Sunday, July 17, 2011

You're about to mutate: The path is fraught with peril

Freelance writer Dulcy Mahar passed away July 2 after a long battle with cancer.  She had written a column every week for the Homes & Gardens of the Northwest section of The Oregonian since the first issue in 1997.  For several years before that, she had a garden column in the Living section of the newspaper.

Every week, I looked forward to her column.  I would read it first before going through the rest of the paper.  The stories of her pets, garden helper dubbed "Doug The Wonder Boy", (later to be upgraded to "Doug The Wonder Guy" on his 40th birthday), and overall gardening successes and failures never failed to entertain.

The paper is now running past columns as a tribute.  The one they ran in today's paper is one of my favorites.  It's a perfect example of her writing style and personality, which thousands of readers grew to love.

For your reading pleasure:

You're about to mutate:  The path is fraught with peril

So you're headed down the garden path. You thought you'd start a garden this year -- a real garden, not just a patch of grass, a clump of rhodies and a wedge of deck.

The garden path may seem benign, but beware, dear reader, it is fraught with peril. And it is the duty of a responsible garden writer to alert you to the pitfalls ahead.

Appearance will be first to go. The uniform is baggy pants, baggy T-shirt, baggy (also faded) flannel outer shirt, rubber boots and aged straw hat. Oh, the gardener rampant is a lovely sight to behold.

Say goodbye to long fingernails. In fact, say goodbye to clean fingernails. Save money on Chanel. No amount of perfume will overcome the scent of Humus No. 5. Dogs will love you.

Conversation goes next.

Watch yourself become boring, boring, boring as you bring up powdery mildew, drip irrigation and potassium at dinner parties.

Fight it all you want, but words and phrases such as deadheading, damping off, heeling in, hardening off, leaching, layering, rootstock and runners will come tripping off your tongue.

It won't be long before that dreaded, snobbish, insufferable Latin starts to creep in. Before you know it, you'll forget there ever was such a thing as a dogwood. It'll be a Cornus kousa, if you please.

Eventually there will be personality changes.

Watch as a heretofore unimagined streak of viciousness surfaces. It happens to the gentlest of us when we see our first crop of seedlings decimated by the evil slug empire. You will become a stomper, smasher, salter, zapper and/or sprayer overnight.

You will plumb depths of hypocrisy you did not know you possessed as you dump killer chemicals on your weeds, all the while looking furtively over your shoulder at your environmentalist neighbors.

Expect compulsive behavior. By night, you will lie awake thinking of how to restyle your yard. By day, you will go through strange rites of draping your hoses around in odd patterns.

Watch your discipline crumble. You'll read books and make careful plant lists. Then, at the first spring visit to a nursery, you'll pile up three wagonloads of plants with names you'd never heard of.

You will become abusive, forcing your spouse or children to hold the flashlight so you can get those last plants in the ground after the sun has gone down. As for dinner, your motto will be "let them eat cake."

You will become a fickle lover, waxing lyrical over the fragile fritillaries and delicate dogtooth violets of spring. By late summer, you will have succumbed to the floozy charms of outrageously orange and red mophead dahlias.

While Congress debates tax cuts, you will fret endlessly over such things as how to pronounce clematis (Klem-atis or klem-Mah-tis); whether to stick with "Early Girl" tomatoes or try a new variety; whether to prune roses in November or February.

Sooner or later, you will become obsessed with compost, perhaps going so far as to trade recipes or sources. Ultimately, you will hit bottom, or at least the bottom of the garden path.

That's when you start looking in the want ads for manure. 

If you're interested in reading more of her columns, you can go hereYou will also find a video interview with Dulcy that includes footage of her garden, as well as reader tributes, at the same link.

Next Saturday, her friends and family will be opening her garden to the public, free of charge.  At the event, they will give the public an opportunity to donate to Dulcy's favorite charities, the Oregon Humane Society and the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon.  I put it on the calendar.  Cross your fingers for clear skies.


  1. Oh wow, thanks for sharing. I have never heard of Dulcy Mahar before and I know now that I have been missing out. She was bang-on with her gardening warning. All of those fit for sure.

  2. Thanks for sharing! That was great. The folks in Oregon were lucky to have a garden writer that "gets it" (here the garden columnist mostly writes about turf grass, ho hum) -- and the fashion columnist did a whole article on what not to wear if you are over 50 -- capris along with athletic shoes and straw garden hat immediately label you as granny -- well I guess you can just say hello granny to me!

  3. Dulcy was a great writer and speaker too - I was fortunate you see her several times her in Eugene - including four months ago - she was funny and learned and charming and bright - she'll be missed.


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