What the well-dressed gardener wears to pull weeds

Ah, summer in Florida! The sun shines bright this early morning. Still dressed in my nightgown and robe, I go out to collect the morning paper while coffee brews. I wander slowly down the driveway, breathing in the scent of magnolia and jasmine, and watch a fluttering butterfly perch lightly on the salvia. As I pause to take it all in, I think about last night – an evening of ballroom dancing.

I mentally move again to rhythmic music and do a little cha-cha swirl as I stoop to pick up the paper, looking around to be sure neighbors are still behind closed doors.

I picture myself again in my black skirt, black blouse, pearl necklace, and earrings to match. I can almost feel the earrings, dangling and touching my neck ever so gently. Actually, I think I do feel those earrings. Oh, yes, they're still there, still dangling. It was a long night, and I was very tired when I went to bed.

As I bend to pick up the paper, I admire the sunshine mimosa, or sensitive plant, my newly planted ground cover. I'm not a gardener at heart, but I do like things to look neat, and the mimosa is a solid blanket of bright green with circles of pink puffs. It looks a little like an antique quilt, spread carefully over the corner of the yard.

In years past, the yard was a hodgepodge of overgrown plantings, vigorous weeds (at least they were green), and citrus planted randomly wherever they fit in. No plan; no order. Definitely not neat.

Then my son moved in for a couple years between jobs, and it was his idea to redo the yard. He researched, consulted nurseries, and finally drew up a plan that favored native Florida plants. I was the consultant to keep things orderly. Then he and a friend worked long and hard digging up the old plants and putting in the new. The yard was transformed into a woodsy Florida hideaway instead of just one more typical yard.

My son moved away. Then it was all up to me. The yard looked great, except for this one area – the one I'm sitting in right now.

I'd decided to try the mimosa ground cover and, with the help of a friend, planted it, watered it, and hovered over it. It became another child – one to be nurtured.

Standing outdoors, I pause once more and take a loving look before going back inside.

Then, out of the corner of my eye I spot a tall, spiraling weed, growing right in the middle of the ground cover. It seems to grow as I watch it. "What nerve!" I think.

I reach over and pull it out. I rip it up by the roots and toss it onto the driveway. I spot another about a foot away. Then another – and yet another. Suddenly, it seems the whole patch is alive with these intruders. How could these tall, vigorous weeds appear overnight?

There is no time to waste, I decide. My mimosa needs help, and it needs it now.

I plop myself down in the middle of the flower bed – nightgown, housecoat, and all – and proceed to pull them out, one by one. As I extract each one, I fling it off onto the driveway.

I hardly notice as the sun rises higher and morning traffic begins to roll down the street. I am deep into mimosa rescue when a minivan drives up beside me on the wrong side of the road and screeches to a stop. An attractive young woman leans out the window, shaking her head in disbelief.

"Mrs. Sartor," she scolds, "what are you doing, sitting out here in the middle of a bunch of flowers and still in your nightgown?"

She looks a little closer, squints her eyes against the now-bright sun, "And I don't believe it," she says. "You're wearing pearl earrings!" She is one of my former high school students, now a grown woman with a family.

Traffic is piling up. Someone honks a horn. Every car has a head leaning out to see what's the matter. Is this woman OK?

I pull myself up, stand tall, and wave my trowel at the audience. "See," I say, "I'm OK. Really." I walk over to the driveway and do another little cha-cha swirl to reassure them and my former student.

Then, as they drive off, I finally look at what I can see of myself – my dirty robe, my raggedy nightgown, my grimy fingernails. I know my hair is a mess, too. But who cares?

It just so happens that sometimes you have to get down and dirty in order to keep things neat.

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