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"Gardening demands a certain heartlessness."

Gardening demands a certain heartlessness. It ain't all tender nurturing, but also involves a studied brutality: pruning, plucking, trimming, and the curiously-named Deadheading. No, Deadheading has nothing to do with a popular musical group from the sixties, but involves removing spent blossoms and their bud tips to encourage fresh blooming. Deadheading prolongs the purpose of planting the flowers, extending the blooming season beyond what it would otherwise have been. It's picky work, likely to damage the plant should it be clumsily performed. It tries the patience of even the more contemplative gardeners, insisting upon an extended level of focus almost orthogonal to quietly enjoying blossoming flowers.

I water our petunia planters every couple of days through midsummer.
While each fills with water, I search for spent blossoms, pulling off the wilting and dried remainders. I understand that every blossom I see will wither and die within the week, and that continued beauty requires me to poke and pluck, which complicates my otherwise soothing watering work. Juggling the hose while digging through foliage, I feel like a curious circus side-act. Once I finish watering, I return to the planters to scan the foliage again. No matter how many times I repeat my rounds around the planters, I find new bud tips needing surgery. The petunias seem capable of infinitely generating wilts, my effort only ends when I abandon it in favor of some competing chore, suspending and deferring more than ever finishing.

Weeks of impatient waiting finally yields overflowing planters and the color we aspired to display. This display brings a certain indenture, daily attention to picky details and innumerable small surgeries. I'm apt to ignore this responsibility, bundling the brutality until I'm blushing at my indifference and so simply must engage. I dust off my critical eye and commence to engaging in the most scathing self talk. I know my down slope neighbors can only perceive the perfect-seeming flush of color. I wallow within the grittier underbelly, plucking and discarding last week's fading beauty in favor of anticipated next week's. The reward so lags the attention that Deadheading seems thankless effort. Only my eventual embarrassment fuels my engagement.

Deadheading belongs to that class of work which must be encouraged from within. No dog-walking neighbor will ever once slow to praise me for my clever and cruel Deadheading work. They might appreciate the color and praise the placement, without once acknowledging the quiet, cold-hearted discipline the landscaping required. Like perhaps all creative work, the finished product hardly represents the effort invested in creating it. Ten thousand tiny decisions fueling a hundred thousand infinitesimal actions, some so counter-intuitive that even the craftsman employs little leaps of faith more than knowledgable hand. The craftsman understandably cannot see the product of his work as a simple display, but as a chronicle of a certain sort of brutality which produced a once uncertain sort of fading beauty.

Gardening demands a certain heartlessness.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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