Unbalanced: Plastic garden

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

Carol Schaal

The gardener down the street has switched plants this year. Instead of wooden flowers stuck in the stone-covered border along the front of the house, she’s now displaying plastic ones.

It would be a nice summer presentation if they were real. Those yellow petals with red centers are eye-catching. And they sure make a better arrangement than the burry bramble bushes along my front porch. Still, those flowers look odd because they are too perfect, too symmetrical, too sterile. No movement.

The plastic flowers fit with her yard, however, which always looks neater than anyone else’s along the street. In late fall, not a leaf can be seen. Almost daily, she’ll go out and pick up those audacious leaves that might have avoided the rake. She’ll sweep the driveway. She’ll even sweep the pavement in front of her house. She makes the rest of us homeowners feel like slackers.

A frail woman who looks to be in her 90s, she works hard at keeping unruly nature at bay. She’s probably happy with her oh-so-neat yard and new yellow plastic flowers. I understand my neighbor’s desire for an attractive display. That’s why I crawl out of bed at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, avoiding the heat of high noon while I fight the weeds which threaten to take over my real flower garden.

I’m well aware that this sweaty, buggy task is essentially a loser’s game which even plastic flowers can’t defeat. But I figure it’s best to go down fighting, to welcome the battle with this green chaos of imperfection. In fact, a recent survey said gardening is one of those things that makes people happy.

I’m not sure how happy I am with the bug bites and scratches and muscle aches, but the yearly appearance of my flowering perennials — except for a few stupid hydrangea bushes, which have given up the ghost — does make me smile. Those living, breathing plants tell me spring has arrived, the earth is fertile and I can claim a small part of its natural beauty.

Plastic flowers don’t do that.

Apparently, though, my neighbor prefers their regimented stance over uncontrolled flora. But a few months ago, her gaunt husband, who usually joined her in the clean sweep, died. Nature must have its way.

Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at schaal.2@nd.edu.