Lighten Up, Gardeners!
Forget about weed wars and NPK's

By Marion Owen, Fearless Weeder for PlanTea, Inc. and
Co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul


Tom Hanks' "Power of Four" solution

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It took a visit from my friend Carol to remind me to lighten up. Carol Sturgulewski, (that's STIR-guh-LOOSE-key), fellow co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul, moved away a few years ago. I cried a little, but fortunately, she stayed in Alaska.

Carol, who thinks nothing of carrying 20 pounds of freshed-picked salmonberries as carry-on luggage, missed that year's berry season that summer, but she returned that fall for a visit. This time by invitation of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce to autograph copies of "Kodiak, Alaska's Emerald Isle," the beautiful, coffee table book she authored, and in which I have a couple dozen photographs published. (The book is available by calling the chamber office at 907-486-5557 or at

Kodiak book

Over a meal of fresh king crab, late season garden greens and olive bread, we caught up on events, which always makes me laugh. For example, one morning, Carol drove her 6-year-old son Hugh, to school. They were late, and in a rush Hugh grabbed what he thought was his brown bag lunch, pulled the van door closed behind him and bolted toward the school's main entrance. Around noon, Carol received a phone call from the school's office. Would she stop by to a real lunch for Hugh? The bottle of Merlot wine just wouldn't do.

Carol, by the way, is is working on another book, a collection of stories about raising kids in Alaska. Funny? Your ribs will burst with laughter if her emailed samplers are any indication of the book's contents.

After dinner, she handed me a small, square piece of paper torn from a daily calendar called "The Book Lover's Calendar" (Workman Publishing Each day features a different book.

The title for Sunday, June 22, 2003 read," Gardening for Guys," followed by, "If you've never considered gardening to be a high-testosterone pasttime, think again. Gardening gives guys a chance to play with loud, dangerous power tools, such as chain saws and lawn mowers, and provides them with an excuse to walk around the yard carrying a machete."

"In a Man's Garden," the blurb continues, "Warren Schultz visits 15 guys who have wrestled their own little piece of heaven out of the wilderness. There's the guy whose topiary is just a little suggestive, and the gardener who's dragged massive columns and sculptures into his garden. And only a guy would feel the need to grow the biggest pumpkins, plant the longest borders, or cram the greatest number of palm trees into a 60-by-150-foot lot."

Carol Sturgulewski
Carol Sturgulewski

With her signature smile and wink, Carol added, "I looked it up on Amazon, but the list price was 40 dollars. I didn't buy the book, but had to show you this review."

That night, I got to thinking about what I could write about in future columns. Since it was fall, the best time to get your garden ready for next spring, articles beg for topics such as compost and mulch techniques, how to plant bulbs, clean lawn mowers and overwinter geraniums.

But what about the fun stuff, I thought. Gardening isn't just seeds, dirt, and passing soil tests. Just for grins, I consulted A Gardener's Bouquet of Quotations, by Maria Polushkin Robbins. Turning to the chapter, "Gardening Is…" I found Louse and James Bush-Brown's definition of gardening.

"Gardening is a craft, a science, and an art. To practice it well requires the enthusiasm of the true amateur and the understanding of the true student."

Well, that provides about as much enthusiasm as a cheerleading squad wrapped in duct tape. And it would cause any gardener wanna-be to throw in the trowel. I turned the pages, searching for something to tickle my Achilles heel.

"Gardening is a matter of your enthusiasm holding up until your back gets used to it." Someone by the name of Anonymous wrote that. We're getting warmer, but we're not quite there.

The next morning, I checked my email. While weeding through spam, updates from family and friends, requests for gardening advice and -- what's this? A note from Scotland? Even though the internet has shrunk the planet, it's always a treat to get mail from other longitudes.

"Dear Marion," it began. "I have been visiting your site with great interest for a while now. Thank goodness for your sensible advice for gardening in northern parts, I am in the north of Scotland and have many of the meteorological challenges that you face, wind, rain, cold, etc. (but no bears)!

"Your list of 163 materials for the compost bin is really useful but perhaps I can add another. A British organic gardening writer, Bob Flowerdew [was this guy for real?] , swears by peeing on his compost saying that urine acts as an accelerator. Actually he refers to it rather delicately as 'recycling his cider and beer.' This isn't so easy for us women but I do encourage my husband to provide the goods! One for the list?"

The message ended with, "Many thanks for all your ideas and beautiful photographs, Jean Bell."

Wow, the Scots DO have a sense of humor! I tell students in my "Compost Happens -- How to make and use compost" class that farmers and gardeners around the world collect human urine and add it to their compost pile. Most animal manure has urine mixed in it. Urine contains mostly urea, and naturally-formed urea is one of the oldest, safest (it's sterile) and free sources of nitrogen. Non-chemical urea breaks down fast in the soil and in the compost pile. Human urea has an impressive N:P:K (Nitrogen:Phosphorus:Potassium) ratio of 45-0-0.

Back to "gardening for guys" and my new goal to weave humor with how-to's in my weekly columns. How can you stay too serious with friends like Carol and Marianne Binetti? Marianne gave a keynote address at the 2003 Master Gardener conference in Port Townsend, Washington. She keeps deer out of her vegetable patch by using a very simple and very effective method. Oh, yes. Her teenage son gladly helps out.

deer in garden
Marianne claims you don't need to buy bottles of deer-proof stuff, which is simply predator urine, such as fox urine. "First," she says, "invite your son's basketball team over to the house. Serve them all the Gatorade they can drink. Then, tell them to go outside and 'mark the territory.'"

Does it work? You bet your six-pack it does.

Thanks for visiting and please stop by again. I'll put the coffee on!

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