The Lawnmower Man


Yellow is my favorite color of flowers. Especially sunflowers, roses, and tulips. After Dad died, I wanted to plant some yellow roses in my front flower bed. "The Yellow Rose of Texas" always reminded me of him. So, on a trip to Tyler, Texas, to see friends, I bought a flourishing yellow rose bush to plant in memoriam. It made it a few years before going to that big Garden in the Sky. I replaced it with a sturdy concrete stepping stone that had a rose etched on it.

When I turned 45, I decided I was at the age where I needed to wear floppy gardening hats and make a serious attempt to grow things other than stray hairs on my chin, weeds, and my waistline. Mom gave me a yellow knockout rosebush for my birthday. Knockout roses – the roses of the botanical world that are resistant to disease and hard to kill, like roaches.

After two years, it hadn't grown an inch.

Of course, the spot where the knockout rose didn't grow is also where the lantana died, as well as several other plants. It's the Dead Zone. All other places in the yard seem fine. There must be a humongous worm or something worse living in the Dead Zone that sucks the life out of living things. I make it a point to never stand on that spot.

We once had an apple tree in the middle of the front yard. Flash and I used to celebrate our anniversary by using the traditional gift list. Our fifth year of marriage, the suggested present was "wood or fruit;" so I gave him an apple tree. I hid it around the corner of the house, made Flash hide his eyes, and dragged it to the front yard to surprise him.

That tree made it 15 years. A few years ago, on Christmas morning, we had finished opening gifts and were heading out the door to Mom's for dinner.  There, lying on the ground, was our anniversary tree, with its roots now gazing toward the heavens.

"Oh no! Flash, what if it's symbolic? It's like our love fern,” I exclaimed as Flash rolled his eyes at the How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days reference. It was a Charlie Brown moment, and I sadly said, "I got a rock."

But Mexican heather is my salvation. No matter what - subhuman temperatures, floods galore, drought, skin-melting heat - it survives. I’m thinking of uprooting everything, including the grass, and planting more heather. No more mowing; we’ll trim it back when it turns brown after a hard freeze, should that ever occur in this region, and it will rise again. 

To Flash, the color brown and the lack of leaves equates to death. I’m worried that if I’m out in the sun too long and my hair starts thinning, he’ll rush off to the funeral home to start picking out a casket.

For many years, he declared the heather dead on the scene when he saw its brown dried-out leaves.

“It’s dead,” he said with finality. Suddenly he was the medical examiner of the plant world.

“It’s not dead. It comes back every year, like Santa Claus.”

“It looks dead.”

“It looks dead, but trust me, it’s alive.”

The same conversation every winter for 15 years.

In addition, I was a plant advocate fighting for the esperanzas’ right to live.

“I need to dig up those sticks on the side of the house,” the voice of death said.

“What sticks?”

“You know, those things on the side of the house that used to have yellow flowers.”

“Those sticks are the esperanzas.”

“I guess...whatever they’re called.”

“Flash, they come back every year. It’s winter right now; they’ll grow as tall as the house and be ablaze with yellow in a couple of months.”

He wanted to murder the plant whose name means “hope.” Clearly a sign of his soul’s condition.

Then came the Texas Plant Massacre of 2010. It was awful. Leafshed was everywhere. There were blank spaces throughout the yard. A killer was lurking among us.

“Flash! What happened to the shrubs out front?”

“What shrubs?”

“The only shrubs between the sidewalk and the street. What do you mean, ‘What shrubs’? There were five of them there!”

“Show me.”

We went out front and I pointed to the strip of grass that once housed my dwarf bottlebrushes.

“Oh. Those were shrubs? I thought they were weeds; I mowed them. They never grew anyway. They were just green; I didn’t even see them.” Rationalizations galore for the crime at hand.

All those months of encouraging the little plants to grow amounted to nothing.

A couple of weeks later, when watering the lawn, I noticed a couple of azalea plants were missing along one side of the house.

Just assume the same conversation ensued.

“They were there for two years and never grew. I didn’t see them.”

Two more plants cut down in the prime of life.

“Flash! Do you wear your glasses when you mow?”


“Well, you need to start. By the time you’re 80, there won’t be anything left in the yard.”

It was then we drew up a contract stating we would buy only large plants for the yard; anything shorter than six feet wasn’t safe with the far-sighted lawn man.

After a lengthy period of my mourning, Flash decided we needed another tree in the front yard to replace the fallen one from years before. He brought home a “fruit salad” tree, a variety that bears more than one type of fruit. Because of our agreement, I expected a middle-sized tree. You know, maybe about 10 feet tall.

When Flash unloaded it in our driveway, I asked, “Where’s the rest of it?” I knew he hadn’t been near a lawnmower that day, so the tree should still have been intact.

“It will be fine, but I did think it would be taller than this.” Mr. Landscaper hadn’t accounted for the fact that we don’t plant trees on the ground; we plant them in the ground. By the time it was in the hole, it was shorter than I, and that’s pretty short.

It’s been a year and, I swear, it hasn’t grown an inch. In the winter, I was the naysayer. 

“I think your tree is dead.”

“It’s not dead,” said the husband who had always been ready to pull the sheet over the heads of Heather and Esperanza.

“It looks dead.”

“I know it looks dead, but trust me, it’s alive.” This from the man who was ready to prune our prickly pear cactus with a Weed Eater until I conducted an intervention.

I scratched the tree’s bark, but saw no green. I gave a mini-lecture on the importance of watering a new tree, etc.

But just to make me look bad, that little tree lived. Not only did it live, it has fruit on it every spring. Lots of little plums and nectarines. And unlike the deceased apple tree’s fruit, they taste good.

So what it lacks in stature, it makes up for in productivity and a will to survive. Not bad attributes for any of us under 5’5”.