Kathleen Groll Connolly

Conversational Skills for the Organic Gardener

By Kathleen Groll Connolly

I wish someone would teach a class on conversational skills for the organic gardener. You can never tell how strangers will react to the “O” word.

Last night a party hostess introduced me to her guests, Sheila and Larry. In her effusive style, the hostess said, "Kathy’s an orgaaaanic gardener." She nodded deeply, with approval.

I wasn’t prepared when Larry, who turned out to be a member of the Mystical Order of Lawn Worshippers, chomped onto my introduction faster than a grub on grass roots in late spring.

"What do you know about lawns?" he asked with such energy I almost jumped back. Had this subject been on his mind all night?

I said, “Well, I’ve given up most of my lawn. I’ve got a meadow and wildflowers.”

Sheila tried to stay calm, but had to ask, “What do your neighbors say?”  

Before I could answer, Larry seized the moment. "I tried those organic fertilizers last year and I got lousy results," he said. His eyes grew large. He leaned forward with his wine glass.

My hostess-with-the-mostest had turned me over to the enemy with no warning. I was being asked to make a political stand on organic lawn care before I'd gotten my first drink. I ventured tentatively, "You know that it takes about three years to transition your lawn off conventional methods?"

He leaned back. "No, I didn't know that. Why don't they tell you that?"

I wasn't sure I could defend the $8.25 per hour retail help at his garden center on this matter. "I guess they don't know," I said. Whoever ‘they’ are, added the voice inside my head.

"It doesn't matter, anyway," he continued. "I quit that stuff after a year. It was ruining my lawn."

"Yes, we were starting to get crab grass and dandelions," his wife affirmed.

The zealot in me wanted to hold forth. The idealist in me wanted to be helpful. The realist in me knew that these people felt entitled to green velvet beneath their Merrills, damn the excess nitrogen in the wetlands. My inner idealist won. I started to explain the three-year transition program. Larry got bored and excused himself. Sheila got distracted. My glass of wine finally arrived. 

But reports of my gardening had gotten around. Over hors d’oeuvres, a woman said she tried to “go organic” but the bugs were so bad that she finally got out the spray bomb.

“What were the bugs eating?” I asked.

“Oh, there wasn’t really any damage. Just a lot of bugs,” she said. “So I figured it was just a matter of time. I can’t stand bugs.”

Later, a woman who grew vegetables in a container garden told me, “I used organic potting soil this year but my tomatoes were all funny on the bottom. What is that?”

It was likely to be blossom end rot, I told her, which is related to calcium deficiency. "A little bit of bone meal would help," I offered.

"See, I knew I should have used Miracle Gro. Oh, well, there’s always next year."

Then there was the man who told me, "I tried organic gardening but I got too many worms. Every time I put my shovel in the ground there were worms. Worms attract grubs."

I was about to bring him up-to-date on the food chain, but our hostess called for dinner.

There’s an old saying that you should never discuss religion or politics at a party. I’d add that if you decide to discuss organic gardening, be prepared. There is something about the “O” word that brings out emotions. Maybe the public needs a competition called X-Gardens or a reality show called Seedling Survivor. Or maybe I need a seminar on conversational skills for the organic gardener.

In the meantime, I have started fantasizing about being introduced at parties as an actuarial. 

Published in the Winter 2007 edition of The Natural Farmer.

 

Kathleen Groll Cononolly