93 days to achieve garden perfection

The annual garden tour is closer than it seems. Good thing pride works as fertilizer.

Rachel Denny Clow/AP

I have exactly 93 days to achieve garden perfection. The seconds are slipping away fast, and every day the deadline looms larger in my imagination.

Flattery got me into this. A friend heaped such extravagant praise on my garden that I was too weak to resist her request to open it up for a charity garden tour. The ego gratification lasted just long enough for her to flash a triumphant smile and escape down the driveway. After she left, I did the math. When I subtracted time for sleep, work, bad weather, volunteer commitments and the rest of life's minutiae, 93 days magically morphed into about 93 minutes.

There are six or seven other gardens on this tour, and that only adds to the pressure. The owners of those places don't have weedy patches like mine because they have well-thought-out collections of low-maintenance plants or employ paid garden helpers. At least one of the garden owners belongs to an informal group of organic gardeners/food foragers. She might actually get rid of her weeds by eating them.

The weather isn't helping. The mild winter has already brought out the spring flowers almost a month ahead of schedule. If the warm weather continues at this rate, the asters and chrysanthemums will be in bloom by the first day of summer.

I can't worry about that because I am already worried about cutting back every plant on the property, mulching every piece of bare earth, edging every bed, filling the bare spots, and weeding ceaselessly. The porch railing needs a coat of paint. The ornamental wishing well in the back, beloved by the previous owner of my house, is too decrepit now to be billed as an artistic ruin and too large to demolish by myself. I am going to have to throw myself on the mercy of some of my brawny neighbors. Bribes may be necessary.

Any day now, the tour's chairwoman will call to arrange a preliminary garden inspection. The garden cleanup/face-lift is just getting started, and on gray days my quarter acre still looks as if it should be a part of the perpetually decaying estate of the fictional Addams Family.

The last time I participated in a garden tour was five years ago. When the woman in charge did her walk-through several months before the event, she said, "Well, this is quite the cottage garden, isn't it?" What she really meant was, "I put this mess on my garden tour and now I will never live it down." The garden is much improved since then, but an untimely inspection might still get it booted off the tour.

Since I am clearly anxious about the whole thing, you might think a rejection would be a relief. However, I live in suburbia and pride takes precedence. Nothing would be more satisfying than to pull off an artistic coup that would topple the pretensions of my across-town rival, a gardener with an expensive landscape crew and a perfect manicure. Pride, combined with desperation, makes wonderful fertilizer.

But right now the minutes are passing and the weeds are growing. There is only one way to save my back and my aspirations. Before the inspection, I will find some of those local food foragers and invite them over. My weeds will be salad, and my garden will be ready for its close-up.

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