6 Ways Gardening Is Like Going to War

I have traveled from cold lands in the North and been thrust into a writhing nest of murderous ambition. Or as the landlord calls it, a garden.

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Those traitorous plants want to seize my land.

I recently moved from Toronto to Oxford (as you'd know if you read my Twitter), and in this land of titles and nobility I am now lord of all I survey! Only if I survey while squinting like someone's twisting my nipples, and I'll admit that most sovereigns don't enforce their boundaries with tasteful trellis fences (or talk about nipple twisting), but the estate agents swore they didn't have any castles for rent. Even when I had them swear on my sword.

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In fact they swore quite a lot at my contract-reviewing sword.

I now command 10 square meters of green. Well, 10 cubic meters at the moment. For years my lands were sub-fractions of student houses where nature's only job was to rot things you'd forgotten about. The closest I've ever come to green fingers is plunging my hand into a loaf of now-liquid bread, then scalding my skin off before the spores could cure all human disease or connect me to the fungal hive mind. I escaped another student digs just before they got busted by the landlord for growing mushrooms. Not drug mushrooms. Regular "Oh, sorry, we thought this entire house had died" mushrooms.

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"I would go to the kitchen, but it doesn't like to be woken up this late."

This time will be different. The tenancy agreement requests that my address doesn't become ground zero for an invasion of Earth by the triffids. It can't be that hard. I'm going to learn some interesting things about gardening!

#6. Gardens Are Biological Shame Engines

That's rather more than I was expecting to learn.

My gardening strategy was simple: I was the Full Metal Jacket drill instructor and gardens can't learn how to work rifles. I get to buzz cut it every week while cupping myself and screaming obscenities (an act most writers euphemize as "brainstorming"). Getting a real mower for such a small yard would be ludicrous, so I bought a strimmer with a clench handle. That way I could go hand-to-hand with Mother Nature.

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The least-damaging dual wield of all time. You end with MORE plant monsters than when you started.

For a time it was glorious: The sun was shining, God was in his heaven, and I was murdering his creations in the world. Then my neighbor -- whose garden looks like someone spruced up the Garden of Eden for a magazine cover -- starts a chat, letting me know in the nicest possible way that black spot had spread from my cauldron of chaos to his roses.

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For some reason he also presumed I was Dr. Livingston.

The fact that he was polite is what makes it. If some psychopath starts screaming at you about azaleas, you're suddenly glad to be using biological weaponry against everything they hold dear. But when they drop it into the flow of natural conversation as a kind observation, commiserating with you about how you're unfortunately and innocently killing their hard work, you feel about 1 inch tall. Standing in a 2-inch pile of dogshit. The British don't twist the knife; they take it out of their own belly and polish it for you, and that is so much worse.

I will have to discipline these plants.

#5. Gardens Are Coliseums for Fighting Nature

Coliseums are where we prove we can still kick ass with blades, despite the vast stone construction full of people eating snacks proving that we really don't need to. Gardens are the botanical battle equivalent, where we step out and show that we can still tame and murder life forms at will. It doesn't matter that they've been captured, cut down, even bred to be weaker to satisfy our whims. All that matters is humans beholding the endless majesty of a planetary ecosystem, then grabbing it by the throat equivalent and screaming, "NO, grow like THIS!"

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"Those living things are beautiful. I say we segregate them by color and execute them by blade if they move out of their assigned zones."

But if I'd inherited a coliseum, the previous tenants had thrown me the keys while running from barbarians riding over the seven hills. The neighbor tells me that the previous tenants "preferred to see wild flowers," which has to be the prettiest euphemism for "didn't give a shit" I've ever heard. When we moved in it was cold, brown, and apparently dead. I didn't know it was lying in wait like a chlorophyllic Arnold Schwarzenegger. The tenants just used winter to hold back the worst of the invaders. You know who else did that? The Russians, fighting the goddamn Nazis, and I might need a similar level of firepower.

#4. The Field of Battle

Of course I know how to deal with unwanted plants: left-click on a worker, hover around the mass of greenery to see if there are any luxuries to offset my recent annexation of Delhi, and right-click.

Let's see you build nukes from a citrus harvest, Gandhi.

A quick look around my house indicates that I don't have any workers. The closest thing I have to workers are my cats, which are less "close to" than "the exact opposite of."

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My cat wouldn't even piss on a garden, because that would mean less piss for the corner of the bedroom at 4 a.m.

Weeding a garden is either a meditative act, a demonstration of human will over the chaos of nature, or a total waste of time, depending on whether you've been weeding for one, two, or five time units. This unit varies from person to person: Some people manage hours, the average British rose grower has decades, mine are milliseconds. There are mayflies buzzing around my garden who think I don't spend enough time on it. But I don't want to spend hours on my knees yanking at plants, because if I'd wanted to give Mother Nature a hand job, I wouldn't have learned computers.

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That kinky MILF already has sex by letting bees crawl all over her genitals.

There's one weed, I don't know its name, but I think it's entropy incarnate. It's the Zerg rush of botany, swamping the area faster than anything else, and even if you kill it, you've spent all your time doing that instead of anything else. Then it attacks again. Then there's bindweed, nature's demented serial strangler, and the previous tenants' final legacy was brambles, which look more like transoceanic Internet trunks. When I cut them, I swear I could hear distant Ents very gradually shouting at their computers.

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They spend all their time on Facebark. I will never apologize for that line.

It's a pity I didn't get nipplewort, because I would never get sick of telling my wife I was going to pull some out. It also turns out that many of the weeds have beautiful flowers, which is either blatant cheating on their side or idiocy for choosing the wrong plants on ours.

But I shall not surrender! I shall keep up the fight for weeks if necessary, no matter the cost. It's not like hours of pointless repetitive labor can affect your sanity.

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Luke McKinney

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