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Stop and Steal the Flowers

Spring is here, and pity the poor fool who hasn't adequately planned his or her spring campaign. You have to be smart and aggressive. This is your chance to crush the opposition: your friends and neighbors. There are some people who are such lazybones they just let spring happen -- who stand there, clapping politely, rather than taking direct, proactive, assaultive steps to bend the season to their will.

I see people like this, strolling along the canal towpath, chuckling at the turtles plopping in the water, craning their necks to search for the source of an intriguing avian twitter -- and I want to smack them upside their fat heads. I want to scream: "Enough with the birds and butterflies! Spring is here, and you're blowing it!" They don't grasp that spring is the most competitive time of year. If you really love spring, you have a deep, burning, innards-immolating desire to make the spring of your friends seem, by comparison, like winter. In Siberia.

The first order of business is to look the part. I happen to know that my neighbor Angus has been plotting his spring campaign since before Christmas. I sometimes peer through his window and see him standing in front of the mirror, modeling sunglasses and Hawaiian shirts. Weeks ago I saw him carrying packages from Banana Republic, and I knew what was inside: shorts. His closet has, like, 47 pairs of shorts, on hangers, starched and non-starched, Bermuda and non-Bermuda.

He can't wait to be the first guy on the block to strut around in shorts and effectively declare ownership of the spring. First time the thermometer tops 55 degrees, he's out there in his shorts and a tank top, revving up his weed-eater just to check the operation, or sharpening the blade on his mower. I've seen him mow the yard when the ground was still frozen.

At 65 degrees, he's got no shirt on, and he walks around with zinc oxide sunblock on his nose even at night. The first day we reach 80, everyone runs for cover and hides, because the man will do his yardwork totally in the nude. (I can't tell you how many times I've said to him, "You might want to be careful with those pruning shears.")

"Spring Cleaning" is another ferocious arena of competition. It's not like the old days, when you could just wash the windows and vacuum under the rugs. In our house we're not done with spring cleaning until we've dusted the fiberglass attic insulation and polished to a bright shine the coils behind the refrigerator. We remove the grates on the ceiling and dispatch the smallest child into the air-conditioning ducts, armed with Formula 409. The goal is to have a house that is as sterile as the surface of Pluto. But then I'll visit Angus to let him know how clean my house is, and discover that he's scrubbing -- get this -- a jug of Clorox. Cleaning his cleansers! I'll see a long rack of empty clothes hangers and ask what they're for, and he'll say: "Just washed 'em. They're drying."

It's the yard where Angus and I always go mano a mano. I'm still sore about the time I upgraded my yard by installing a complicated network of creeks, waterfalls, Japanese bridges, aviaries and matching his and hers gazebos, and then Angus, rather than admitting that I had the better spread, went off and installed a fully functional rain forest.

Do we take it all too far? Maybe. They say you sometimes have to stop and smell the flowers. But a better spring tactic is: Stop and steal the flowers. You can find incredibly beautiful flowers at many of our public gardens, parks and national monuments.

Or you can find them in someone's yard right across the street. Not that I have anyone's yard in mind! But if I did have one in mind, I would definitely strike after midnight when his long day of smug preening and horticultural megalomania has finally given way to unconsciousness. And if someone asks me what I'm doing in Angus's back yard at 2 in the morning with a sack of freshly cut flowers and night-vision goggles, I'll tell the truth: "Gardening."

[This is the Rough Draft column from the Post magazine. Last year's spring column detailed my dramatic decision to apply corn gluten to the lawn. Here's a site with enough information about corn gluten to satisfy even the most rabid corn gluten aficionado. A couple of years ago I wrote a piece for National Geographic about how plants are actually stone-cold killers. Here's a "pavilion" you can buy from Smith & Hawken for only $799. And finally, here are the garden gnomes of your dreams.]

By Joel Achenbach  |  March 26, 2006; 8:27 AM ET
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Next: My Bracket Crushing Kornheiser's and Wilbon's


Good stuff Joel. You have captured the essence of Suburbia. Mulch. I just hope all that yard work doesn’t make Angus get all stringy and chewy and all.

My neighborhood is less about fierce competition and more about the oppressive pressure to Maintain Community Standards. We have a homeowners group clearly inspired by the Red Guard. This drive for conformity is most enthusiastically embraced when it comes to lawn care. I have seen people use a carpenter’s level to help trim hedges. My property pulls down the curve. I fear that I am but a single diseased azalea away from being hauled before the Committee. This has less to do with any Bohemian sensibility on my part, and more to due with general incompetence. Plus, for reasons that made sense at the time, we own a Cairn Terrier. This is a dog bred specifically to dig holes. I spend much of my time simply trying to keep our back yard from looking like a military munitions range.

In some ways, the front yard is even worse. I suspect it is at the lowest spot in the mid Atlantic region. I once tried to install something called a French Drain but managed only to make the yard look like the everglades. Some fear moles; I fear ‘gators. That and malaria.

I realize that I could simply hire somebody to take care of my lawn, but I actually kind of like doing work outdoors. Besides, I consider it a Husbandly Duty. And if my wife starts to figure out just how many of my Husbandly Duties could be successfully outsourced, there might be trouble.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 26, 2006 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Why not just salt your neighbors' lawns?

Posted by: Huntsman | March 26, 2006 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Back in Florida, the skin-bearers were common enough in almost all seasons. I remember one day in church, some pretty girls came to services in their bathing suits, albeit wrapped in the accessory "wraps" of the same material. Normal hormone-laden young guy that I was, I remember not really seeing this as a big deal. Until the scandalized Parents began their diatribes. Later, after the service.

For all the gardeners out there, remember my first principle of the compost heap:

Never forget that.

Posted by: Russ | March 26, 2006 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Let me start by saying that San Antonio is a city of many people who are obese--about 30 percent of the population. That said, what I am about to say will not be so surprising.

We have neighbors to our north who are from Brooklyn and both husband and wife are obese, perhaps just short of morbidly. The three sisters to our south are obese, but one of them recently has lost a good deal of weight. All of these individuals work outside the home--two of the sisters are nurses, the wife is a psychologist at a military base, the husband in management for Citibank.

The sisters have no knowledge of nature, nor do the husband and wife pair. The front of both of their homes have several plants stuck in the ground--their plots of land between their homes and street are plain and visually very dull, with very little curb appeal. Their yards are both cases of landscape planning and design by afterthought.

(Both neighbors hire lawn services, with a schedule of lawn maintenance about as regular as rain falls in Alamo City--very intermittent.)

The sisters decided last year that they didn't like the crape myrtle in their back yard, so decided to move it to the front yard--in the hottest part of the summer, then drowned the poor plant with copious amounts of water. They they trimmed off all the smaller branches. The plant now stands like a naked blanched skeleton in their front yard because it is dead. The color of their crape myrtle's bark is close to the color of their lawn--a yellowish-white because they rarely water their lawn, and we have been in a drought.

The Brooklyn neighbors are absolute no-shows within their own yard. They never materialize out of doors to do any yardwork whatsoever. How do they get by with so little vitamin D?

They rarely put out a small sprinkler, they let a rose bush grow over the entrance to the side door of their garage, so they can only get into their grage when the sliding garage door at the front of garage is up. Weeds grow wild in their lawn in the spring, *every* leaf falls from their trees before any effort if made to clean them up in the fall. I must make two calls annually, like clockwork, to the homeowner's association regarding our Brooklyn neighbors.

They fail to prune their trees, and the limbs of one of their oaks scraped away the new roofing that was put on our house when we moved into our home. The cost to replace the damaged composition shingles cost us $700. We could have taken a vacation with that money we had to spend. Their backyard is mostly dirt.

I have suggested to them, on more than one occasion, that if they care so little for their yard, that they should move to a condominium.

One incident really took the cake. A car killed a squirrel on the asphalt directly in front of their home. It lay there for literally weeks, decomposing: they never disposed of the carcass in the trash. Garbage trucks drove over it. The squirrel's remains became progressively flatter and drier over time. After it had been in the street in front of their home for more than two months, a hard rain came. The water ran in the gutters and carried the poor dead, dessicated squirrel to the street in front of our home.

By that time, I had reached critical mass. I stomped into the garage and grabbed a shovel. I scooped the flattened former rodent into the bed of my shovel and traipsed across their lawn. I intended to toss it upon their front walkway. I am not too coordinated, as I have admitted before on the Boodle. With a quick flick of my wrist, the flying squirrel accidentally hit their front door, ricocheted off their front door, and plopped onto their small concrete front porch.

That evening, my husband and I decided to walk our dog. We passed our neighbors. David Phau had put on a plastic hand-cover of sorts and had picked up the flatter-than-a-pancake remains of the squirrel and was, at that moment, burying him deep within a black plastic garbage bag.

Such is life and gardening--or lack of-- in our 'hood. Oh, home--California!!!

Posted by: Loomis | March 26, 2006 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I spent yesterday morning dealing death to scores of ancient posionous sticker bushes before they sprout and I can't get near them.

My shoulder is KILLING me.

Posted by: Error Flynn | March 26, 2006 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Re: Bring Me the Head of...from previousKit/Boodle...Sam Peckinpah

To whomever posted it--historically, the literary (Biblical) reference preceded the film reference, I regret to inform you (books before cinema).

But about Peckinpah, if Wikipedia is correct (hmmmm...Humboldt and Fresno--feels a lot like home):

His great-grandfather, Rice Peckinpaugh, was a merchant and farmer in Indiana during the early-1800s. The family decided to move to California in the 1850s to Humboldt County, and also changed their last name to Peckinpah. The family then settled down in the area to log. Peckinpah Meadow and Peckinpah Creek have been officially named within U.S. geographical mapping.

He was born in Fresno, California and attended Fresno grammar schools and high school. However, he spent much time skipping classes with his brother to engage in cowboy [in Fresno?] activities like trapping, branding, and shooting. Sam joined the Marines in 1943 and he was stationed in China. While his duty did not involve any combat situations, he claims to have witnessed acts of war between Chinese and Japanese soldiers. According to friends, these included several acts of torture and other atrocities against which the Americans were not permitted to intervene. However, this claim is dubious since at the time of his enlistment, the United States and Japan were in a state of war, and U.S. Marines would not be prohibited from engaging the enemy. This reportedly affected Peckinpah deeply and may have influenced his later depiction of violence in his films. After the war he attended college, earning a master's degree at University of Southern California in 1950. He was involved in stage work and theater productions before moving on to television.

"Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" would be the last true "Peckinpah" film in the eyes of his admirers, and the director himself claimed that it was the only one of his films to be released exactly as he intended it. An alcohol-soaked fever dream involving revenge, greed, and murder in the Mexican countryside, the film featured Warren Oates as a thinly disguised self-portrait of Peckinpah and co-starred a leather bag containing the severed head of a gigolo being sought by a Mexican patrone for one million dollars. Castigated by critics upon its release, its reputation has also grown in recent years, with many noting its uncompromising vision as well as its anticipation of the violent black comedy which would become famous in the films of directors like David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino.

Posted by: Loomis | March 26, 2006 11:54 AM | Report abuse

>oppressive pressure to Maintain Community Standards

RD, I specifically avoided anyplace with a homeowner's association when I finally bought a house. It seems they're usually run by the people who were on the Student Govt in high schoool.

They would not like me... I have THREE trees down at present and another dead and ready to fall anytime. Somehow I find it extremely difficult to pay a couple thousand to have them chopped up by a pro, which leaves me and my trusty electric chain saw to handle the situation. Which I avoid.

Did I mention I hate chain-saws? A friend of mine came pretty close to being cut in half one day. So the trees stay.

The only good news about the front yard is there isn't much of one to talk about.

Posted by: Error Flynn | March 26, 2006 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Ah,chain saws. I tried to take down a weeping willow once and got the electric chain saw wedged into the trunk about 15 feet up. I tried to get the saw out by using a crowbar, which also became hopelessly stuck. Finally I had to back cut the trunk with a hand saw. I am sure it was very entertaining for the neighbors.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 26, 2006 1:18 PM | Report abuse

SCC: I suppose I should point out that *I* was on student govt in high school myself, which is what I based my observations on, lest anyone take umbrage.

That is if you can even find any good umbrage these days; surely the "Ben" affair has affected umbrage inventory?

Posted by: Error Flynn | March 26, 2006 1:18 PM | Report abuse

>got the electric chain saw wedged into the trunk about 15 feet up.

Man, you have some long arms. I'd say with a chain saw and crowbar 15 ft up you're lucky they didn't declare it hard-hat area!

Posted by: Error Flynn | March 26, 2006 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I was attempting to limit the fall radius so as to avoid the streeet as requested by my wife. I suceeded. Unfortunately through some perverse torque effect the tree fell on my fence. Although, as I pointed out, the street was spared. In any case, using an electric chain saw on top of a ladder is not recommended. Remember kids - don't try this at home unless you are a total idiot like me.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 26, 2006 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Springtime Lament

Hegemony of the garden !
The birds prefer my place,
They sing, but what are out words worth ?

Alas, my winter's heart is bare,
Three bloggers in their underwear
Have brought my boss's wingnut down.
The grass is green, but O, my nose is brown,
Contra naturam.

Posted by: tseliot | March 26, 2006 1:33 PM | Report abuse

But, no, I was fully dressed
When I talked of my distress
About my neighbors' dastardly deeds
In allowing their lawns to go to seed and weed

Maybe property associations should issue for labor fair
A "Good Neighbor" certificate, if they truly care
That proclaims the people herein maintain home and place:
These good folks are worthy members of the human race!

Posted by: Loomis | March 26, 2006 2:20 PM | Report abuse

LindaLoo, seems like there are folks who don't care for their yards in every neighborhood. Too bad you have to have them on either side. On our street, that house is five lots up. No grass, not raking leaves...that I can handle. It's the abandoned vehicles in the back that blow me away. They are legal, from what I gather...but look awful.

The only reason I was able to purchase my house was that it was in terrible condition, neglected inside and out. I actually paid less than the tax valuation for it. Of course, my husband and I have spend the intervening 12 years remedying said neglect, at great cost in time, effort, and money. But it's worthwhile. The place looks good.

My husband loves his yard, and it shows. Having time to work in the yard daily is one thing I'm really looking forward to about retiring.

Posted by: Slyness | March 26, 2006 2:31 PM | Report abuse

It's so cold here, colder than the winter. I can't get warm, and doesn't look like it's going to warm up outside. I love spring time because of the flowers. So many colors, so beautiful. My neighbor cleaned out my little patch of ground, so that the roses and other plants stand a chance of living. I was so thankful to her, I'm not good in the garden. I want to put something outside so it looks like spring around my apartment. I love the flags that look like plants and flowers, and maybe I'll get a hanging plant, just something to make it look interesting, because right now, it looks so dull. It needs color. I'm just crazy about colors, all of them. My neighbors are gonna think I've lost my mind when I start hanging up all those different things in all those different colors. I don't care what they think, I'm going to enjoy the colors.

Posted by: Cassandra S | March 26, 2006 2:33 PM | Report abuse

I don't believe I'll steal any flowers, Joel. My neighbor took some garden ornaments out my little space that was left there by the lady that lived here before me. And she had the nerve to put them in her garden, and when I asked where she got them, she said from my yard, like she took them before I arrived, but she took them after I moved here. I probably would have given them to her, if she had asked, but she just took them. I felt bad about it, so I won't take anyone's flowers, because they would probably feel bad too.

Posted by: Cassandra S | March 26, 2006 2:39 PM | Report abuse

> It's the abandoned vehicles in the back that blow me away.

The guy across the street has the following, none of which I've ever seen move in last 6 years:

1) a bass boat
2) TWO Chevy K-5 Blazers, mid 80's
3) a pop-up trailer
4) an Opel GT sunk at least halfway into the ground
5) TWO RV's
6) a travel trailer
7) an above-ground pool

Fortunately you can't see it unless you're looking right out the front windows because it's all about 200 ft to the left.

Posted by: Error Flynn | March 26, 2006 2:42 PM | Report abuse

In my working class neighborhood, the level of lawn care varies wildly. My own yard is kempt to various degrees depending on my husband's mood--he loves to plant stuff but he's not so big on maintenance--he'll mow, but rarely pulls weeds. So we're about average. We have some neighbors who put a lot of effort in and some who only park wrecked cars in the yard. I celebrate the variation because it reminds me of the LACK of a homeowners' association.

I don't criticize people who don't spend time and money on their lawns because many times those people are struggling to survive, working long hours, raising kids, maybe learning English in their spare time, maybe dealing with illness or relatives in prison, there's no telling. I'm glad my neighbors aren't rich because if they were, they'd probably resent our level of lawn maintenance, and I would probably be more critical of them, too! As it is, well, between my house and the expressway is a retirement community called Leisureville. When I give people directions I say, "Go past Leisureville. We don't live in Leisureville. We live next door in HardWorkingVille."

Posted by: kbertocci | March 26, 2006 3:29 PM | Report abuse

The only time I've lived in a neighborhood with a homeowner's association was in Linden, VA. It was kind of a second home community, except we were living there year round and doing the long commute (this was many years ago). Anyway, the association was one of those nit-picky, busybody things like you might expect. Happily I haven't had to deal with another one.

When I give directions to my house, I tell people it's right next to the purple house. Yep, purple - kind of gray, mostly, but the eaves and "points" of the house are a shade of deep purple. I think it would look better if the purple had been relegated to more of an accent, but it's not too bad, really, and it is a landmark...

Posted by: mostlylurking | March 26, 2006 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Nothing original follows, just some quotes from a NYTimes book review, but it's on topic (starting a personal trend?)...

"A researcher investigating the psychology of suburbanites in 1948 observed shrewdly that the American work ethic coexisted uneasily with free time, and that 'intense care of the lawn is an excellent resolution of this tension.'"

American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn By Ted Steinberg

295 pages. $24.95. W.W. Norton & Co.
Reviewed by William Grimes The New York Times


A couple of years ago, a homeowner in Seattle decided to take extreme action against the moles that had turned his lawn into a complex network of raised grassy veins. He poured gasoline into the mole holes, tossed a match and incinerated his yard.

Many of the approximately 60 million Americans with lawns can understand the feeling. A well-tended yard is not only personal territory, to be defended unto death, but also a work of art. Like a painting, it has form and color. Like a child, it is alive. No wonder feelings run high, and the lawn, as a canvas for personal expression, engages the suburban American male at the deepest possible level.

The often-crazed love affair between Americans and their lawns is Ted Steinberg's subject in "American Green." Steinberg, an environmental historian at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, likens this relationship, and the insane pursuit of lawn perfection, to obsessive-compulsive disorder, and he may very well be right. That would at least explain the behavior of a homeowner who clips her entire front yard with a pair of hand shears, or Richard Widmark's reaction on waking up in the hospital after a severe lawn mower accident in 1990. "The question I asked the doctors was not 'Will I ever act again?"' he later recalled, "but 'Will I ever mow again?'"

How did a plant species ill suited to the United States and the patrician taste for a rolling expanse of green take root from the shores of the Atlantic to the desiccated terrain of Southern California? The short answer is that it didn't, not until after the Civil War. Although Washington and Jefferson had lawns, most citizens did not have the hired labor needed to cut a field of grass with scythes. Average homeowners either raised vegetables in their yards or left them alone. If weeds sprouted, fine. If not, that was fine, too.

Toward the end of the 19th century, suburbs appeared on the American scene, along with the sprinkler, greatly improved lawn mowers, new ideas about landscaping and a shorter workweek. A researcher investigating the psychology of suburbanites in 1948 observed shrewdly that the American work ethic coexisted uneasily with free time, and that "intense care of the lawn is an excellent resolution of this tension." At least until the moles arrive.


The future looks troubled for the American lawn. Some homeowners have given up entirely, paving over their yards to create more parking space. Others are embracing the native-plant movement and turning their lawns into miniature prairies and meadows. Nellie Shriver, of the Fruitarian Network, stopped mowing for moral reasons. "It is impossible to mow the grass without harming it," she said. "We believe grass has some sort of consciousness, that it has feelings."

Even more alarming, for the lawn- care industry, is the kind of post-lawn sensibility exhibited by an Atlanta real estate broker.

"When something bores me, I get rid of it," she said. "Lawns bore me."

Posted by: kbertocci | March 26, 2006 4:14 PM | Report abuse

kbertocci, I think there is truth in that report. I view my yard as one of the only spheres of my existence where I can exert any modicum of control. My frustation is that constraints on my time keep me from fully realizing my yards potential. If it were not for that persky job and demanding family I would turn my property into a wonderland of Japanese gardens and intricate lanscaping sure to induce a profound zen-like state on the most casual observer. There would be many Koi. Which is why I secretly suspect my neighbors conspire to keep me busy.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 26, 2006 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Well tie me to an anthill and smear me with honey. George Mason won!!

Posted by: pj | March 26, 2006 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Hey TBG - way to go Pats!

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 26, 2006 5:13 PM | Report abuse

RD! Final Four BABY! We're heading out to Outback. See you there!

Posted by: TBG | March 26, 2006 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Ahh, too busy to Boodle, but I'll add my voice to the "Way to go Mason!" chorus.

Bracket busters, they are, but ya gotta love that.

On a sad note, I see that Team Rahal driver Paul Dana died in an accident during AM warmups for the IRL race at Homestead today. Paul was running a car that burned ethanol instead of the traditional methanol, not that the fuel had anything to do with the results of the accident (as far as I can tell).


Posted by: bc | March 26, 2006 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Funny interview a few years back on the radio, with a woman in London who discovered upon returning from a weekend away that her entire back garden had been stolen... installed pond with cascade, fish, plants, trees, bushes and even the lawn. Is that crazy or what!! TRULY UNBELIEVABLE. I don't know if they caught the guy but hey Joel, were you living in London in recent years? Not that I'm implying anything...

Posted by: Miss Toronto | March 26, 2006 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Hey TBG - I know the place well. Cool alternative video store next door. Tell you what. Pick the morning and the time and I'll buy you an egg-McMuffin at the McDonalds. Then you can brief the other boodlers at the BPH.

Posted by: RD Padouk | March 26, 2006 6:31 PM | Report abuse

RD and TBG - don't forget your Theron bows. Congrats to GMU - at least they knocked out the faux Huskies.

Posted by: mostlylurking | March 26, 2006 6:43 PM | Report abuse

I enjoyed the garden gnome link.
(Gotta heart garden gnomes.)
The "Hanno on Toilet Gnome" is a little creepy, though -- and not just because he looks like Dubbya. What are those cylindrical things he's clutching in each hand? Empty toilet rolls?

That gnome is just asking to be stolen, whisked around the world, and photographed outisde various public toilet facilities, its (his?) baffled and heartbroken owner eventually to receive the pics in the mail. Maybe there'd be some kind of message, like "Send more TP!" or "The food here is *terrible*!"

Posted by: Achenfan | March 26, 2006 6:47 PM | Report abuse

I spent the afternoon bleaching and pressure washing the driveway, which still needs touchup and some iron stain removal. Fortunately, none of the retirees on my cul de sac has elected to paint their driveway, nor decorate it with painted faux-bricks. The neighborhood is too cheap for total replacement with concrete pseudo-bricks.

This being Florida, the surviving Caladiums from last year are popping up, so I now have to plop replacement bulbs into the bare spots. Like lining up soldiers for a battle. At least I'm supporting Florida agriculture--they're grown near Sebring.

The recently-planted young Australian palms are looking fine, but I'm not going to try to beat my neighbors two houses down--new pool, gazillions of tropical plants, and even a huge "Bismarkia nobilis" palm (silver fan-shaped leaves, native to Madagascar and apparently named for Otto, the Iron Chancellor). I can claim that Bismarkias should be reserved for estate-sized lawns, not mere suburban postage stamps. Besides, my new hybrid Zombia (from Hispaniola) is cute. The Weekley World News can probably feature it in their story on ZOMBIE SEX.

Not to mention there were some bromeliads to install. Wonderful plants--they will grow happily on the mass of wood chips where a big slash pine stood until recently.

While at the bromeliad grower's open house, I inexcusably passed up some neat new Cast Iron Plants--a variety called "Milky Way" with little spots on the leaves. Go search for 'em to decorate your miserable northern cubicles. They're said to thrive on stale coffee.

Posted by: Dave | March 26, 2006 7:24 PM | Report abuse

The National Geographic piece reminds me of a book I just read called "Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry Into Knowledge," by Jeremy Narby, which presents the case that intelligence is not unique to humans.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter "Plants as Brains" [but no, I'm not a fruitarian, just in case you were wondering]:

"I had been looking into intelligenc in nature for eighteen months when a friend called to draw my attention to a recent article in the journal Nature. It claimed that investigation of plant intelligence is 'becoming a serious scientific endeavor' and that scientists are 'only now beginning to expose the remarkable complexity of plant behavior.' These were the words of Anthony Trewavas, a professor of biology at the University of Edinburgh and a fellow of the Royal Society, the oldest scientific society in Great Britain. According to Trewavas, plants have intentions, make decisions, and compute complex aspects of their environment.

"I lookied into the research cited by Trewavas and found, to my surprise, that scientists were now saying that plants have senses and can detect a wide variety of external variables, such as light, water, temperature, chemicals, vibrations, gravity, and sounds. They can also react to these factors by changing the way they grow. Plants can forage and compete with one another for resources. When attacked by herbivores, some plants signal for help, releasing chemicals that attract their assailants' predators. Plants can detect distress signals let off by other plant species and take preventive measures. They can assimilate information and respond on the whole-plant level. And they use cell-to-cell communication based on molecular and electrical signals, some of which are remarkably similar to those used by our own neurons.

". . . . Plants learn, remember and decide, without brains.

". . . . We humans have different timescales from those [of] plants. Consequently, we do not see plants move and assume they are stupid. But this is an incorrect assumption caused by our animal nature. We do not see them move because we operate in seconds, rather than in weeks and months."

Posted by: Dreamer | March 26, 2006 7:35 PM | Report abuse

I have never understood the fascination with growing grass as a hobby. People I know mow twice a week lawns anywhere from 1 to 3 acres in size. I have better things to do with my time. Like this.

I own a townhouse with a garage meaning my front yard has a net plantable area of about 200 square feet. In the center of it is an ash tree my wife hates because it doesn't flower, doesn't give shade, and doesn't turn pretty colors in the fall. If she had her way it would die so we could plant a pear or cherry tree. No such luck

About 5 years ago we put a variety of bulbs around the base of the tree and they are about to take over the rest of the front yard. When they bloom, they look gorgeous. By the end of the summer they look like the end of Act 1 of "Little Shop of Horrors".

The back yard is at least 600 square feet and is used as part of the communal neighborhood golden retreiver club dog park, despite our desires to the contrary.

While we keep our yard tidy, with our son going to college in two years, my wife dreads losing his lawn mowing and driveway shoveling labor. We have 13 years until we can move to one of the many "adult" communiites around where all grounds are taken care of by the association. My wife is counting the days.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 26, 2006 7:36 PM | Report abuse

SCC entry:
intelligence, not intelligenc. (A plant could have spotted that one.)

Posted by: Dreamer | March 26, 2006 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Another one:
looked, not lookied.
(Compared with me, plants are looking more intelligent by the minute.)

Posted by: Dreamer | March 26, 2006 7:40 PM | Report abuse

I know Joel has discretely hinted at keeping Domenench talk back in the other boodle, but I have posted some reflections on plagiarism in general on my blog:

including my wholly original Top Ten Excuses Used By Plagiarists (© 2006 by yellojkt). Feel free to wander by and opine.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 26, 2006 7:41 PM | Report abuse

And please feel free to come by my yard and steal some bulbs. It's the one with ugly ash tree and the overgrown mulched treebed in the front yard.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 26, 2006 7:43 PM | Report abuse

Oregonians have the right idea about Spring: it starts in January with fussy sweet-scented bushes, witch-hazels and huge out-of-control camellia bushes, continues through Japanese cherries, rhodies, and other flowery stuff, and definitively ends with Roses. Then the rains stops, the grass turns brown, and everyone runs off to the beach, or mountains, or whatever. The abandoned yards get cleaned up a bit in September, and by and by the grass turns green again.

Florida is entirely backward--the grass grows so fast in June that you mow it every four days, at least if you avoid heat exhaustion.

Posted by: Dave | March 26, 2006 7:50 PM | Report abuse

I let the Bermuda grass go without mowing for four or five weeks every August so it can seed and fill in, but only in the back yard, out of sight. In the front, where continued mowing is necessary to maintain appearances, it's a continual battle among the Bermuda, St Augustine and dreaded Kikuyu, which makes me think of ethnic competition in Yugoslavia. Or the ancient Roman frontier in their last few centuries.

Posted by: jg | March 26, 2006 8:24 PM | Report abuse

When I lived in Florida, my 1/3 acre yard had bahia and my next door neighbor had St. Augustine. For those that don't know, St. Augustine is a very thick "runner" style grass that spreads like a weed but is very water intensive to maintain. If your neighbor has St. Augustine, eventually you will too. It's the ethnic cleanser of grass varieties.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 26, 2006 8:57 PM | Report abuse

"We have neighbors to our north who are from Brooklyn and both husband and wife are obese, perhaps just short of morbidly. The three sisters to our south are obese,"

And this is relevant to their lawn care habits how? Try substituting "black" or "Jews" for obese, and see if the sterotype is any less offensive.

Posted by: lom | March 26, 2006 9:12 PM | Report abuse

St. Augustine vs. Bermuda vs. Kikuyu. Sounds like an Age of Empires deathmatch.

We are being overrun by ground ivy in the back yard (that is, will be, as we still have a foot of snow out here). This stuff is indestructible.

Posted by: SonofCarl | March 26, 2006 10:10 PM | Report abuse

I know Joel has discretely hinted at keeping Domenench talk back in the other boodle, but I have posted some reflections on plagiarism in general on my blog:

including my wholly original Top Ten Excuses Used By Plagiarists (© 2006 by yellojkt). Feel free to wander by and opine.

Posted by: Bayou Self | March 26, 2006 10:25 PM | Report abuse

My next-door neighbor assures me that my Florida lawn was once all Bahia grass. I believe him because there's a few tiny patches, sort of like Gaelic-speaking towns in Ireland or Scotland. The St. Auggie has been happier on my side of the border, even if I lack the near-mandatory sprinkler system. What's really amazing is that, over the past several years, it's been choking out Bermuda grass and assorted weeds in the back yard, exactly where I need to build a proper Porch.

Posted by: Dave | March 26, 2006 10:31 PM | Report abuse

I don't have a garden anecdote because the only time I've ever sheared or pruned anything was when I was a land surveyor (and the agenda was more "seek and destroy" than "make pretty.") But I just wanted to say that I read this column twice, it's so totally hilarious.

Posted by: sirin | March 26, 2006 10:38 PM | Report abuse

At the stately Bayou Self estate, we have the impressive Plant from College.

Back in the day, I ended up with a roommate's plant in college. I do not know what kind of plant it is. I have never seen another one exactly like it. But I do know that I successfully kept it alive. This is because it is apparently a plant that does not die easy.

It grew. I split it in half and then had two of them. They grew. And so on.

Fast-forward a number of years, after I have possibly violated federal law by transporting the plants across state lines. I marry and we buy a house. And as we pull up to the home after closing the deal, we see that all the pretty flowers around the big oak tree in front have died. The pretty flowers that my bride so liked hadn't been watered in the weeks since we made an offer. Damn cheapskates.

In went the Plant from College, now with offspring (offshoots?) numbering in the double digits.

Fast-forward again. Ten years later, the P from C is doing great and is also settling in under, around and going up the trunk of another mighty oak here at the BS estate. At times, when the plant is feeling fiesty, it flowers with a white fruit inside of a podlike leaf. I tell the kids that they are space-alien pods. Meanwhile, people walking by inquire about the mystery plant and get the full story. I see some spaces out back that would benefit from the P of C, but the wife thinks we have about enough of it.
A new McMansion was just built next door. It has professional landscaping to go with it's expensive pricetag. The advertising picture of it is shot from an angle and includes the edge of my house.

They apparently felt it was a plus to move in next door to my mystery vegetaton, as about one-quarter of the picture features ... the Plant from College.

Posted by: Bayou Self | March 26, 2006 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Oh, hey. I tore out a dead bush today. In back. The wife is talking about how we should plant tomatoes. And when she says "we," of course, she is talking about me. Well, we'll see.

Posted by: Bayou Self | March 26, 2006 10:41 PM | Report abuse

I was disappointed to see Loomis refer to a dead squirrel as a "former rodent". So clearly dismissive. These are mammals, like me, like yourself. Do you know why squirrels have such a long tail ? It serves as a parachute, should they fall ! And a group of squirrels, what is that called ? There is no such concept, because they are solitary creatures, like bloggers, like the pajamas people who came out in their hundreds yesterday and whom you also despise so, only because they made your Joel throw up because he said there were 200 consecutive references to fascists, when there were none. I'll bet your obese neighbors from Brooklyn posted some of that yesterday, it would be just like them, wouldn't it ! They're never out working in the yard, so guess what ? They're inside figuring out new ways to insult people who work for the Washington Post, ignoring the fact that they are only flawed human beings like all of us, carriers of pain, portraits in grief, if I could put it that way. Someone made a dismissive and clearly prejudicial remark about moles too, today, I noticed. Moles ! Who aerate our soil and build infrastructure which later others can use as well ! Dismissed just like that. Where is the respect, the breadth of spirit referrred to by the Reverend Brady as the cornerstone of our being ? Do you know where in the United States is the greatest concentration of squirrels ? Yes !!! It is Washington DC, in Lafayette Park, just across from the White House. Check it out at, which is apparently their political arm. I would be extra careful about calling them rodents if I were you.

Posted by: kindly old mister badger | March 26, 2006 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Well, now, Bayou Self, that's intriguing. I bet you could take a leaf or small part of a branch in to a nursery and they could tell you what it is. Or maybe take it on down to NASA. Does it have branches, or is it more like a vine?

You should be able to grow excellent tomatoes in your climate. I don't think I tried when I lived there - not sure why, except I had a small child and worked 2 jobs part of the time...

Posted by: mostlylurking | March 26, 2006 11:12 PM | Report abuse

Oh, mister badger, squirrels are held in surprisingly high regard here, despite the fact that they're snarky (in fact, Snarky Squirrel posts from time to time). And it's true that moles seek good soil, so in a way it's good news when they invade your yard. In a way.

But squirrels and moles are still pesky...and don't even get me started on rabbits and deer, or raccoons!

Posted by: mostlylurking | March 26, 2006 11:18 PM | Report abuse

Loomis, after reading your 11:54 post, let me apologize. I am so accustomed to universal, immediate recognition of every cultural reference on this blog that I sensed a gap, previously filled by k-guy. My second post was intended to say "no offense intended."

Anyhoo, why is everyone so down on the POTUS in this blog? To my knowledge he is succeeding brilliantly in preventing the human-animal hybirds he warned us about in his SOTU address.

Am I forgiven?

Posted by: Person of Interest | March 26, 2006 11:37 PM | Report abuse

BTW, as a resident of Red America (have learned to use lots of coping techiques), took the family to DC last summer to do the "HISTORY OF OUR NATION" vacation. Stayed in Alexandria (great) but was amazed by the Jefferson Davis Boulevard thing in Arlington.

While this served as a great pedagogical device in explaining the dire situtation of the capital of the Union across the river from the enemy, it made me think: are the City fathers/mothers there aware that the CSA didn't exactly work out as planned?

It would be unthinkable to name a street in my state "Jefferson Davis Boulevard" today. Doesn't anyone give a hoot that maybe they ought to consider something a little more contemporary like "Achenbach Way"?

Just asking.

Posted by: Person of Interest | March 27, 2006 12:01 AM | Report abuse


Throwing in my two cents, I highly recommend a tomato plant (or 8 as in our case). Two things taste noticeably better produced at home than store-bought - carrots and tomatoes (IMHO). Herbs are probably also in this category, but I can't be bothered with all the little pots.

Posted by: SonofCarl | March 27, 2006 12:21 AM | Report abuse

more than three geese a gaggle

a ream, more than 20 pages

and best of all squirrels are an extension of the treeforce

they are an ecological solution to 14 space, they're connected.

actually, I used to watch this one squirrel, I've seen him for about 1.5 years and they just took down the tree he was born in...he looks sad..

it's interesting to see them, interact, I was once walking down a path in Virgina, where squirrels abound and there were a couple near the path, winking at me and saying things like "look at that pendejo," I ignored them and continued walking...but one of them came down about 3 feet away from me and raised it's eyebrows, saying "want some?" I looked where he indicated and it was these red and white mushrooms that looked suspiciously like Amarita mushrooms...and being smarter than the squirrels I took one home and looked it up before eating it, good thing I did was called a "Russian Sickener" mushroom...come to think of it though, maybe those squirrels were right....Siberia is where shamans come from and they eat a version of Amarita every spring to clean themselves out, sort of like a Peyote ritual in Siberia...

dersu uzala..


Posted by: a group of squirrels is called a crowd.. | March 27, 2006 12:42 AM | Report abuse

I had to change a word to pendejo, they're filtering on profanity....ah me, and to think that I thought this a progressive blog...

Bill Maher where are you....fangoula, bosse meh coolo

Posted by: that's interesting... | March 27, 2006 12:43 AM | Report abuse

free you from, although I did enjoy that post I did about hamsters of love, but this isn't that one:

It became apparent something was occuring that she had no prior knowledge of, thank gawd....

Pleasant kissing of the muse speckled the egg of her puissance....

melting all resistance to the understanding of the naked absence of malice.

Posted by: Lifting her brows with pernicious twisting

ps. this is liberal? I thought it was art

regarding emenating truth:

if the object is to create the arousal of truth within the reader you have to set up a cadence....

like walking on a bridge in step will cause it to sway,

until the structure on mundanaeity crumbles like a stale sugar cookie...

and truth appears between your eyes as clarity, lo and behold the fog has lifted...

see yah.

.I pompouslessly created the word mundanaeity as a way of flogging your brains.

Posted by: the tyranny of the small mind is what I seek to | March 27, 2006 1:00 AM | Report abuse

Cassandra, my neighbors in N. Fla. thought if no one was standing guard over their possesions, it was okay to steal them! Case in point, they came home from a trip with a young, healthy, obviously well taken care of kitten wearing a collar and tags that they found at a motel. I asked if they checked to see if it might belong to the motel owners, "Well, no, she was just there and no one was around so we took her". (Then they promptly dumped her outside and neglected her terribly, long story, I ended up adopting her when they moved away and abandoned her). Another time, they asked if I wanted some mushroom compost. Of course I did! That stuff's like GOLD in a garden and very expensive! "How much was it" I asked (so that I could pay my share). "Oh we found it at a little farm. It was just there so we took some". I mentioned that this was stealing and they were defensive, "Well, there wasn't anyone there." (Who stands around guarding their compost?) Another time I came home early and saw them gathering the pine cones in my yard. "What are you doing? Put those back; those are my pine cones!" Answer "Well, they were just lying there." And a week or two later, all my peas and okra had been "harvested" while I was at work. Hmmm. Yet another time, I see them coming up my walk with a bag of oranges and thought "Oh my God, they've knocked over a fruit stand!"

"Spring Cleaning"; lordy how I hated those two words. Mother'd wake up one morning and announce "Spring Cleaning time girls; we're gonna clean the house from top to bottom!" Claudia, my perfect sister, loved it too. What's wrong with these people, I thought. Trying to play sick was an exercise in futility. Mother had been a registered nurse before we were born. They'd drag the rugs and mattresses outside while I dusted 50 million bed spring coils. "Can I go out and play afterwards?" But no, they'd only just begun. Cleaning windows with ammonia laced water and wadded up newspaper. Waxing floors. Polishing the silver. It was hell on earth. The only good part about Spring Cleaning was that Mother would put on her gospel records. ("Long as I got King Jesus, long as I got King Jesus, long, long as I got King Jesus, don't need nobody else!") And then, finally, those beautiful words "We're done sweetie, you can go out and play!" FREE AT LAST! FREE AT LAST!

Posted by: Nani | March 27, 2006 8:33 AM | Report abuse

Another British memo, the "Lawless World" Memo, much like the Downing Street memos, come to light:

Stamped "extremely sensitive," the five-page memorandum, which was circulated among a handful of Mr. Blair's most senior aides, had not been made public. Several highlights were first published in January in the book "Lawless World," which was written by a British lawyer and international law professor, Philippe Sands. In early February, Channel 4 in London first broadcast several excerpts from the memo.

Posted by: Loomis | March 27, 2006 8:44 AM | Report abuse

SCC: come to light ---> comes to light
Too early in the morning...

Posted by: Loomis | March 27, 2006 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately this is not news to those of us who were aware of the deception and subterfuge at the time and will not change the minds of those who wanted us in Iraq at any cost. We were hoodwinked and the Cassandras that said this would be a fiasco are being vindicated. I'd rather I wasn't.

I had just read "Guns of August" before our Iraq incursion and used the book as a checklist for the inevitibility of conflict.

WWI and Iraq

Diplomatic huffing and puffing - check
Irreversible troop call-ups - check
Unrealistic demands and threats - check
Phony caus belli - check
Quick campaign that quickly deteriorated in to years of lost human life - check

At least the casualties are being numbered in the thousands instead of the millions, not that that's comfort to those that have lost a friend or a loved one because the military beast is hard to recage after being released.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 27, 2006 9:30 AM | Report abuse

On a lighter note, my son had a middle school science teacher that hopefully tongue-in-cheek kept insisting that squirrels were conspiring to conquer the world. He had some pretty convincing evidence.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 27, 2006 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Yes, yellojkt...
Just as I talked to my first husband after 25 years of silence between us, Gary having advanced to Army Delta Force, and then retired to North Carolina. It'a amazing what Gary knew about troop movements and when the war would be launched--back in January 2003.

Posted by: Loomis | March 27, 2006 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Loomis, did you see this Times op-ed? (off-topic, there I go again...)

Posted by: kbertocci | March 27, 2006 9:46 AM | Report abuse

And Nani,
I have a story for you about stealing, in response to your great post.

Gary and I married in his parents' apple orchard in Okanogan, Wash., as I Boodled. Since it was such a brief courtship and a very short engagement--we basically ran off and got married--my parents didn't attend the wedding. But my mother did send a wedding gift after the fact--a set of Revereware cookware--a set of pots and pans, delivered by United Parcel Service.

She said by phone that she had sent Gary and me something and we repeatedly told her that nothing had arrived yet. We called United Parcel Service and they said the package had been delivered. We approached our new neighbors on the other side of the duplex and they said they didn't know anything about a package.

Finally, a driver from U.P.S. came to our duplex and showed us that the young woman of the couple next door had signed for the delivery of our wedding gift. I went over to the couples' door, said U.P.S. had shown us proof that the woman had signed for the package, and if they didn't deliver the goods pronto, then I was going to call the police.

Within 15 minutes, the box that my mother had sent was on our front doorstep. What was inside? A mess of dirty dishes with all manner of dried, cooked food on the inside, one of the pots dented.

United Parcel Service never helped us recover a "new" set of cookware. I cook with these pots and pans to this very day.

Posted by: Loomis | March 27, 2006 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I am soooooo tired of all the Ben Domenech talk, and yard work is one of my least favorite things to do. Let's talk about something --ANYthing--else.

Anybody else catch The Sopranos last night? I thought it was excellent againa, and very funny in a very dry way, with the Michael Imperioli character's second foray in the movie industry, and a great satire on the industry as he and his "team" pitch a movie concept to a gang of fellow mobsters--a new genre of slasher film featuring a Jason/Freddie/Michael Meyers clone killer zombie who is a mafiso who has been dismembered by mob rivals and his body put in a landfill, where it magically reassembles itself and sets out on a revenge rampage. And then the mob guys in the pitch meeting start picking the concept apart, making changes, critique the idea of lumping Michael Meyers in with Jason and Freddie, because Meyers is an escaped lunatic, whereas the other two are supernatural. and anyway slasher pictures are supposed to have naked teenagers in a lake as victims, not dead mob zombies whacking other mob guys. It was like "Get Shorty" meets Carl Hiaasen's "Skin Tight" meets William Goldman's "Adventures in the Screen Trade." Very funny. And meanwhile Edie Falco turns in another riveting performance. That woman is incredible.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 27, 2006 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I read that next week's The Sporanos has a major plot line involving a gardener. The weeds get whacked.

Posted by: Bayou Self | March 27, 2006 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Jeez, there's a new kit. So that's where everybody went. I'm always the last to know.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | March 27, 2006 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Garden gnomes of my dreams? It must be the medication giving me some serious nightmares, eh?


Posted by: Kate R | March 27, 2006 12:18 PM | Report abuse

can be such a useless, thoughtless, selfish..

well, not a _nice_ person.

regarding, the Revere-Ware thieves.

Posted by: that was tacky, it's always disappointing that someone that looks just like you... | March 27, 2006 7:45 PM | Report abuse

Looomis might try picking up the dead squirrel and disposing of it rather than complain about it. What a harpy! There's an old Newark, South Dakota maxim that applies here: "PICK YOUR OWN NOSE, FIRST!" heh. :)Hey, have a nice life, anyway. :)

Posted by: Boston Blackie | March 29, 2006 6:05 AM | Report abuse

And while you are disposing of the dead squirrel, here is a song you can play or sing: "There's a dead skunk in the middle of the road. There's a dead skunk in the middle of the road. There's a dead skunk in the middle of the road. There's a dead skunk in the middle of the road." Those are lyrics to an actual hit song of some years ago by a John D. Laudermilk. That proves that only in American can people with no talent and no brains become very famous. :)

Posted by: Boston Blackie | March 29, 2006 6:10 AM | Report abuse

Loudon Wainwright III, I believe

Posted by: Anonymous | July 29, 2006 5:05 PM | Report abuse

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