Saturday, June 13, 2009

Growth of a small honeydo

Last week, Karen’s voice drifted into the house, “Mark, can you help me with something for five minutes?”

Butler, who sleeps with his workboots laced up, was already out the door singing, “Whistle while you work.” Bagman’s spread-eagled moan came from under a pillow. I was somewhere in between, as usual.

It was small task. She was trimming out some dead branches in the Azalea bushes in a six by three bed near the heat pumps on the side of the house where my neighbor Steve had recently installed a French drain. Some of the branches were too thick for her to cut with the long handled clipper thing. I enjoyed exhibiting my muscles and cutting the bigger branches.

We also cut out the vine-like weeds. She had to point them out because I still can’t figure out what defines a weed from a plant. What makes one variety of green leafy life good and another bad? Seems like a form of discrimination, but I hack away when told.

It wasn’t a five minute job but still only 30 minutes or so and we were done. Except…

Now two of the Azaleas looked really scrawny and sick, so Karen asked, “Would you like to dig that one out completely?”

Getting a bit smart-assed about it, I answered, “If you want me to dig it out, I certainly will but don’t ask me if I would LIKE to do it.”

So the five minute clip was starting to grow and I was getting twinges of premonition. I fetched the shovel and the red-chopper-thingy. I know it has a name…adz?...but it has a tiny axe-like shape on one side of the business end and a kind of hoe-on-steroids shape on the other. And it’s not really red anymore either since it has chopped a lot of roots in the past. I chop at some more, work up a sweat and eventually pull out first one…then, of course, two…of the dying azaleas.

I mop my brow (not with an actual mop, of course) and my heart sinks when I glance at Karen and see that look that says, “I wonder if I dare to ask him something more?”

“Would you mind,” she says – avoiding using the word “like” – if we took out the other two azaleas and planted all new bushes in here. I grunt my assent. The sun is getting higher and I fetch a headband because sweat is now pouring into my eyes. Digging up healthy azaleas is considerably harder than dead ones. Chop, dig, chop, dig, pull, chop, dig, pry, pull, chop, pull…The big azalea, with complete root system, is too heavy to put in the wheelbarrow so I drag it to the road while Karen cheers me on with words such as, “Be careful not to hurt the grass!”

I’m still hoping that this five minute…now three hour task…has an end point to it. Of course, I need to turn the soil now so she can plant something new. The good news is that the soil is only three inches deep. The bad news is that underneath it is all clay and – “Don’t you think we need to get rid of all that clay?”

I resist answering, “I didn’t think we needed to trim dead branches in the beginning.” Instead I fetch the wheelbarrow and start shoveling heavy, damp clay, and wheeling it down to the artificial pond (which looks like a real pond)…except it is deep and drops off fast. I dump clay from the bank in big wheelbarrow fulls. I lose count after 294. Somewhere around the 600th load, I lose my grip and the wheelbarrow rolls down the bank and into the pond. I hold one handle for dear life and follow it in, sliding up to my clavicles in mud, clay, and tepid pond scum.

There are alligators…I’ve posted pictures…but I never worry about them like my neighbors do. Except when walking Sally. They have big mouths but small brains (sort of like myself when I blurt out things at work). Alligators see moving objects and make only one decision…small enough to eat, or big enough to run from. They leave me alone while I struggle to retrieve the wheelbarrow and, in the process, decide the hole is big enough and I’m done for the day.

The worst is over. All that remains is to put in new dirt so Karen can plant. Thankfully, thunderstorms arrive and I have an excuse to go back inside although by now I’ve forgotten what I was doing before I went out for five minutes to clip a couple of branches. But I’m almost done and can finish up early on Sunday.


Sunday morning, we go outside and find that all of the rain from the thunderstorm is now sitting in the hole. I have successfully created a new artificial pond. Even my neighbor, Steve, is standing there admiring it. He cheers me on with words such as, “Looks like you have a real problem there.”

We stand around, scratching our heads, and staring at 600 wheelbarrows full of brown water where clay used to be. We finally figure that before we decided to clip a couple of branches, the azalea roots had been drinking much of the water and the clay base had been high enough so gravity made the rest run off into the yard.

The solution now seems to be to fill at least half the hole back up with clay…I may even need to buy some since I’ve successfully thrown on the free stuff in the pond. Then I will have to dig a trench ten feet out and connect it to Steve’s recently installed French drain.

“While you’re doing that,” Karen suggests, “would you like to connect the downspouts from our gutters?”

“I’d love to,” I answer. “But first there are two or three dead branches I should cut from the azalea over near the storage shed.”


  1. Oh my stars! That is TOO funny! What impresses me is that after all of these years, Karen is STILL adept at tricking with the "five minute" line! That girl ought to be giving lessons!

    Gland the alligators aren't too bright and you are still here to tell the tale!

  2. Yep! What Audrey said.....:D

  3. OMG that really did have me chuckling....
    I so wish there were photos of you with the headband ...and you sliding into the alligator infested pond ...trying to save the wheelbarrow, but I will just have to make up those images in my mind!

  4. Well, you got my day off to a good start! And being one who always has a smart ass reply/remark/answer/observation, I could definitely relate as my head was quickly filled to overflowing with images of dirty water, alligators and clippers and honeydo lists!

  5. Oh my gosh - I read this one aloud to my husband. So true to life...and yardwork and marriage, "Would you like to..."


    What about turning the new pond into a real pond - you could get those monster fish and everything!

  6. Ah, the joys of home ownership. Ah, the joys of married life. Ah, the joys of azaleas. Ah, the joys of ...

    You should have sent Bagman out to do it.

    And now you have the joy of seeing how beautiful your efforts have made your home and the neighborhood. As a representative of the rest of humanity, well done.

  7. Wonderful reading... well worth the "five minutes" needed to read it all! :-)

  8. Wow, you are a keeper, and what an experience. Glad you escaped the gators. So Bagman slept through this? What was Butler doing?

  9. Terrific!! While your at it, there are a few weeds that need pulling at my house. ;D

    Fun reading your misadventure ;D;D


  10. This is just hilarious Mark. First time I've laughed in days.

    And great medicine for me.

  11. Dude, you never fall for the 5 minute line. How have you not learned that by now? It's no different than when we promise sexual favors in exchange for something....we will never follow through but we know that the mere idea that we might will get you boys moving!!!!

  12. Love this story!
    I disagree slightly with Jules. We may follow through on the sexual favors...depending on how the project turns out:)

  13. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! I should come here, to this place, your place; more often. Very funny, you.

  14. Me cut grass so it look pretty. That all my yard get. Me like to play too much, and not in dirt. Me put expensive artificial flowers in clay pots when seasons change. Me fool even hummingbirds.

    Yard work conspiracy. Me no like.

  15. There's a five minute line we can use on husbands??! Why didn't I figure that one out when I was still training mine in?

    Glad the alligators weren't biting, Sirs!