yard nazis, part 1

A friend of mine, the late Margaret V., lived in a retirement community in Arcata, California. Though she wasn’t a major gardener, she did like to plant a few flowers on the borders of her lot and place potted flowers on the steps up to her home. Every summer, I’d get at least one letter from her complaining about “yard nazis”, maintenance staff who weed-whacked this border flower she’d nursed all summer or, inexplicably, knocked over that potted flower on her steps. She’d be livid!

I lived in a regulation house at the time, and always had a big garden in back, nice flower beds in front, that I worked years to get just so. I worked very hard to improve the soil until it required almost no effort to turn, it was so loamy. I double-dug all beds and amended the soil every year. All that in a yard that started with clay soil.

Then I had major illness (Wegener’s granulomatosis), which made maintaining a yard of that size more than I could manage. We moved that fall to the retirement apartments where I live now, a pleasant if not fancy duplex that started out as WWII housing. The yard maintenance, we were assured, was handled by staff, as was snow removal, and so on. One could, however, have a small garden along the foundations of the apartment, if one wished.


Bluebells are pretty, but, like morning glories, have a weedy growth habit. I dug out tons of them at the house. They return without mercy and they spread like the weed they are.

I tried small scale gardening at the apartment the first summer. Someone before planted a variety of flowers and roses I didn’t particularly care for (other than one climbing yellow rose): Bluebells, morning glories, some wimpy plant that hates dry conditions and looks like hell when fully hydrated (name?), iris (which are lovely for a couple of weeks once a year, then not so much), snow-on-the-mountain, two awful artificial-looking red roses with no scent, and a nice yellow rose (also no scent). Not to my taste mostly, but, well, not tragic. I’d try to work them out over years. Gardening, if nothing else, is an exercise in patience and planning. Oh yeah, and hope!

yellow rose

This yellow rose has a clean, floral scent, and grows outside my bathroom window. It is the one rose at the apartment I do like.

Management or an earlier tenant used crushed rock to cover unplanted areas as a weed control and to make things look pretty. Like hell! Hell to dig, though I finally broke through using a garden fork I fortuitously brought from my old home on the chance I’d one day be able to garden again. What I found under the rock was compacted, worn out soil much like I’d started out with and spent years building up with composed leaves and grass at the house. “Shit,” I thought! No, at that point, shit of the right kind would have made me very happy!

Also, I left a huge rhubarb patch at the house, thinking it wouldn’t be right to take any with us when the new owners could enjoy it as much as we. The new owners tore it out and tossed the plants in the trash. (My old neighbors tattled on the new owner…!) They had no idea what to do with it or that a couple of the neighbors always enjoyed large amounts of it each year because we shared it with them.

There were some neighborhood rhubarb patches at the apartment complex, a plant here and there, but the old neighbors scouted it out and usually beat me to it. They’d lived here longer. They knew the routine. I resolved to plant my own, which I documented elsewhere in this blog. It took two, three years to get an amount of rhubarb that gave us a taste of it each year, if nowhere what we had at the house.


I was so happy when I finally got rhubarb to grow in the dead soil out back! I added lots of compost and fertilizer to the spot where I planted it, and, unlike my first, failed effort, had the lovely early spring surprise you see in the photo!