Home Gardening War of the Roses: Behind the Scenes

War of the Roses: Behind the Scenes

War of the Roses: Behind the Scenes

A bent wheelbarrow tells part of the story

My projects are aplenty, and it goes without saying some due tasks are less desirable than others. Case in point: digging up and removing dead rose bushes and the legions of weeds that aided in their demise. He’s how it went:

The day was young, and I was in denial about the labor-intensive task at hand. I grabbed my garden gloves, my trustiest and heaviest shovel and garden fork, and tossed them into the wheelbarrow and headed down to the large garden in my front field. Boz was in tow while Gracie remained on the porch to sleep, nap, rest and retire, and occasionally raise an eyelid to see if we were still alive or if it was dinner time.

Beauty among the weeds

In the field, I pondered my seemingly good idea with regret, knowing that when I planted a 75-foot row of roses to the south side of my vegetable garden, it could (make that would) become a maintenance nightmare, a fussy long stretch of gardening attention that was never to be satisfied, a place where the roses grew just enough to torment me each time I walked by their leafy allee of trouble:

  • “You call yourself a gardener? We could use some pruning thank you very much.”
  • “Yo dude, powdery mildew? Plan on doing something about it any time soon?”
  • “Uh, drink of water please, and none of that light spritzing stuff. We want a deep soak!”
  • “If you aren’t going to weed around us, you might consider a little mulching now and then.”
  • “Oh we get it, you’re just using us for our flowers. Figures.”

Roses speak volumes about their care simply by how they look, and I was being admonished on a regular basis. If only earplugs would have silenced the rants of those sad shrubs.

As I struggled to extricate each rose from a tangled web of weeds and gripping soil, I thought they may look dead, but the roots are surely intact and stubborn. Upon closer inspection, I could see some rose bushes still had a few sprouts and a shot at life renewed, so I filled my wheelbarrow with water, and placed the scraggly refugees there for a drink before their pruning and potting session.

Turn your back for one minute, and the weeds move in.

With four bushes in the barrow, I struggled and struggled with the fifth bush, circling the plant with the shovel, then teasing it up with the fork, using the magic of leverage at each turn. It was not budging. This was a rose with taproot to Tacoma. Bending over I gripped its base crown and pulled and pulled and pulled and pulled, putting my ample weight and brute strength to good use (work with me here).  On about the seventh grunt and tug, the rose bush relinquished its root-hold. Trouble was, I went flying backward heels over head, with rose bush in hand, soil and sand blasting my face and derriere destined for a splashdown in the wheelbarrow behind me.

Butt submerged, body still in motion and thorny half-dead rose branches acting as my unlikely safety cushion, I continued to complete my ungainly back-flip rotation. As I hit the ground with the force of a meteor, the water in the wheelbarrow followed me to Earth, a torrent of soil slurry rushing into my gaping mouth and up my unsuspecting nose. Choking, coughing, gasping and seeing my life’s highlights flash before me, I thought this is how I go: death by drowning while gardening? Too embarrassing to even think about, I was close to becoming the Northwest’s nominee for the 2012 Darwin Awards.

Supertom: able to bend steel with his gluteus maximus, bare or otherwise.

With pride and dignity no where to be found, I managed to stand up, pluck a few thorns from my backside, wipe the mud mask from my face,  shake my dripping head with the fervor of a wet Lab, and regroup. In a moment of terror, I turned 360 degrees to see if anyone spied this debacle from the street, or worse, caught the whole thing on video. I thought what isn’t caught on video? I could see it now, a YouTube sensation: 5 million hits and climbing, “Butt-plant bulls-eye” or “Drenched dude cheats death in the garden.”

To my delight, the coast was clear though my dear neighbor Phoebe was approaching on her afternoon walk. I waved hello. She stopped to chat, and in her lovely British accent said, “Why Tom, you’re all wet.” I feigned surprise, replying, “Really? Oh my gosh, so I am.”  Then, I fessed up and shared the details of my latest performance, and the Cirque du Soleil moves that resulted in a doused body and bruised ego.

Phoebe smiled, and gracious as she is, asked if I was alright. Once that was confirmed, her smile led to laughter, then I joined in (between wiping wet peat from my brow). Walking back to the house between shivers and nose blows, I knew my secret was safe with Phoebe, and as for Boz, well they don’t call him man’s best friend for nothing. Mum was sure to be the word.  Gracie on the other hand has been known to gossip. Lucky for me this day, napping was her preferred activity. Be safe my friends, gardening can be dangerous, if not to body, at least to one’s self-esteem.

The sweet smell of success, that is once I risk life, limb and tush in the garden.


  1. Ha! Wonderful telling of a great story! It really is too bad there are no photos, but you describe it so vividly. It made me remember the time I was making a huge batch of Christmas gift gingerbread and the whole thing tipped over, oozed down my legs, and formed a massive pool of batter around my feet…I have Polaroids of it.
    That’s a very beautiful photo of your roses in an oil lamp base; what a good idea!

  2. Oh boy, I have been in those shoes you are wearing!!!! Details a little different, not quite such an “upsetting” experience…but close! Great chuckle first thing this morning and lovely bouquet!

  3. Holy Moly! What a nightmare. I’ve had the blast of soil in my face, but never the back flip over a wheelbarrow full of water and mud. You surely must have been sore afterwards. I hope you’re still ok. I wouldn’t want to inhale or swallow garden muck.

  4. Tom – I am laughing so hard I have tears running down my face! Your description was so vivid – I still would have loved to see it on video! Thanks for a great laugh, (sorry it was at your expense) and a picture of beautiful roses!

  5. Poor Tom! Too bad it wasn’t raining – you’d be shiny and clean before you even got to the house.

    I had a mishap myself this weekend. David and I were finishing up a new top bar beehive. I fetched some honeycomb frames from the basement and, my view being blocked, tripped over a flower pot and just missed landing head first into the (empty) hive. Not graceful at all and I’m bruised and scratched up on my arms and legs.

    It would be interesting to see what kinds of garden mischief your blog friends have gotten themselves into! Prize for the best one – a jar of my winter honey!

  6. That was just too good! Who needs a video when you are such an excellent writer! You drew me right into the story and I can visualize every twist, tumble and splat! Your touchdown may not have been pretty, but your roses are! The photo of the ‘Beauty among the weeds’ is quite lovely!

  7. Tom,
    That huge brown pile you had trucked in is not peat-tell the truth now dear, what was really on your brow? Your wheel barrow looks like those metal chairs that you “altered” while holding a glass of iced tea. You are quite the gymnast!!!

  8. I forgot to mention that he did not spill a drop of his tea as rolled (backwards) with the fluidity of a ball. This performance was repeated with aplomb within a span of 2 minutes; his two performances flawless and awe inspiring-both times. “How do he do that?”

  9. The things we do for beauty.
    I have enough “trying to dig _____ up and falling over on my arse” stories. It doesn’t help that I don’t have the proper tools [my “pitchfork” is a hand-held 4-toothed thing that bends in any direction… I think it’s an antique.] I’ve tripped over my wheelbarrow many times, but never fell into it. This story is delightful, and will always make me laugh! Love it Tom!
    And Boz… Boz is a good man not to talk. ♥


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