spitting distance for a twister -- I saw the light bulb of sudden inspiration appear and explode over the head of one of the techs.

I surmised at once that this was an 'oh geeawd' moment of monumental proportions.

Well, after months of secret research and design, the brain (dys)trusts at Bonco are ready to let me in on their latest endeavor: an endeavor that brings together an invention of Man, a mother of a natural monstrosity, the necessity of Nature, and the thoroughly ludicrous notion that these yahoos can somehow combine the three into a controlled, benevolent use with advantages to humans, the ecology and environment. Yes, this is all in the name of agricultural advancement.

They call it The Cyclonic Harvester by Bonco.

I call it the technical equivalent of the Howard Dean campaign shriek, apocalyptically magnified.

On a restricted-access** preserve in NE Colorado, the mad scientists at Bonco have been raising crops -- and then razing crops -- in a Pyrrhic effort to train fauxnados (the laboratory equivalents to the real things) in the intricacies of the harvest. Yes, that's right: they are training one of Ma Nature's most random and savage leviathans to harvest and deliver crops for the benefit of Mankind.

The theory they labor under -- that of it they could reveal to me -- is that, like in the movie Jurassic Park, if a fauxnado is artificially conceived under laboratory conditions, upon birth it will 'bond' with it's creator, in this case, a flock of lab-coated, absent-minded-professor look-alikes. And from this first 'bonding' step, the transformation from awesome natural destructive force, to benevolent, Man-loving contributor to the greater good, can be crafted.

I seem to recall a different result with the Jurassic Park laboratory hatchlings later in the movie, but my negative waves weren't buying much second-thought capital at this point.

While they can't, for obvious reasons, discuss the patented*** and highly technical details of how they've managed to delu ... err ... achieve the uncredible progress thus far, unnamed and well-placed sources have revealed a few fragments of the Herculean obstacles they've faced in this endeavor:

-- Like when a particularly novice F-2 was assigned to harvest, bale and stack a 300 acre field of hay. Net result: they found only some of the baling twine ... 70 miles into Nebraska.

-- Or when a particularly gifted F-4 successfully harvested and shucked 100 acres of seed corn; it then became confused, and offloaded the shucked cobs into and through the designated holding structures, while decorating the property outbuildings and two successive counties with millions of imbedded corn kernels. You should be able to hear about the resulting litigation from The City of Diablo Maize, CO, vs. Bonco, Un-Inc. on Court TV in a few months.

-- A very willing, but clumsy F-2 that converted 60 acres of tomatoes into puree before it could deliver what should have been 'farm fresh tomatoes' to a local roadside market. They're still looking for where it put the market...

-- And a rather immature F-3 that simply couldn't resist levitating cows and rearranging the buildings of the dairy operation, ever since hearing Helen Hunt's "Cow" line during the dollar matinee at the Suck Zone Drive-In and Trailer Park, located on the SW side of the preserve.

Finally, there is also the "call of the Wild" effect: when a real tornado happens by -- and NE Colorado has an abundance of them from late spring through much of the summer -- the human-friendly assimilative training the fauxnados undergo is occasionally undermined to varying degrees. A tornado is, by Nature, hard-wired to roam free and at random, scattering terra firma and mobile homes like a bored cat does a hanging roll of toilet paper. A fauxnado, though man-made and blessed with Artificial Intelligence, still operates from the same meteorologically dynamic template.

To paraphrase Ian Malcolm, "Nature finds a way".

Ever undeterred by technical setbacks, frequent warnings and mountains of debris, the Bonco folks are determined to have their Cyclonic Harvester ready for the annual Farm Implements and Technologies Show in Omaha, NE, 2006.

Omaha, I've given you all the warning you'll ever need.

* a claim/allegation yet to be substantiated in court or a lab

** Like an asylum, families can come visit the inmates at the 'preserve', too. Most don't; small wonder

*** Nonsense


For absolutely no other useful gardening or agricultural information, but a load of genuine silliness, visit

Gertie Meets the MRP
By: Gertrude Butterbean © 2005 All Rights Reserved

I know I was supposed to write to y'all about gardenin' and that spring-time stuff, but somethin' so fantastical and weird happened to me, I just had to share it.

My sister Luler-belle called me this morning to share an interesting tale. While she was stopped at a busy intersection on her way to work, some movement caught her eye. About 30 yards away, a man pulled over on the shoulder, walked around to the passenger side of his pick up, opened the door, got out a roll of toilet paper, pulled down his britches, and squatted.

Gawking, Luler-belle almost sat through the green light until the car behind her honked. As she drove by she hollered, "I hope everything comes out all right!" For the rest of her drive, Luler-belle was plagued with thoughts, "That Mexican food he ate last night must be burning his hiney!" "At least he won't have to strike a match!" "I wonder if his wife tried a new recipe last night."

I ain't no potty psychologist, but I do like to take a gander at certain special human beans and share my thoughts with the fellers at the feed shop. This Mysterious Roadside Pooper (MRP) gave me all kinds of unanswered questions.

First off, he had a roll of toilet paper with him? This showed that it wasn't the first time he had to stop and plop. After being married for almost seventeen years with a gaggle of boys to raise, I know firsthand that men consider toilet paper optional, "Ain't that what underwear's for?" They asked. A four-pack of toilet paper will last them throughout a presidency.

I also wondered if the MRP thought the truck door concealed him or if he just had to go so bad he didn't care? Come on, now. When I have to go, I go as soon as my belly gets to feelin heavy. Ah, but I'm female, ya see. Most males I know will hold it as long as they can just so that they can pass as much gas as possible. It's like a male dominance thang - whoever farts the loudest or longest is the king of turd mountain. For example, in a business meeting, you just might hear:

"We need another router on this hub, last week the server crashed like ... pfffffbbbbbbbttttttttttt."

"Wow, Roger, you're the man - that's why you make the big bucks!"

And all them male coworker fellers'll look at Roger with tear-filled eyes.

You know, since men stay in the bathroom for hours, wouldn't the MRP's legs get tired from squatting? Maybe he could lean against the fender. I wonder if he had any reading material on hand? Nah, he probably didn't need it because he could just take in the beauty of the great outdoors while he pondered life's great meaning and recycled his beans.

Another thing that I wondered about the MRP was the fact that he was so comfortable squatting on the roadside. He apparently had the stop, plop, and roll routine down pat. Did he have indoor plumbing? At least his truck had toilet paper! He had some modern conveniences if he had toilet paper - I would've been really worried if he had grabbed a great big stalk of poke salet or a handful of corncobs off the passenger seat.

One explanation might be that the MRP's an unmarried man. Not many women would put up with going outside to wee in the middle of the night, much less having a man around that lets it go whenever and wherever he can.

Lots of times when we Southerners potty-train, we just turn the kids loose butt-nekkid in the back yard. The little ones would take care of 'business', see where the 'business' came from and then decided that the 'business' was best left AWAY from the body.

I bet right after the MRP was potty trained, he just never got over the thrill of stopping and plopping there amongst the dandelions and kudzu. Maybe he ran out of leaves and that's where the toilet paper came from.

I wonder what the MRP was going to do with the used toilet paper when he was done? Since this was a major highway, surely he wouldn't leave his, ah, droppings and dirty wads of toilet paper on the side of the road! Maybe he had a pooper scooper in the back of his truck. Heck, if that's the case, then why didn't the MRP just take care of his business in the back of his truck? Maybe he felt he was making a positive contribution to the environment by fillin' up the side of the road with fertilizer.

It's too bad that I wasn't the one that saw this special man. I probably would've pulled over next to him, (waited until he was done, a'course), and then talked with him to get the answers to all my questions.

Or, maybe not - some things are best left unknown.


Got a question? Email Gertie!

Dandelions ala mode
By: Barbara Madden © 2005 All Rights Reserved

It is quite obvious spring has sprung when folks begin spending their afternoons and weekends battling the green space around their homes due to what is known as the Garden of Eden Curse.

Since the beginning of time, both man and woman have dealt with this curse.

And it all began in the kitchen.

The infamous curse was pronounced immediately after Adam took a bite of Eve's first attempt at baking a pie - an apple pie.

I say pie for good reason. Have you ever known a man in his right mind who would choose a piece of fruit over a warm-fresh-from-the- oven-brown-sugar-filled baked good?

So, in my opinion, if it was an apple that brought on the Garden of Eden Curse it must have been one baked up in an apple pie.

But the strange thing is that the very plant that supposedly caused all of our gardening troubles isn't the one we fight with. No, for some reason the apple tree has been allowed to proliferate to the point that my research indicates apple pie consumption is now at an all time high.

And this makes me wonder. What if historians have had it wrong all along? What if it wasn't an apple pie Eve baked that fateful day? What if she decided to make something a little more hip, a little edgier, a little more with it? Maybe she actually said, "Hey, Adam dear, you've got to try this. It's great with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil."

What if she served a salad - a dandelion salad?

Makes sense to me.

Think about it. What causes you the most grief and puts up the hardest fight in your yard? Is it a dreaded apple tree? No, it's the not-so-darling dandelion.

It looks innocent enough. The blooms are a lovely yellow. And who hasn't had a heart meltdown by a bunch of crushed dandelions presented by a grubby little hand connected to a child wearing a big ol' grin?

To top it off, what plant is more diverse than the dandelion? You can eat the leaves in a salad or pick the flowers and put them in a vase or, better yet, make dandelion wine and eventually put them in a glass. And if that doesn't beat all, you can use dandelions to make a wish and realize all of your dreams and desires.

Try that with an apple tree.

Of course with apples you have more choices. There's Macintosh, Golden Delicious, Gala and Granny Smith just to name a few.

With the dandelion you have one choice. Yellow. It's just that there are so many of them and they are everywhere. For every dandelion wish blown about in the atmosphere, dozens of plants are born, hopelessly continuing the weed version of the circle of life.

I'm just thankful Johnny Appleseed never had a hankering for dandelion salad.


Barbara, who enjoys making dandelion wishes, lives in the Missouri Ozarks with her family and their big, black Labrador, Susie Belle.

Barbara Madden
Willow Springs, Missouri

Floral Splendor or Gastronomical Delight
By: John Brazell © 2005 All Rights Reserved

My lady isn't tolerant of things that eat her flowers. She's a terror with a can of bug spray and ... ah ... throws a wicked golf ball.

We lived in Atlanta before moving back to Texas. The Southeast has fertile red soil and anything stuck lightly in the ground in the springtime eventually sprouts fruit, leaves, or flowers. Plant a mop handle and it'll likely grow little mops. Anyone in the pine belt can sport a green thumb, assuming one can scrub off the red clay. SB was in her element, till the rabbits came.

The rabbits ate hostas for breakfast, lilies for lunch and petunias for dinner, all from her garden and beds. And for a snack, they munched on pansies. While they chewed and got fat, SB chewed her lips. She tried nets, rabbit sprays, shooing and yelling but the wascally wabbits just kept coming. Armed with a trusty hoe, she became the Mrs. McGregor of Prestwick subdivision. It was with mixed emotions that we left Atlanta, but at least we were done with pesky rabbits.

Our little town has hundreds of deer, and half - or so it seems - of them homestead in the narrow greenbelt just beyond our back yard. Deer are twenty, maybe thirty, times the size of rabbits and have equally ravenous appetites. They can stand flatfooted and jump a six-foot fence -- and they multiply, well, you know, like rabbits. And "no," I don't know if there's a correlation between jumping, hopping and an insatiable urge to reproduce. There are no deer-proof plants, although some must taste more like candy than others. We learned all about deer by applying proven scientific methodology -- we planted stuff and they ate it.

In spite of all facts to the contrary, SB refuses to accept that Bambi and his extended family have won the "Spring Delight" contest. What she thinks is pretty, they think is delicious, and there are more of them.

Case in point involves her latest planting of "deer resistant" Lantana. We've never seen a deer salivating over a leaf, but on this day they were going after blossoms like dogs after fleas. SB strolled onto the elevated deck just in time to witness a scene of destruction and carnage, and lost control. She yelled, waved, and threatened the interlopers with bodily harm. The deer casually looked up, mouths still dripping with "harvest gold" Lantana blossoms, and never missed a chew. She ran inside the house and grabbed the nearest thing suitable for hurling at the deer, one of my golf balls.

Yesterday I retrieved the golf ball. While down among the ruins, I scavenged four or five pounds of limestone chunks, throwing size, and placed them in an attractive box, scribbled "dear rocks" or "deer rocks," and sat them on her desk. They are now in the ready position on the deck.

As best I can tell, the golf ball survived the mighty toss without nicks, scratches, or teeth marks. I could have done worse on the links with a single ricochet off a tile roof. And besides, a golf ball only costs a couple of bucks.

Heck ... I'm just glad I had my wristwatch out of sight.

The Black Thumb Disease
By: Tisha Sharp © 2005 All Rights Reserved

Barney, the Wal-Mart Nursery manager, cringes at my approach.

"Ah, Mrs. Sharp, what are you looking for today?" His eyes furtively search for a part-time employee. "Shawn, did you need me?"

Shawn waves Barney off and wanders away.

"This year, I'm gonna do it. I was thinking we'd start with some hydrangeas, then move into azaleas--"

Barney stepped close and took my arm. "I can't sell you any flowers." His Aramis aftershave stings my eyes. "What I mean is, I won't sell you any flowers."

"You won't?"

"Last year you murdered five geraniums, two flats of pansies, and that's not counting the packets of seeds you and the kids planted."

He shook his head. "Not this year, Mrs. Sharp. Not on my watch."

A crash in the rake and shovel section snaps Barney to attention. "I can recommend a good landscaper. Excuse me for a moment." Taking double strides, he saves Shawn from being beaned with six shovels.

Me, murderer? Sure, I've had my problems with gardening but I wouldn't go as far as saying I murdered anything. What does Barney know? And so, without his watchful gaze, I proceed to load up my cart with an assortment of petunias, azaleas, and three ferns for the front porch. While I study the bedding plants, I hear whispering from the vegetable area.

"She gonna kill those flowers by Friday."

"I bet you a dollar Thursday."

Chris and Wanda, two more Wal-Mart employees, smile and turn away.

Incensed at this point, I make my way to the nursery check-out counter. Shalinda chews her gum slowly, waiting for the customer in front of me to find the correct change from her gigantic purse.

Barney sees me standing in line but cannot stop me as Shawn continues to drop Black and Decker rakes across the aisle. Our eyes lock in a silent duel, broken only by Shalinda's droll voice.

"You wanna check out or what?" Her multicolored fingernails scratch the scanning glass with each pass. "Gotta give it to you, Miss Sharp. You just keep on tryin', dontcha?"

no live purchases!

"Thanks." I hurriedly flick my bankcard through the slot.

"You wanna the receipt?" Shalinda calls behind me. I ignore her, intent on the final exit door. "You go girl, keep the faith."

I'll show you, I think while passing by the chain link check point.

My flowers will bloom, by God, they will bloom like you've never seen.

Six weeks later ... no blooms, no greenery, no growth. Barney pats my shoulder as I skulk by the new blossoming hanging baskets. Shalinda just nods her head and looks at me with pity. And a small picture of me hangs in the Wal-Mart breakroom with a simple caption: NO LIVE PURCHASES.


Banned from the local nurseries, Tisha Sharp spends what time gardening would take writing down what the voices in her head tell her to. Drop by for news, daily updates on dead plants, and other nonsense.

Cletus on Spring
By: © 2005 All Rights Reserved

cletus on spring


Dragon Does Dandelions
By: Pamela Matlack Klein © 2005 All Rights Reserved

Dandelions, what can one say about this controversial plant? Ortho makes stuff guaranteed to wipe them out right down to the roots, others prefer to use mechanical means or just dig them out one by one. Nothing is so heart swelling as a lawn full of these buggers in full bloom, especially when the gold finches are in residence. Then it looks like the individual flowers have taken leave of their roots to soar up to the sun.

So, it is not that they are ugly or anything it is just that they are so very invasive. I don't mind them a bit in the lawn but when they get into my perennial beds they can be very pestiferous and you don't like to use herbicides around valuable plants. And dandelions in flower beds always seem to grown ever so much stronger and taller than the same plant in the lawn. I guess if I mowed the flowerbeds like I mow the lawn this would change, but then I would not have phlox, daylilies, roses, iris, poppies, and a host of other beautiful and tall flowers that grow there by design.

Thistle is beautiful too and can be used to make beautiful flower arrangements if you put on gloves and get rid of the spiny calyx that surrounds the base of the flower. In fact I do grown tamed thistles in the garden. Artichokes are nothing more than thistles on steroids. But thistles in our pastures crowd out the good grasses and are just plain nasty! If you don't think so, then come help me someday when I am trying to pick the dried bits out of wool or a horse's tail. Be sure to bring your heavy leather gloves....

A weed is just a flower in the wrong place. But anyone who studied formal botany also knows that a weed is a noxious plant that causes economic damage to crops, etc. But do dandelions really cause economic damage? Or even thistles for that matter. Both, if kept under control are beautiful. What is the big deal about having a perfect lawn anyway? To my way of thinking, if a horse can't graze it, then what good is it? Our lawn is the size of a postage stamp, I can mow it with a pair of cuticle scissors. Dandelions with their beautiful, cheerful yellow heads make me smile and they don't frighten the horses.

As for dandelion wine, it is indeed made from the flowers of the plant...along with a few dozen lemons and a lot of sugar. Methinks that the wine is tasty more from the lemons than from the very bitter flowers. As for the leaves, they are fine when in their infancy and do make a nice, if surprising, sharp addition to a salad. But as soon as the leaves get big enough to be interesting they are too bitter to eat.

Don't be surprised to go to the garden center one day and find 'ornamental' dandelions, the product of plant breeders who adore this plant. They will most likely be gigantic with extra long stems for cutting and cost a fortune. We already have really beautiful ornamental goldenrod - I grow 4 different cultivars and have gotten it in flower arrangements. But that is a plant I have always loved.

Suburban Blights
By: S. D. Youngren © 2005 All Rights Reserved

Farming is a risky business. Even the most citified of us hear about floods, fires, blights and a dozen kinds of storms, and how some years and some places are more hazard-ridden than others. I can sympathize. Although I've never even had an entire backyard, let alone a farm, every place I've lived I've faced different gardening challenges.

I grew up in a house with a backyard. Though I idealize this yard now, trying to grow things there was not without its frustrations. My brother and I were given little plots, sometimes located along the back wall of the house. The wall was a pale color and faced West, and any plant there had better be able to handle a little heat. This was a better spot, though, than our section along the back fence. The fence was eight feet tall and solid redwood, and our horticultural experiments there saw the sun for about an hour and a half per day. But we did our best with it; in fact, one of us (I'm not sure which) actually raised a zinnia which bore a blossom fully half as tall as the plant. I don't remember which of us managed this feat, but I will never forget that zinnia. Have you ever seen a two-inch zinnia with a one-inch flower? It's a memorable sight.

And then there was the dog, who naturally enough made a habit of doing the kinds of things dogs do. She actually wasn't all that destructive, really. After all, she didn't dig up my pansies; she dug her hole next to them instead, and merely buried them under her dirt pile. An honest mistake.

Her part in the pea fiasco, on the other hand--that was not an accident. I kept planting peas, and they kept not coming up. I don't remember what made me suspicious, but finally I gathered some pea-sized pebbles and, in full view of the dog, carefully planted and watered them, and then went away. I returned a little later to find a "pea patch" which resembled a very clumsy archaeological dig and a dog with muddy nose and paws. Gotcha! I didn't actually punish her, unless you figure that a dog can be punished by being laughed at by a kid who would plant and water pebbles. But I don't remember having any more such trouble after that.

My next home was an apartment. I had just moved out of my parents' house and could do anything I wanted; anything! As long as it was okay with my roommate and didn't involve a whole lot of gardening, that is. I had no yard and no balcony; just a landing that was too dark to grow almost anything containing chlorophyll. Inside, for some reason, the light in the living room and bathroom seemed too strong for any of the houseplants I had brought with me; the plants were moved farther and farther from the living room window and removed from the bathroom altogether. Everybody was finally happy, all in a clump on the far end of the coffee table. And then I moved.

My second apartment was a dark studio, in which almost nothing could survive except the philodendron my pet dove liked to tear apart; apparently he hadn't read the dove book, which assured me (as he shredded happily) that doves don't hurt plants. I gave the dove to my mother for unrelated reasons, and took what was left of the philodendron to my third apartment.

This apartment had a window that could support a collection of plants, including African violets, one of which in particular seemed very tasty to my second rabbit, though the first rabbit preferred to continue the dove's work in dismantling the philodendron. I suppose I was sort of asking for it, having rabbits in the first place, but at least they couldn't fly and they didn't dig as much as the dog had.

Oh, and the fluorescent yellow mushrooms that sometimes appeared in my flowerpots? I don't know what they were or where they came from or what they would have done had we eaten them, and I don't want to know. And that goes double for the fluorescent purple ones.

Finally, my current apartment. This one has a good-sized balcony with a sliding glass door; a nice big glass door that lets in lots of light for my indoor plants. I could hardly wait to move in. A little garden outside, all my own! Houseplants inside, almost everywhere! I no longer have a rabbit--just a salad-hungry cat. While my rabbits, dedicated herbivores though they were, never in thirteen years succeeded in actually killing any of my plants, my cat has in two years and despite a constant influx of kitty grass done in my Dendrobium, my oxalis (squashed, not eaten), and one of my spider plants, and has shredded, snapped, or otherwise pruned I can't recall how many other victims. Some plants I saved, more or less, by putting them on the balcony--my very own balcony, with real outdoor sunshine. A couple of hours of violent sunshine, on the floor of the balcony, between the apartment and the solid stucco balcony wall. The worst of both backyard worlds from my childhood. Not a long enough day for sun-loving plants--even those tolerant of "partial shade"--and too hot for low-light-level plants. It took a while to locate planters I could put on the wall which would grip it so that they couldn't be blown off in the strong Santa Ana winds, fall off in an earthquake, or be knocked off accidentally onto the neighbor's patio below. Problem solved! Now if only I could get a handle on the squirrels, birds, powdery mildew, rust, aphids, whiteflies, and mealybugs.

The squirrels and birds I brought upon myself, by setting out a bird feeder. I thought I might get a few birds, but before long I found myself swamped with them--and playing host to as many as four feisty squirrels at once: Squirrels who fight one another and try to stare down our indoor-only cat through the window. Squirrels who tear the blooms from my little roses and eat them right in front of me and who impatiently (and messily) shred sunflower heads while the blossoms are still in their prime. Squirrels who dig up my Ixia, iris, and Sprekelia bulbs and gnaw through my gladiolus stems just before the buds can open. Squirrels who come up and sniff my shoes, who lean forward from the balcony wall as if they mean to jump on me and demand a snack. A squirrel who took to sleeping in one of my flowerpots, as I discovered one evening when I almost watered him. I was more alarmed than he was. And one squirrel who ripped my Euphorbia obesa from its pot, dragged the baseball-shaped succulent to the wall, and munched a big hole in it. I spotted him with his illicit lunch, went out, scolded him, and advanced in true lunatic fashion to defend my property--no, my leafless round family member who slaved its heart out, I am sure, to give me its laughably miniscule green flowers every year. I was so fierce the squirrel dropped its prey and leaped for safety. It took me a while to find my obesa, which had landed in a flowerpot, and while I tried to save it, it was a lost cause. And apparently the squirrel came back; at least, their numbers didn't seem to suffer. Between the birds and the squirrels I have had leaves yanked, holes dug--in root balls, as often as not--and balcony-floor pots knocked over. But they're cute when they're not doing things like that, and as I said it's my fault there are too many of them there. I can't stop feeding them, for what's a garden without little visitors? (I suspect Eve said the same thing when she and Adam first noticed the snake.)

Despite the bird-and-squirrel carnage, my special nemesis is powdery mildew. Around here the stuff can grow thicker and longer than I would have imagined. I firmly believe it shows up in aerial photographs. Walking past plants that are being consumed by this horror I sometimes feel a bit infected myself. I'm half afraid to go near my own plants afterwards, for fear I might have become a horticultural Typhoid Mary. Sometimes I even hold my breath; one of these days I expect to sprout a crop of powdery mildew myself. It attacks about everything else. I recall an enormous hibiscus tree which was smothered by the stuff and finally had to be put out of its misery. Any kind of mildew-free hibiscus around here is rare, but this particular tree seemed to be growing tendrils with which to snare passersby. I don't grow hibiscus, but there are plenty of other plants on the powdery mildew menu which I do. My mother, who still lives in Northern California, where (until she came down to visit) she was able to believe that powdery mildew does not attack, let alone kill, tomato plants, tells me that this particular scourge likes dry conditions. This would explain why it's so virulent in low-humidity Los Angeles. She also says that rust likes it wet. So how do my miniature roses collect both at the same time?

But every spring is a new beginning, with new hopes and dreams and the inner strength, optimism, and determination that come from having had an entire winter to recover from the slow but sure powdery-mildew murder of one's tomato plants. I was contemplating different varieties of seeds to sow--though with all those birds I'm not sure why I bother sowing seeds--when the landlord came to inform me that he'd been told by an inspector that all my flowerpots had to come off the wall. He had already argued, he said, that they couldn't fall on anybody, but to no avail. Down they must come--out of the sunshine and into the land of the two-hour day.

Maybe I can use grow lights. Maybe I can boost my plants up off the balcony floor, giving them just enough sun while keeping their pots below wall level. The part of me that invited the birds and squirrels and that every year attempts to grow tomatoes (otherwise known as Powdery Mildew Chow) believes that somehow, somehow, I can for once prevail.

Perhaps it's similar for real farmers. But at least nobody makes them take their crops off the wall.


S. D. Youngren is the author of the fiction Web site "Rowena's Page," , and of the paperback Rowena Gets a Life, which is comprised of stories from the site. She was born and raised in San José, California, and now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and cat, where she is all too aware that her mother the Master Gardener lives outside of Ground Zero for Powdery Mildew.

Organic Gardening Secrets Revealed
By: By Mark Berryman (Gardener Extraordinaire) © 2005 All Rights Reserved

A few years back while in the Navy, I was living in base housing. Many of the residents had teeny-tiny minuscule gardens (bonsai trees have more room) along the side of the house or in the 1 x 3 area of the back patio that was not concrete.

Being the country boy that I was, and not wanting to be outdone by my immediate neighbor who was planting strawberries, kumquats, Ukrainian crossbred hyper-pollinated super-squash, and many other vegetables I cannot pronounce or spell, I decided to plant three tomato plants by the back patio.

My neighbor worked diligently every day weeding, hoeing, fertilizing, watering and nurturing his plants. I watched baseball.

My neighbor spent countless hours making sure everything was perfect in his micro-garden. I stayed indoors so I could spend countless hours in air conditioned comfort.

My neighbor took painstaking efforts to ensure that his miniature farm would be the best in the neighborhood. I went fishing and took naps under shade trees.

I am sure by now that you have figured out what happened. My neighbor had no strawberries. He had no kumquats. He had no Ukrainian crossbred hyper-pollinated super-squash. He had no vegetables at all.

I had tomatoes. Pretty tomatoes. Nice ripe red tomatoes.

He came over one day and asked my secret. I looked at him with a wry smile, and while standing by my tomato plants, simply said, "It's all in how you do it. I only use organic methods, and no chemicals or man-made fertilizers whatsoever."

I did not tell him that I kept the dog back there, and that was probably the only place he could relieve himself. Of course, I never actually witnessed the dog watering or fertilizing my tomatoes. It's just a guess.

Maybe those organic gardening people know something we don't after all.

Planting By the Silvery Moon
By: Angela Gillaspie © 2005 All Rights Reserved

Growing up, our family's garden was on an acre of land behind the house. Working in that garden offered endless opportunities for allowances, exercise, and punishment for miscellaneous infractions like being late for curfew, putting the cat in the dryer, hatching spiders in my Sunday School terrarium, and releasing a quart of crickets under Momma's bed.

Early spring, Daddy tilled the soil and my sisters and I got the pleasure of filling up the wheelbarrow with rocks and then dumping them off in the woods. During our drudgery, we'd come up with explanations why there were so many rocks during the spring. These included meteorites that broke up when they hit the atmosphere and fell in our garden during the winter months or perhaps Daddy snuck out and reburied the rocks after the last harvest, or maybe the rocks landed in the garden after we threw them at vacuum cleaner salesmen when we saw them walking toward our house.

After we got most of the rocks removed, Daddy plowed several rows and waited until the time was "just right" before he planted. Being either too poor to buy his own Farmer's Almanac or too lazy to read it, he'd call up one of his sisters and ask for her advice. She'd ask what he was planting, check what sign the moon was in and then offer her thoughts.

For y'all that don't know a zodiac sign from a stop sign, here's a crash course in astrology:

  • There are 12 different signs of the zodiac.
  • It takes the moon 28 days to cycle through these signs and it takes the sun 12 months to cycle through the signs. Duh - the moon is a whole lot smaller than the sun.
  • The signs are grouped into four elements: fire, air, water, and earth.

Each sign has different weaknesses, strengths, and inclinations to do weird things. For example, the moon has the power to change the tides and & cue the Twilight Zone music & all of my four kids were born during a full moon. Sure it's fun to read horoscopes and note that all Virgo folks should avoid one-eyed purple people eaters and Aquarians shouldn't eat candy bars while bathing, but you'd be better prepared for your future if you just got a good night's sleep and didn't rely on the stars to plan your parties.

Planning your garden is another matter. While people under the Pisces sign can be moody (or not), fat (or not), and artistic (or not), a tater is a tater is a tater so looking up your horticulture horoscope may help you have a better harvest.

The Farmer's Almanac was needed for planting season just as much as fertilizer and seed. Aunt Ruth's rule of thumb was to plant when the moon was in an earth or water sign. Earth signs are Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn, and water signs are Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces. Just so you know, fire signs are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius, and air signs are Libra, Gemini, and Aquarius. Aunt Ruth added, "Don't forget that the sign all depends on what all yer plantin' too, hon."

Here are some tips for planting by the silvery moon:

  • Never plant when the sign is in Leo because your crop will dry up and make you sneeze.
  • Plant flowers when the moon is in Taurus or Libra because they are linked to the planet Venus, and if you remember, she likes stuff that smells good and is purty.
  • Always plant corn when the moon is in Virgo. For some reason virgins really like corn.
  • It's best to pick rocks when the moon is in an air sign so that when you throw them out of the garden, they'll stay out.
  • Peas and beans will yield more if they're planted when the moon is in Capricorn, plus they'll make you less gassy.
  • There's an old saying, "Plant by the dark of the moon and you'll get more taters; plant by the light of the moon and you'll grow more vine."
  • Tomatoes should be planted only in a water sign or your Pisces, Scorpio, and Cancer signed relatives will get mad at you.

Every year we had a great harvest. It could've been because of the great rock picking job my sisters and I did or it could've been because the moon was in the right sign when Daddy called Aunt Ruth.

I wish I'd known more about those zodiac signs when I was younger, I could've made sure I was at a friend's house on rock picking days, forecasted the best cricket release date, and better predicted when my spiders would've hatched.


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Cool in Spring
By: David Wayne © 2005 All Rights Reserved

This morning I awakened to one of the most beautiful days I've encountered in a long time. Maybe it was just because I wasn't hungover, or perhaps, it was just because the day was gorgeous.

Since it was such a beautiful day and the kids aren't home, I had an incredible urge to do someting sweet, and caring and very unselfish.

I'm going to wash my car.

I don't get to do it very often, my weekends are usually busy doing other stuff, like laundry, changing diapers, and watching Sportscenter.

So today, I will succeed in my car-washing venture. The weather is perfect. Not a cloud in the sky, well one that looks like Oprah, it keeps getting bigger,.......then smaller....

It's perfect car-washing conditions. Sunny, warm, and I finally paid my over-due water bill. You couldn't ask for better circumstances.

Dressed in shorts, t-shirt and sandals, I rush out into the warm air, ready to wax on.....wax off.

While I'm sitting at Texaco in the car wash, waiting for the hot wax cycle to finish, and enjoying some Lynard Skynard, I'm reminded of when, as a sixteen year old, I had finally got my first car.

I washed it every single day. Sometimes twice a day if I had driven it over five miles. Back then, I had women, or girls, to impress. My car had to shine like a new dime.

Now days, I'm lucky to get my vehicle washed twice a year. It usually happens once in the Spring, and once that following Fall. And that's only if I can talk the kid who cuts my grass into doing it. (I enjoy referring to him as a kid, me being only thirty-three. I think he's like forty-two.)

After finally getting the car washed, I felt invigorated, and alive. I opened up the sunroof, to allow the warm spring sun to filter in, and warm my receding hairline.

Cranking up the radio inspired me to press down on the accelerator a little more, and I quickly zipped through town. I made a swing through the Wal-Mart parking lot, you know, 'cause that's where you go to be seen. Leaving Wal-Mart, without buying anything, (first time ever) I hit the main road, heading back to the house.

With my car shining, I pull up to the next red light in style. Next to me, in the other lane, sits a very attractive female in a Lexus SUV.

I adjust my sunglasses, tap my steering wheel to the beat of the Black Eyed Peas, and try to look cool. Which really wasn't that hard, 'cause I was indeed, feeling cool. And my windows are tinted.

It was at the moment of my highest coolness, that I noticed something dripping into my lap. At first, I thought it was sweat.

But I was cooler than sweat. When I looked down into my lap, I noticed it wasn't sweat, it was white and purplish. Glancing up, and out the open sunroof, I saw the sure sign of Spring. An orange breasted Robin, sitting on a power line, with no sign of decency or respect for newly washed vehicles, was taking aim at my car, my head, and my coolness.

Driving home without my sunglasses and ball cap on, I decided next weekend, I will get outside and wash my car myself, and just try to be cool for me. I'll get out there with a hose, bucket, some rags, and soap.

Then I remembered,... I'm busy. It's March Madness baby!

The Final Four starts next weekend.

Who needs a clean car to enjoy Spring anyway? A clean car won't bring you happiness, and neither will an open sunroof. These things won't make you "cool". What you really need is a convertible!

And a time machine.


Visit david A place for the author, David Wayne, to post all his brain squirts, also known as comedic musings. David Wayne is also....weird. His own computer filed a restraining order against him.

Rooted in Disaster
By: Melissa Baumann © 2005 All Rights Reserved

I don't want to brag, but I can kill a plant quicker than you can say horticultural hitman. Just let me lay hands on it and its leaves will curl up like the Wicked Witch's legs after Dorothy dropped a house on her. Still, every year, hope springs eternal as I make my annual foray into the fragrant landscape of my neighborhood garden shop. I choose carefully, plant lovingly and then hammer in a RIP marker. It's just a matter of time.

As a semi-well known plant assassin, my friends understood I had a number of alibis for why my garden kept dying. I didn't give my camellia roots of clay or torture it by letting gangster weeds choke it off. Must have been bad conditions. A tough winter surely killed my hydrangeas in a way my neglect never would have. Every yard says something about its owner, unfortunately mine said "murderer."

So what if the Department of Transportation was growing prettier plants in the cracks of the interstate highway system than I was in my back yard? I mean really, have you seen the DOT budget? Of course their landscape is nicer. Out there pretending to be fixing flaws in the road when we all know they're planting pansies. Shameless show-offs.

Had we never left our American home, I would have continued to sow the seeds of indifference. It's not like anyone was really paying attention to my "look what fell off the truck" method of landscaping. And then, we moved to the great fishbowl known as overseas housing. Suddenly every success, and failure was on display - in a 3x3 square of earth outside of my front door. For the next three years, this would be the battleground where I would fight for the most coveted prize of them all - the Yard of the Month sign.

Navy housing is a sea of sameness. Every house looks exactly like its neighbor, and its neighbor's neighbor. On my street where the houses uniformly lined up like sailors in a chow line, the yard of the month sign stood like a declaration of independence. Inside, we had identical cement floors and cinder block walls that defied personalization. Outside, one of us had the mark of individuality. I wanted it, and I wasn't afraid to get my hands dirty for it.

Every month I would plant new flowers and every month they would die. I watered them more, and then watered them less. My Japanese friend suggested I try milk, which didn't help the plants but the neighborhood cats loved it. They thanked me by bringing dead mice and leaving them next to the shriveled stalks in my yard. Not really a prize-winning design that month. To curb the cats, I sprayed the plants with soap liquid. Unfortunately, dogs are attracted to the bubbles. The kind of thank you they left me didn't help me win any prizes either.

For three years I watched in naked envy as the same yard was crowned winner over and again. It was an ever-changing landscape that sprouted up - as if on cue - fully grown. In July she had lipstick red poppies staked with American flags, in April she had lilies. By October she had miniature pumpkins and in December her bonsai evergreens were resplendent in tiny white lights. Many yards were cute, lots of were lush, but no other yard had her endless supply of foliage, and no one could break her stranglehold on that sign. At one point I was so consumed by jealousy that I considered a mafia-style hit with Round-up. Her plants -dead! Seed pods - dead! Chances of another win - dead! In the end, I simply conceded that I had been outgunned. Yard of the month was her turf, and I wouldn't be able to take it away.

The day we left Japan, I inadvertently stumbled on the pre-dawn activities of my gardening nemesis. Shovel and bucket in hand she moved from yard to yard, liberating plants from recently or soon-to-be-vacated homes. Her yard of the month success, it turns out, was made possible thanks to an unintended parting gift from every family who came to and ultimately left Japan. Her endless supply of foliage came from suckers like me who ate her dust for years. As she passed by she barely glanced at the compost heap of twigs in front of my house, her wrinkled nose letting me know I wasn't even good enough to steal from. So I did what any reasonable person would do, I suggested that milk had been an excellent bug repellant. For that matter, we were leaving - she could have a free half-gallon with my compliments. She took it and bless her greedy little heart, she put it right on her freshly planted flowers. It was a clean kill, and she never saw it coming.


Melissa Baumann is a freelance writer currently growing a bumper crop of weeds in her Chesapeake, Virginia yard.

Poke Salet Recipes
By: Angela Gillaspie © 2005 All Rights Reserved

There is a delicacy here in the Deep South that is free and available to anyone, and is best picked in early spring. This vegetable cannot be purchased from a grocery store, but it can be picked from most any back yard, bartered from a friend or neighbor, or ordered from a remote Internet site. This plant is called poke salad, pokeweed, or poke salet, as my family says it. I always thought it was called poke salad because it has the appearance of salad greens and when you pick the leaves, you put them in a poke (that is a paper sack for you non-Southerners).

The fresh and very young leaves of poke salet are best to harvest and cook. The leaves are carefully and thoroughly washed then boiled until they are tender. The liquid (which is also believed to be poisonous) is drained and the leaves are rinsed again. When poke salet is cooked, it resembles spinach and tastes like asparagus. It is a very nutritious greens dish.

Here are some of my favorite poke salet recipes:

Fried Poke Salet
1 large bunch poke
2 cups flour
4 eggs, slightly beaten

After cleaning poke, chop it into small pieces and place in saucepan with enough water to cover it. Cook until poke is tender, remove and drain well. Put poke and flour in large bag and shake until coated well. Place in skillet of hot grease. Cook until brown and pour the slightly beaten eggs in and stir until eggs are done to your taste.

Poke Salet
This is best served with a heap of pinto beans, a big pone of cornbread, three or four slices of a Vidalia onion, and a huge Mason jar topped off with sweet iced tea. As my Daddy says, "I eat a big old bait of poke salet yestiddy and it shore wuz good!"

Poke salet greens (young and tender ones are best)
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot pepper sauce

Clean poke greens well rinsing several times. Place these in a large pot and boil for ten minutes, drain and discard water. Refill with cold water and boil again. Do this 3 (three) times, pouring off the water and adding fresh water each time. After the water has been changed at least three times, add fresh water and 1 slice of bacon. Cook down the greens until tender. Fry rest of bacon until crisp and set aside.

My Momma used to put the boiled and rinsed leaves in her cast iron skillet, add in hot pepper sauce, fatback or bacon grease and fry it until it was "done."

Another way to cook poke salad is to put the boiled and rinsed leaves in a big skillet with some bacon drippings, an egg or two, a half cup (or more) of chopped onion, and then scramble it all together.

Poke Salet Dip
1 cup poke salet, cooked and drained (or canned)
2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
2 cups mayonnaise
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
The juice of 1 lemon
1 cup pecans
1 cup sliced green onions
Salt and pepper
1 large red cabbage, if desired

In a large mixing bowl, combine poke salet, sour cream, mayonnaise, cream cheese, pecans and green onions. Using a wooden spoon, mix thoroughly until all ingredients are well blended. Add seasoned salt, oregano, dill weed and lemon juice. Season to taste using salt and pepper. Cover bowl with a clear wrap and place in refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours.

If you are feeling fancy, trim core end of cabbage to form a flat base. Cut a crosswise slice from the top, making it wide enough to remove about a fourth of the cabbage. Lift out enough inner leaves to form a shell or bowl about 1-inch thick. Spoon dip into cavity of cabbage and serve with an assortment of fresh vegetables or croutons.


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