Pharmaceutics in the Dell

WEARE HOLBROOK has written many light articles for news syndicates and magazines. A former Iowan, he nowlives in Hartsdale, New York.


IF the mere possession of poisonous chemicals means anything, practically every gardener in the civilized world is a potential Borgia, My own back yard is bedewed with enough deadly distillates to bump off a dozen wealthy uncles. The grass is not. green, but a mottled shade of maroon due to frequent applications of weed killer; apparently you can keep your lawn completely free of weeds if you are willing to settle for maroon grass. From a distance— which is where I prefer to be — the rose bushes seem to be covered with multitudes of snowwhite blossoms. These, on closer inspection, prove to be blobs of a thick milky lotion which has been sprayed on the leaves.

The peonies, on the other hand, have been anointed with some black stuff to discourage ants. They look as if they had just been called off the job by John L. Lewis. As for the daffodils, Wordsworth himself would never recognize them under their blanket of pale blue powder. Even the trees — three doddering Dutch elms and a feeble-minded maple sapling — are undergoing treatment. Their trunks are girdled with cummerbunds of sticky goo which is supposed to keep away worms, moths, beetles, squirrels, and everybody but the man from the dry cleaner’s.

In addition to the customary picturesque tools, my gardening equipment includes a noisome collection of boxes and bottles containing pyrethrum, rotenone, Paris green, thiocyanide, corrosive sublimate, methoxychlor, azobenzene, sodium arsenite, and the three sinister sulphates — copper, nicotine, and thallium. As a result, the garden lacks the fragrance of flowers or even the wholesome aroma of mulch. It smells exactly like the waiting room in old Dr. Henderleider’s office where I used to go to get my teeth straightened.

There is, of course, a motive in this medication. When all the greenery has been thoroughly sprayed, dusted, and smeared, no bug would want to eat it; in fact, no bug would even want to look at it. But the real menace is not so much the present bug as the future blight. Science has discovered all kinds of plant diseases that our green-thumbed gratuimother would never have suspected. At any moment,carnations may come down with galloping mildew, and fuchsias with fungus. Roses frequently succumb to black spot, and gladioluses (or gladioli) to thrip (or thrips); whereas potatoes are peculiarly susceptible to rhizoctonia, and small grain to — if you will pardon the expression — stinking smut.

After all, ours isn’t one of those old-fashioned gardens that can simply be weeded, watered, and otherwise let alone. It is a modern, neurotic garden; most of the plants came from a nursery, and they still miss their nurse. So we must be prepared for any contingency and we are.

We are, that is, with one exception. The other day while tiptoeing through the tulips to read their fever charts, I came upon a pale green shoot that was utterly new to me. It was not a weed, for no weed can withstand the flood of weed killer that drenches the garden daily. Its small, pointed leaves were waxy white and seemed to shrink from the sunlight; altogether, it looked like some unwholesome thing that might have sprouted in a cellar.

My wife, who has a shelf full of gardening books, says she thinks it is an Artemesia or a moonflower, but she can’t be sure until it blossoms. Our nextdoor neighbor is almost positive it’s a baby Bocconia, though he wouldn’t want to bet on it. Several other expert gardeners who have examined it incline to the opinion that it is an undeveloped Nierembergia; however, they admit that they might be

But I know what it is. It’s just another neverblooming Hypochondria, and I know we’ll soon have to get some medicine for it. Wait and see.