Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Untimely Death of the Blue Flowers

Catt has posted about her gardening troubles. She says she has a brown thumb. I would like to ask, has she ever been yelled at by a city building inspector for having a less-than-perfect front lawn? I’m asking because I have had that honor. Here’s how it happened.

We live on a street that is fairly diverse. On one hand, we have your average, middle-class families (six of them Russian) that live in semi-decent houses such as ours (shown above) and take decent care of them as much as their time and energy allows. And on the other hand, we have a sizable percentage of larger, newer houses, whose owners still remain a mystery to me, after I’ve lived here four years. If in Catt’s neighborhood, most front yards look like miniature botanical gardens, those guys’ front yards look like small golf courses – immaculate lawns surrounded by immaculate shrubbery. I haven’t met any of the owners, but I am on a greeting basis with their gardening crews (they come out every day). I even became friends with one of the gardening guys, but he has moved out of state. We talked a lot when he was still around. Apparently, it costs to the tune of ten thousand a year to keep your lawn in an immaculate condition. If I had this money, I’d put it into my kids’ college fund. This takes the concept of keeping up with the neighbors to a whole new level. Those guys water their lawns three times a day. We tried doing it daily. Then the water bill came and almost sent Mr. Goldie into cardiac arrest. He asked me not to do it again. So there you have it – the immaculate lawns, and, next to them, ours which is pretty pathetic. In a different neighborhood, it would have gone unnoticed. In ours, we received a letter from the city telling us to get our lawn and flowerbeds into shape. This was last spring.

We went outside and looked around. Everything seemed to be in shape. I had just spent two weeks pulling the dandelions out one by one. (This doesn’t stop them from growing, but it does kinda slow them down). Mr. Goldie had put Weed and Feed on our lawn. We had no idea what the problem was. The flowerbeds were also in good shape, except that our flowers had just finished blooming and looked pretty ugly.

Don’t know if you can see this in the picture, but our flowerbed was completely covered with these pretty blue flowers (notice that I say “was”). They bloom in April or May for about two weeks. Then the blooms fall off and the flowers start looking like a bunch of overgrown weeds. I used to wait until they dried up to pull them out. Some years, they would grow back and go into bloom again, in August or September of the same year. Pretty neat. The flowers are called Muscarii and are from the tulip family.

Back to our letter from the city. We were confused as to what they wanted from us, so I called the number on the letter. The building inspector answered the phone. She sounded very nice, and said she could come over and show me what was wrong. I took off work and drove twenty miles to talk to her. Five minutes after I got home, there was a knock on the door. I opened the door, an energetic woman was standing on my front porch.

“Are you Goldie?”


Right away, she started yelling. The woman worked me like a drill sergeant! She screamed at me for thirty minutes straight.

“Can’t you see your flowerbed is full of weeds?!”

Then it dawned on me.

“These are flowers, they were left over from the previous owners. They are blue and they just finished blooming.”

She looked at me like I was a village idiot. “How can these be flowers? They are weeds, I tell you, weeds!”

She definitely enjoyed saying the word weed.

“Can’t you hire a landscaper? Look at the houses around you! You live in a good neighborhood. Your neighbors spend a lot of money on making their properties look good. Because of you, their property values will go down.”

In a meek voice, I asked, “Why, is anybody selling?” Big mistake, that made her even more mad.

Long story short, I was given two weeks to clear the flowerbed of the stupid muscarii. I went to Target and bought some heavy-duty gardening tools. First thing Saturday morning, K9 and I set out to work.

We gave up after three hours and ten square inches. The dang stuff grows from bulbs. Apparently, it had been there for years and had been multiplying like rabbits on Viagra. The bulbs went up to ten inches deep and grew into our trees’ roots. It was clearly an impossible task.

I visited two of our Russian neighbors, begging them to give me phone numbers of landscaping services. One of the neighbors actually asked me if I could please leave the flowers alone. She liked them, and thought they were a pretty sight, and I agree with her, for about two weeks a year, they really were. But at that point, I had spent three hours of my life trying to get the flowers to go away, and they were fighting back. It was on. I came back home with two calling cards.

The first guy I called had worked on my next door neighbor’s flowerbeds the year before. According to my neighbor, the guy had come out for an estimate, and after some thorough analysis, told them that it would cost $500 to do the front, and $1000 to do all of the flowerbeds. I gave Jose a call, and he agreed to come over the next day.

Jose turned out to be a really good-looking, really short guy. He took a walk around the property and thoroughly analyzed the flowerbeds. Then after some deep thought, he gave an estimate - $500 for the front, $1000 for everything. Was that a going rate or something? I will never find out, because Mr. Goldie said that only over his dead body could I pay Jose that kind of money. I called guy number two.

Stan and I were actually friends. He had a successful landscaping business, and used to work for our other next-door neighbors. We had boys about the same age, and always talked when we ran into each other. I called Stan, he came over, and told me he would charge $250 for the front. Now that was a price even Mr. Goldie had nothing against. We shook on it, and set a date for Stan to start. His plan was to spray the flowers with Roundup, wait for a few days for it to settle in, then collect the dead flowers and do the matting and the mulching.

On the appointed date, Stan didn’t show. Nor did he come at all that week. My deadline was approaching. I kept calling Stan, and his kids kept telling me that he was out working. On one occasion, I got Stan himself, and he said he was having an extremely busy season, but that he would come over soon. In the meantime, someone else decided to step in.

As I already mentioned, my parents are perfectionists. We see each other a lot, because they watch the kids after school. They also have a tendency to clean up my house, put the things in their “right places” (wink), etc. We have been working on that, and there has been a definite progress. Anyway, one day I came home from work to find my both parents busy on the flowerbed. No, it wasn’t what you thought… they were digging out the bulbs!

There was a heated argument. I maintained that, if we were paying Stan to do this work, then Stan had to be the one to do it. My parents objected, saying that it was fun, and they would probably do a better job than Stan, anyway. I said that Stan was going to use Roundup, thus making it an ultimate perfect job.

When my parents heard the word Roundup, they got anxious. They were worried that Roundup would damage the tree roots and eventually kill the trees. After a second heated argument, they went home.

They called me three hours later, saying that they had gone to Home Depot and asked a salesperson whether Roundup killed trees, and she had said yes! I was curious so I asked for details. Turned out, they got the poor girl into a corner and asked her the question, in different variations, about three dozen times (“Are you sure it won’t kill a tree?”, “Is it possible it might kill a tree?”, “What if there is a whole lot of it, will it kill a tree then?”) Eventually, she said, “Well, if you try really hard…” Bless my parents’ hearts, they took it as a “yes”. Thus encouraged, they continued to work on our flowerbed. In the meantime, Stan kept procrastinating. Finally, he said that on a following Monday, he would stop by and apply the Roundup.

Sunday afternoon, we went out. When we came back, we had a nagging feeling that my parents have been over while we were gone. In the middle of our flowerbed, was a large sheet of transparent plastic, held down at the corners by four stones. Under the plastic, there was a piece of cardboard with a note: “DO NOT USE ROUNDUP ON THIS AREA!”

Mr. Goldie, muttering something about somebody embarrassing us in front of people, tossed the note in the garbage, and we waited for Stan. He never came. Apparently, his season just kept getting busier and busier, and he never made it. We eventually called and cancelled, but that was really a formality. He wasn’t going to come anyway.

So, my parents continued to work on the flowers. They dug and they dug and they actually managed to get most of the bulbs out. I was very impressed, and offered to pay them what we were going to pay Stan. One day as my Mom was working, the building inspector pulled up to the curb, took a long look at Mom, and drove off. We never heard from her again.

This spring, a few of the leftover muscarii have been popping out. Each time that happens, my parents assault the poor flowers with weedwhackers. You can tell that they don’t like muscarii a whole lot. As for me, I’ll take them over dandelions anytime.

By the way, this year, to my amazement, I’m seeing muscarii right on our lawn! I suspect that last year, my parents must have spent some time throwing the bulbs around in utter frustration. They categorically deny having done that.

The Goldie has spoken at 4:54 PM

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