Death in the Garden

| February 2, 2015 | 0 Comments

Years ago I wrote about Sex in the Garden. I have come full circle. Today’s topic is “Death in the Garden” or possibly “Murder in the Garden.” Yes, I am the garden murderess although unintentionally. I seem to have caused an enormous number of accidental deaths on our property where we have lived for the past 46 years.

The strangest death was the crawling rosemary. It, at one time, cascaded over a wall into the canyon. Its purpose was three-fold. It served as a barrier preventing people from toppling into the canyon. It fed many from herbs for our dinners to nectar for bees and humming birds. Finally, it was pretty with strange gnarled bark and lovely blue flowers dotted with bees and hummers. One day I noticed over half the rosemary was dead or dying. It may have been an illness from an infestation of some insect. Perhaps they were unhappy and just stopped thriving. Regardless, I am still removing corpses from the garden.

Next the azaleas began to die. One by one, they bit the dust. They may have died from lack of or too much water, but I believe the final azalea expired last month.

I planted daffodils for several years. They were supposed to multiply, even in Southern California. Sadly, last year only one appeared. On the other hand, paper whites which smell like dog poop to me, refuse to die. They keep naturalizing appearing in places where they must have flown or crawled. One is in my tomato pot. The tomato succumbed in its second season, just before production of fruit. In its stead were myriad paper whites. Ugh. There are a host of them in the back yard as well. They may be from landscaping done in the 1930s by a previous owner, Mrs. Morgan. Mrs. Jones, who lived across the street until 1975, told me that she and Mrs. Morgan used to work in their two yards together.

Mrs. Morgan’s iris produce leaves every year, but no blooms. I thinned them a couple of years ago and replanted them in better soil. No improvement; I have healthy, flowerless plants. Her naked ladies bloom annually, but they pop up all over the canyons in the late summer, so I cannot claim credit for them.

An avocado tree, here when we moved in, produced a marketable number of avocados that year. Sadly, we were renting. The landlord took most giving us two or three. The following year we bought the house and only a few avocados grew. A landscape architect said that was normal after a heavy season. However, the following year the tree died, of old age, I was told. Meanwhile our lemon tree (or Mrs. Morgan’s) was attacked by termites and died as well.

We dug up Mrs. Morgan’s rose garden, put in all new soil and grew the best tomatoes I have ever eaten. I ate at least ten a day, hot from the sun, tasting as if they had been sprinkled with sugar. Despite a huge production of tomatoes from each of the multitude of plants we had, not one ever made it into the house. They ripened and we ate them standing next to the plant. The next year we expected another bonanza crop. No tomatoes and we never again found the breed of tomatoes from that successful year.

In 2000 we hired Fausto Palafox to design and plant a garden. I managed to murder most of the plants he put in. The lilies of the Nile survived beside a trumpet vine, but this year saw the death of the weeping rose bush. It used to wear a plethora of pink roses on branches that drooped almost to the ground. A well-meaning gardener, not knowing it was not to be pruned, trimmed off many of the weeping branches. I accidentally broke another. Last summer’s heat gave it heat stroke. A red bud may be on its last legs, and my poor camellia seems moribund as well. They sit side by side, amidst thriving lilies of the Nile.

My rose bushes’ deaths are most tragic. Abe Lincoln was the first bush we planted and Fausto kept it. Last summer, it died. Other roses died in 2014: Elena, JFK, a lavender rose, a couple of David Austins, and saddest of all, my beautiful climbing Don Juan with its squar-ish almost black buds. I may be the only person in the world who managed to kill an iceberg climbing rose; they grow everywhere, even in parking lot islands. French Lace is hanging on by a thread. Bride’s Dream, my most prolific rose, refused to bloom at all last year. She is still alive although many of her canes did die.

The bottom line is I am a fraud. I am not a gardener (nor have I ever professed to be), but having written this Garden Club column monthly since 1999; I should have learned something. I admit that I am bad about fertilizing. The few plants that like living with me had to be thinned making my yard look awful. Calla lilies and I get on quite well despite the snails who also adore them. My hydrangeas are still alive although they get testy toward the end of summer. Most were gifts or bought in pots at Trader Joe’s.

The miniature roses from Trader Joe’s also thrive under my irresponsible care. One is quite large, and I have only killed one! Nonetheless, I was an extremely nervous baby-sitter to a friend’s bonsai. It was outgrowing its pot and kept threatening to die. It got very upset when the miniature rose next to it looked dead. I left the corpse. It came back to life, and after a year and a half, the bonsai happily went home as carry-on luggage with its owner. Bonsai and I were thrilled to part ways.

My successes are scattered too widely to say my garden is lovely. Rather it is a painting depicting survival of the fittest. Successes bravely pop up amidst the corpses I have not yet disposed of. Hope springs eternal, and the weeping rose came back to life. She’s a bit straggly, but alive.

February 28 will be an enjoyable Mission Hills Garden Club workshop Come to the church at 4077 Jackdaw from 6 to 8 p.m.

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About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.