My parents were not gardeners, so I entered adulthood unencumbered by the sort of seasonal itch that afflicts people like My Lovely Wife, who spends a good deal of the winter months dreaming about spring planting. This partially explains why I spent the better part of the recent holiday weekend yanking weeds, expanding garden plots, and generally obsessing over the relative tidiness of our humble urban estate.
This is all well and good, of course, until you find yourself sitting in the broiling sun for hours at a time, happily running your fingers among the intricate tendrils of creeping Charley or rejoicing at the discovery of an infant maple tree among the hostas that just must be extricated. Before you know it, you could convince yourself that buying a little wooden windmill for the front yard or investing in some sort of chainsaw art is just what you need to get things to look like a geezer lives here.
This is what old people do who have too much time on their hands, and if the past weekend is any indication, I seem to be moving rapidly in that direction. The only question is whether this is some sign of latent obsessive-compulsive disorder or simply a late-blooming interest in horticulture and landscape design.
I’d lean toward the latter explanation if 40 years of gardening with MLW had taught me the difference between a columbine and a coral bell, but it hasn’t. So, I’m inclined to chalk it up to my general preference for order, which I hope places me somewhere on the moderate edge of the OCD spectrum.
Just because I’ve been known to reach down and pluck a clump of clover from between the cracks of our backyard patio while eating dinner doesn’t necessarily mean I’m acting compulsively. It just means I’m restoring some sense of botanical order in my environment. After all, the clinical definition of OCD says nothing about picking the Japanese beetles from the petals of a rose bush or crawling beneath a dogwood tree to unwind a strand of Virginia creeper. Rather than someone who “performs rituals even though doing so interferes with daily life and they find the repetition distressing,” an elderly gardener is never distressed by a collection of stubborn weeds. Such a challenge doesn’t interfere with daily life — it makes it more challenging. You might even say it provides a purpose.
I’d also point out that there’s plenty of research suggesting that gardening is good for geezers. South Korean researchers last year found that 15 sessions of garden work improved everything from aerobic endurance to cognitive function in elderly study participants when compared with non-gardeners.
All this tells me that I probably wasn’t descending into some inexorable OCD spiral last weekend when I found myself sweeping the sidewalk at 11 p.m. while wondering whether MLW would object to a small plastic gnome artfully placed beneath the bird feeder.
Or maybe over by the bird bath.