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.
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.
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.
"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!
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.
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.
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.
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!"
"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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
Rebellion in the Fields
The green are insolent.
I see them now, standing on the attractively bay-windowed battlements of civilization. Thousands of blades raised against me over the browning corpses of their fallen. I must show them who is master. I paid for the murder of foreign fields of stronger plants to cow the home rebellion. I had the corpses ground and rotted, cast into dungeons for a decade in prisons made from the bones of the plants' largest and strongest warriors. Then consumed the remains in front of the green fields of insurrection.
The green seem unaffected, but I feel better.
The rebellion seems undaunted by my plantibalism. I must repeat this demonstration until they show fear.
The Final Outpost
I see now that I have been too merciful. I have not demonstrated enough severity, nor did I order enough bottles of tortured plant juice. Mine will not be a land of peace. The green pushes up against the castle walls now, pressing between the cracks in the concrete armor of the Earth itself. I must strategize new strategies. In my strategyariumroom.
My cabinet of advisers.
Of course! Fire!
Fire beats wood! As taught by the combat instructors of my youth, those Battle Beasts with their heat-sensitive foils!
But alas, my treaty with the Agents of the Estate forbids the use of fire. I find these pen warriors' talk weak and mewling. For those who live with so many documents, they seem not to have read Sun Tzu. What I need is a worthy ally, a noble warm-blood with the strength to stand with me against the plants.
The noble face of mammalian dignity.
Curses! You need to get a goat license, and my lands/garden don't qualify. Can't these clerks see that Sir Headbutts would be my perfect ally? He never tires of gruesome combat, consuming the fallen, or repeatedly bashing his head off things (a sterling psychological role model for any writer), and he will eventually heroically turn into curry! I temper my disappointment with the knowledge that goat inspector is an official government job. I should get him to come pull my nipplewort, record it, and sell it to people who've gone entirely too far into Internet porn slang.
Actually, that's probably a genuine Internet fetish by now.
I am thwarted at every corner. I must fight would-have-been-defeated-by-fire-if-Oxford-wasn't-so-wimpy with would-have-been-defeated-by-fire-if-Oxford-wasn't-so-wimpy. I will use plants!
Mint might not look like much, but it's the chlorophyllic equivalent of a Borg-Tyranid.
But no. No, I shall not be seduced by mint juleps and mojitos, only to welcome my own mortal enemy into my kingdom. I'm not going to Cersei myself, even if this one would taste like toothpaste instead of sibling.
This has taught me a lot about modern society. First: It's awesome. The further away it gets me from manual labor, the better. The closest I come to working with my hands to satisfy animal urges is Internet pornography, and even that is based entirely on technology and other people doing all the hard bits for me.
And the hard bits doing all the other people.
I've learned that any future kids I have might be in trouble. I resent even being made to look after grass, and that's as little work as plants can require of you without letting you fall unconscious and growing a pod person.
Second, and most importantly, I've learned that I committed the cardinal error of the mastermind under attack from plucky little enemies: refusing to commit sufficient resources to destroying the only remaining threat. I didn't bring the big machines to fight this battle because I thought it too small to bother with, and now here I am, weeks later, having spent hours on my knees in front of a relentless enemy.
No more! I have sent words to the metalsmiths of Flymo to fashion me a chariot of whirling death powered by the liquid corpses of ancient plants, while I drink the liquid corpses of more recent plants. The miniscule British summer is already near over, and the seasons will shift in my favor once more. I'm bringing superior technology to bear, AND I know winter is coming. I'm going to double-Stark these motherpollinators.
For another victory over plants, enjoy the Truth About Tequila.
Read propaganda in the battle with botany in 10 Creepy Plants That Shouldn't Exist, or replace your garden with 6 Mind-Blowing Things People Built in Their Backyard.