Sunday, October 17, 2010

The UnFrightened Gardener

Of all things, it was the November, 2010 Reader's Digest that triggered my thoughts for this blog.  An article written by Lenore Skenazy, The Petrified Woman! is in the issue.  Skenazy's article was a rant on what she termed "Watch Out! mania" by a media warning us continually about the dangers of  everything from consuming onion dip to riding elevators to thunderstorms.  Since I have an ongoing low tolerance to similar nanny-state actions that affect my gardening practices, it tripped my own similar frustrations.

For starters, every day I open up my att.mail home page that briefly lists the weather high's and lows and other weather data for Manhattan, Kansas.  Nowadays, it seems like there's always a severe weather warning out, for heat, cold, ice storms, thunderstorms, wind, you name it, seems like it whatever it is, it's  "severe."  I've seen severe weather alerts listed for bright clear windless days when the air temperature was going to reach 87F.  C'mon, I know it's Kansas, but we do get some normal days, and global warming just hasn't advanced enough to make that much difference yet.  I promise that if it's hot out I'll drink more water and seek shade more often without being warned.  And there is a similar panic epidemic among television weather people.  I've seen television programming interrupted more and more here, for everything from a misty rain shower to storm clouds that pass over without precipitation.  When we had a real tornado in Manhattan a few years back, we had over a half-hour warning and by the non-stop coverage you'd have thought Satan was coming in on a black horse.  Really, the best indication I have that the weather is really bad is that right at the moment that I'm most interested in hearing what's coming at us, the satellite reception always goes out.  That's the time to batten down the hatches.

Look at the warning label above. "Rotating blades cut off arms and legs." Really?  And just how do you remove blades from children so you can carry them safely, by the way?  As a gardener, I'm sick and tired of the government bureaucrats ruling my life.  Riding lawnmowers have become impossible to use since they are rigged to shut off every time you get off them.  I can't move a hose or a tree limb or empty the grass catchers without having to restart the lawnmower or at least having to set the parking brake and turn off the mowing deck.  For god's sake, I mowed my father's lawn when I was 8 years old and I still have both hands, both feet, and ten fingers and toes on them. Maybe I just have more common sense than most kids, but I never stuck my hands into the mowing deck without shutting off the mower, nor did I ever stand in front of the mower and leave it in gear and running. 

How many readers mow without ever backing up to catch a little tuft of grass you just missed?  You can't back up a riding mower anymore because it will shut itself off unless you first push a button that says, "hey, I'm awake and I've looked all around and I'm not going to back over the two-year-old's cute chubby little feet."  I'm surprised you don't have to push it twice while some electronic message shouts "Are you sure?"  The last time I used a push mower, if you weren't gripping the handles with a death grip, it would trip the stop bar and shut it off, and my hands got cramps after mowing a few minutes. So of course, since I don't want to restart mowers every 10 minutes to empty the bags or move the hose, I rigged it to bypass the sensors so that it would stay running but stationary while I moved a hose.  That in itself wouldn't be so irritating if I didn't know that I paid more for the mower to have the "idiot safeties" on it in the first place.  And the warnings in the equipment manuals!  "Don't try to mow slopes exceeding vertical."  "Don't mow over large boulders."  "Avoid trying to cut off full grown trees with this mower." 

Just this summer, I learned that all those years I've been drinking out of garden hoses, I was placing my life at dire risk. Really? Walmart had three different hoses labeled "safe for drinking" this year that were made of antibacterial rubber or some other such artifical concoction.  Walmart! What makes any marketing genius think that I wouldn't be more worried about the chemicals keeping the vinyl sterile than I am about the bacteria growing in the hose?  And anyway, what is more satisfying on a hot summer day than that cool clean vinyl taste coming out of the hose?

When was the last time you bought a new hoe or axe and didn't find it as dull as a spoon?  The issue here is that most young gardeners don't know anymore that hoes are supposed to be sharp so we can cut off weeds at the surface, not hack away at the dirt.  What's that? I think just heard several of you get up to run out and sharpen your hoes.  Heck, I'm surprised they allow Felco pruners to be sharp these days. 

Soon there will be a government agency whose sole purpose is to inspect our lawn mowers to make sure they're as unfunctional as possible and whose agents come around to dull our hoes if there's a possibility they might cut butter.  There will be a special SWAT team tasked to search out foxgloves and hot peppers in our gardens with the use of specially trained dogs.  At some point, if this keeps up, I'm sure that any plant capable of producing allergens or poisons or irritant sap, or thorns capable of scratching will be banned from our gardens by government decree.  Let's see, that'll leave us with spireas, mums, and maybe, if we're lucky, a strawberry or two.  I'm going to go out on a limb and state right now that they can have my mums and spireas too, but if they mess with my strawberries, that's the last straw.


  1. Amen! It's getting beyond ridiculous these days. You would think we've become the country of slathering idiots. It's amazing I survived a recent trip to Europe where there were no warning signs and staircases didn't have safety handrails. You're hitting on one of my pet peeves here. By the way, I really enjoy all your garden musings. Keep it up.

  2. Are you still het up (as they say down here) about the m--s? I read your guest post over at Garden Rant -- I agree. I don't like them either. I spent the weekend reading the directions on an evil little brushcutter attachment for the gas-powered trimmer. I think my next move will be to disable the huge handle-thingy they make you put on there when you convert from string to a real blade. Carry on, Professor!

  3. Yeah, I'm there with you on the rampant fear-ism in our country. My ultimate ridiculosity was reading the notice pasted on a new washing machine years ago, that warned me not to pour gasoline into it. Um, hello. Who would do that?

    As for the lawnmower, I can't help you there, because I gave mine up years ago when I finished killing the last of the lawn. On purpose, I mean.

    Years ago (when I still watched tv) I saw a hilarious weather report on the Portland (Oregon) main news channel. A 'severe' cold front (they alway refer to them as something fearsomely arctic, like 'Siberian Express' was predicted to arrive one evening, and they actually had a team of TWO reporters out ......... somewhere outside ....... just waiting for it to arrive, I guess. They stood there with their little puffy winter news reporter coats on, holding their big dorky microphones, and looked around anxiously for a while. Then they did a little commentary:
    "Well, Darla, it should be here any time now."
    "Yes, Bob, it will be coming in soon."
    They stood there a while longer, and tried again,
    "This cold front is supposed to break all the records, Bob."
    "Yes, and it should be coming in, any time now......."
    Eventually even they realized it was stupid to be standing around outside waiting for an invisible change in air temperature, and mercifully, switched back to the studio newscast.

    Did it really say, "Don't try to mow slopes exceeding vertical"????

  4. Watch it's just aching to cut your legs off.

    Great story Li'l Ned. A perfect example of where 24 hour news hasn't improved civilization. Another of my pet peeves...we seem to hear about every major murder or robbery these days anywhere across the country...keeps us bombarded.

    Maybe I should change the name of Garden Musings to "The Peeved Gardener."

  5. Amen to all the above! I echo your sentiments entirely!
    I'm so sick of all the warnings and precautions, especially after growing up in the mountains just south of Yosemite National Park. We had all four seasons, chores, 3 channels on our TV on a clear day, horses, dogs and small-town ways.
    The other day, I actually surprised myself and hauled and stacked 1/4 cord of firewood! Not bad for an old lady (but my tired bones are still paying for it).
    Great article - I'm so glad you posted it!
    Love your blog. You're doing a great job :)
    God Bless!

  6. Boy, do I agree with your irritations. My only comment about the machinery warnings, though, is that I don't think they necessarily originate with the government - I think most of them come from corporate lawyers after the company has been sued (successfully) by some dimwit with a money-hungry lawyer.

    As far as the chemicals in hoses...and everything else? How stupid can we (collectively) be to allow this stuff? It's almost like most of us think we're not biological organisms any more. (Come to think of it, with all the chemicals we use, maybe we're not?!)

  7. I use a 50 year old Mckissic chipper shredder which my dear husband keeps running for me with baling wire and spit. It's a dandy machine and capable of ripping my arm off. Comes w/no warnings about sticking your head or other parts down the chute when the motor is running and the blades are turning. They don't even tell you that the motor gets hot after it's run for awhile.

    I love to run the thing and turn the pile of garden leavings into shreds that break down fast. Positively counter cultural that I get to do it w/o benefit of large red signs that say "dangerous" or "do not stick your nose into the chute while running" ... makes me feel like I have a brain and can think for myself.


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