By Larry Hodgson
I’m very naïve. I keep imagining that that every gardener would like to be a laidback one like me and spend as much time as possible relaxing in their garden rather than spending all their time working on it. But I’m finding it can be quite the opposite: there are a lot of people, whom I call “excessive gardeners,” who actually like to work ceaselessly on their yard.
There was, for example, a neighbor of mine who loved to water. She watered plants daily regardless of their needs. Once she even told my wife: “This weather is so depressing! It’s been raining non-stop for three days! How do you expect me to get out and water my gardens?”
There was another one I now call the slug lady. She’s a “prim and proper” gardener. Everything in her yard had to be impeccable. Since retiring several years earlier, she had taken to spending most of her waking hours working in her garden. She even used to vacuum the lawn after she mowed it. Yes, with a workshop-type vacuum cleaner! In the autumn, she would install nets everywhere to try to catch the fall leaves before they ended up on her oh-so-perfect lawn. That’s diligence!
A Visit and Some Friendly Advice
One day, she invited me to visit her garden. As we walked around, she explained her approach to me. In a shady area of the yard—there are a lot of tall trees in the yard—, she began to explain all about how she controlled slugs on her hostas, of which there were dozens, if not hundreds. She said she put a lot of effort into it, luring the little pests in with beer, getting up early in the morning to hand pick them, applying egg shells, wood ash and diatomaceous earth to the soil around her plants as a barrier, spraying their leaves in the evening with an ammonia solution, putting out slug traps with poisonous bait, etc. She said her dog almost died one day after eating slug bait and she wouldn’t let him leave the house off leash anymore. (He was watching us from the window, wagging his tail hopefully.) You could tell she was really serious about slug control!
As she spoke, I noticed some of the hostas that surrounded us had leaves with a few tiny holes caused by the slugs she had missed, but others that didn’t show the slightest bit of damage. I dared to point out to her that slugs don’t attack just any hosta. They have their favorites. And there are hostas they won’t even touch. I showed her a few she had already, ones with tough, thick leaves or whitish bloom that slugs loath. Why, I asked, instead of working so hard to control slugs, don’t you simply replace your slug-damaged hostas with slug-resistant hostas? Plus, she had enough slug-resistant hostas that she would be able to divide that the changeover needn’t cost her a penny! (I was not terribly surprised that she hadn’t noticed this phenomenon. It took me years of vain efforts at slug control before I myself realized that there are hostas that are good for garden use and others that are only good for the compost pile.)
I expected her to at least consider my point, maybe even thank me for the information that was sure to save her hundreds of hours of work. Instead, she glared at me ferociously. Obviously, she was taking my remark as a criticism of her gardening style. And the visit ended abruptly.
That happened many years ago. The lady lived in her home for another ten years or so. She must have been well over 80 by then and she still worked just as hard. I would sometimes see her on my daily constitutional, hoeing, digging and weeding (she didn’t use mulch, of course: that would have made things too simple). She always stubbornly avoided my gaze. In all that time, she didn’t remove a single one of the slug-damaged hostas. And you could see just as many baited slug traps scattered around her yard. I hope she hasn’t sent too many dogs, cats and neighborhood children to the hospital.
About 5 years ago, a for sale sign went up. Within just a few months, she had left, the graceful old house had been torn down, the garden was pulled out and a brand-new condo complex had come up in their place. In the landscaping around the building (narrow lawns and a few equally narrow flower beds), there were mostly shrubs and dwarf conifers … and a few hostas. But only the kind that slugs love! Really, humans are slow learners!