Oops! Bob's Little Gardening Mistakes. Notably the Fabulous Fruit Cocktail Tree

April 7, 2016

In case you haven't noticed, beleaguered by technical challenges you don't, trust me, want to hear about, your humble narrator has been shamelessly plugging Bobs of Yore into this space. This one is an elderly piece about things I shouldn't have planted. To

update , I will tell you that this year I plan to cut down the Fabulous Fruit Cocktail Tree altogether. It has for years suffered from the fungal blight that has afflicted all our fruit trees because of the cedar trees my husband planted all over our yard.

     And as for my roses, all except the Knockout on the south side have bitten the dust, shaded out by dogwood and redbud trees my husband planted close to the house. The upside is that now the porch is shady enough that we can sit on it on summer mornings.

     I have still got the husband though horticulturally it has been touch and go.

     This spring, a young tree in my front yard for the first time festooned itself with lovely purple blossoms. When I planted it, the tree was no more than a stick, spindly bare roots dangling like frayed threads from a garment it was high time to throw away. Now it’s as tall as I am. Every day, as I watch it raise its graceful new branches bravely toward the sun, I say to myself:  “You moron. What were you thinking?


That tree is one of my many gardening mistakes, and looking at it is a daily caution against the deadly sin of pride. Every time I walk past it, I am reminded that  I am a halfwit and should not be allowed out alone, much less given access to credit cards and telephones at the same time.

The tree was advertised as The Amazing Fruit Cocktail Tree. It is supposed to bear five different kinds of fruit. For a time, all the mail-order catalogs were hawking it and I was foolishly intrigued by the idea. Still, I managed to resist until, finally, a cut-rate catalog offered the tree for cheap. I bit.

You gets what you pays for, and what I got was a dead twig, which, naively, I planted and hovered maternally over for months. Any minute now, I thought, it would go “pop!” and start throwing mixed fruit at me. But it just sat there and rotted, and finally I took issue with the company.

After more than a year, two replacements,  and a letter to the Better Business Bureau, the company sent me a living twig. But by this time I hated the tree, the company, and myself for my execrable taste in buying into the monstrous idea in the first place.

What kind of idiot would believe in a fruit cocktail tree? Isn’t it the same sort of concept as the cigarette trees in the old song, or the money tree my parents used to refer to so sarcastically whenever I wanted some trifling thing like a Suzy Homemaker Easy-Bake Oven or a trip to Europe?

In fact, most mail order is probably a gardening mistake. The nurseries snare us by sending us those glossy catalogs crammed with full-color pictures of flowers in January, when we are holed up in our greasy kitchens, oppressed by the cold and the dark, feeling that, through some terrible mistake, we have been snatched from real life and set down inside a Russian novel.

So we pore over those splashy pages like lifers in solitary looking at  girlie mags. “Nonstop blossoms until frost!” the copy tells us. “This enchanting bush will make you the envy of all your neighbors!”

When spring comes, so does sobriety, and we realize that if we want our neighbors to envy us we are going to have to win the lottery. Perhaps we could get a rise out of them by stealing their husbands, but a shrubbery is not going to do the job. Meanwhile, though, we have ordered plants that won’t grow in our climate or seeds that we could get at the hardware store for half the price.

Or, in the worst case, an Amazing Fruit Cocktail Tree.

Another gardening mistake I will share, lest you make it too, is four o’clocks. They are so named because the flowers are supposed to open in the afternoon, though, at least where I live, they should really be called seven o’clocks. I was initially smitten by them. They grow easily to shrub size and have beautiful flowers that perfume the evening air.   

But they have ruined my life! They make me feel exactly like France in 1940 --  invaded and occupied. They are sold as annuals; no one tells you that they form huge woody roots that go all the way to China, and everywhere there’s a root you get a lush new forest of four o’clocks. I have broken shovels digging them up, or trying to. They also drop seeds everywhere, which with amazing speed form new plants which in turn send new roots to the Far East. Last year they choked out several of my rose bushes.

Which brings me to another mistake: Roses. Roses have throughout the ages been a symbol for beauty. It was only shortly after man learned to cultivate wheat that he started fooling around with roses, too. So a weakness for roses is probably wired into our DNA and we can’t help ourselves.

But my roses often strike me as an expensive smorgasbord that I have thoughtfully provided for Japanese beetles. Since I’ve had roses, I’ve spent every summer at war with these pests, a bitter, losing battle that has corrupted me from my organic preferences as I grasp at increasingly toxic straws to defend my flowers. Sooner or later, I am either going to have to kiss those roses goodbye or stop shilly-shallying around and bomb Tokyo.

Yet another mistake I’ve made is planting vegetables that make me feel sorry for myself. On Mayberry RFD, you see neighbors sitting on the porch shelling peas while they gossip happily and Andy strums his guitar on the swing. At my house, when I am fortunate enough to have visitors on my porch, they have generally come to soak up the country air and my champagne, not to be pressed into KP. So the only pea sheller is your narrator, and there is no guitar music, just the gentle sound of me whining about how I thought Mr. Lincoln done freed the slaves.

I’ve often worried that readers will be tempted, since I have the nerve to write a gardening column,  to take my advice. I offer the above testimony in an effort to avert such a tragedy. So next time you’re inclined to take me seriously, just shut your eyes and say, “The Amazing Fruit Cocktail Tree,” and soon you’ll be restored to full mental health.

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