Digging Up Dirt on the Art of Gardening

Jeff Meyers is editor of Ventura County Life

No, Wendy Miller hasn't grown a beard and changed her name to Jeff Meyers--she has embarked on an editing adventure with the Life & Style section, leaving me in charge of this space until she returns.

My duty every week is to fill 11 1/2 column inches with pithy commentary, but don't expect me to reveal my psyche as readily as she did. (Regular readers no doubt recall how she attained a state of "enlightened self-awareness" after admitting in print that she lacked the willpower to resist a fat-drenched doughnut.)

This week's Centerpiece on gardening, however, does touch me deeply: I was the owner of the ill-fated plant in staff writer Leonard Reed's story.

Inspired by the tragic demise of my Mexican tulip poppy, Reed dug up some real dirt on the art of gardening in Ventura County. His information will help anybody who intends to turn over a spade.

Reed, in fact, learned a lot himself.

"The story was a way of exploring some of my own trials--marked by unexpected successes and serial failures--in what for me has been a new realm: gardening," Reed said. "I started gardening as a way to enjoy my house more, as a way to work off strain from the business week. What I didn't know is that it could become all-consuming."

Reed hung out at nurseries to research the story.

"I get a kick out of the guys at the nursery," Reed said. "Each has a different answer to the same question. When in doubt, they all say--phosphorous."

Reed discovered the one awful truth about gardening: Even with expert advice and a handy copy of the Sunset gardening book, the ultimate fate of his plants rests on him.

"Once the basics are covered, you're really on your own to watch the symptoms and act," Reed said.

Reed has been known to spring into action well after midnight to protect his treasured olive tree from rampaging winds. Or to rush home on his lunch hour to water his roses during a hot spell.

But he knows success depends on more than dedication and skill.

"Buying a picture-perfect plant at the nursery is like ordering fish in puff pastry at the restaurant," he said. "At home, once you've planted it or prepared it, you never see it look quite that pretty. But in time, with practice, you can get lucky."

The other day, Reed was one of the lucky ones to get inside Ventura Bookstore for the standing-room-only visit by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. What he heard, however, didn't make him a fan. His analysis of the popular radio shrink appears in his "On the Road" column on page 24.

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