Round Robin: A Gardener’s Lament

| June/July 1994

DENVER, Colorado—My hands are a mess. Odds are yours are, too. One thing gardeners share is the need for a full-time manicurist. A few gardeners wear gloves, I’m told. I put mine on every couple of years when I plan to attack a thorny problem, but more often than not, I don’t even think about protecting my hands until the sight of blood reminds me. A friend told me once, “You look like you’ve been sacking cats.”

Worse than the cuts and scratches are the cracks. I imagine that elephant hide, up close, might resemble my knuckles and fingers. My thumb and forefinger are stained green, at least until early autumn. It’s no wonder that gardeners have “green thumbs” or, as they say in England, “green fingers”. I’m suspicious of any horticulturist I meet who’s got a set of presentable hands. I guess it’s possible that he or she wears gloves.

Men aren’t expected to have beautiful hands. I have no idea why it’s expected of women or how the long-fingernail idea started. Just cutting off my fingernails is a relief, and it can even be a horticultural benefit. I once read of an Englishman who claimed that his success in growing a difficult tree resulted from tossing his fingernail clippings out the bathroom window at its feet. I can’t remember what kind of tree it was, but that bizarre advice has stuck with me.

My friend Lauren (who has no fingernails to speak of) once dyed her hands turquoise while mixing fertilizer. She drew some interesting looks from strangers before it wore off. Another friend, Tom, and I compare hands every few days during the summer. We discuss the merits of various lotions, creams, and salves with grave concern, as if we were trying to work out a lasting peace in the Middle East. Tom has been known to sleep with rubber gloves on his hands after applying a liberal dose of lotion, but his wife discourages it. I can’t imagine trying it.

I sample lots of skin products. I alternate among Bag Balm, Cornhusker’s Lotion, and Farmer’s Friend because I have a lot in common with farmers and overworked cows. Skin was not made to go through the abuse I put it through. These products do help me get through the summer, but I’m an unpleasant person to shake hands with. I’m a commercial waiting to happen.

Madge: “Gee, Rob, your hands look like you’ve been sacking cats.”

Rob: “It’s those darn gloves, Madge. They’re hot and uncomfortable, and I can’t feel what I’m doing.”

Madge: (Picks up nail file.) “You don’t need to wear rubber gloves to do dishes if you use the dishwashing liquid you’re soaking in.”

Rob: “Dishwashing liquid?” (Withdraws hand from bowl of green liquid.) “I don’t wash dishes. I’m a gardener.”

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