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Pins And Needles: Taking Care Of Your Edges

Take care of the edges, and the centre will take care of itself. Those words were aimed at gardeners, but Gloria MacKay is convinced that dealing with the edges is the best way to care for just about anything.

For more of Gloria's delightful words please click on Pins and Needles in the menu on his page.

A gardener once taught me that putting on lipstick and watering the lawn call for the same technique. He didn’t say it in so many words, and I couldn’t ask for clarification because he was on the radio, but this is how I took it.

All the questions there was time for had been answered as he tossed us one last aside. “Remember folks, if you water around the edges of your lawn you won’t have to worry about the center.” As the theme song took over I heard him repeat, “Concentrate on the edges and the center will take care of itself.” It sounded like he was telling us one thing but meaning a whole lot more.

These days my outdoor chores can be counted on one glove: rotating fuchsias on nifty swivel hooks and rearranging geraniums so they follow the sun. That’s about it, except for the watering. Potted plants crave water the way baby birds gobble up worms. Still, when a gardener talks I listen, just in case he is talking to me.

Second story gardening is a remote experience compared to going one and one with a yard. As I troweled along, I felt soil scrunch up my nails and slid down my socks. Planting even laid groundwork for a little compassion. Every fall the nursery nearest me had a “sad plant” sale. The dregs of past seasons were herded into a sallow corner behind the garden carts and marked down, up to ninety percent off. Every year I filled my car with half dead plants, as intently as though I was saving lives.

I still stroll through nurseries; they are like galleries overhung with still life. I still relish magazines lush with landscaping delights. And every Saturday morning, if I am not out and about on ungardenlike pursuits, I still turn on the radio and listen as carefully as I did when I received that enigmatic bit of advice. Was this true or did he close on a metaphorical note? How does this work? Through trickle down osmosis? Does capillary action make right-angled turns?

It made no sense, but the master gardener had spoken.

He must have known then what I know now: dealing with the edges is the best way to care for just about anything. Centers get more attention than they deserve, just because they are easy to reach. When I clean house I clean around the edges even though no one will notice, and give the middle of the floor a quick flick. How often does waxy, yellow buildup pile up right in the middle of the linoleum? If a bathroom is caulked and grouted until the edges shine like snow in the sunshine it looks inviting, even if the towels are not picked up and there is a hair in the sink? And on the rare occasion when I iron, I mostly do collars and cuffs.

I cook the same way. When the edges of an egg-over-easy firm up, don’t assess the yoke; just flip it. To ice a layer cake, if you cover the edges first you will always have enough frosting left for the top.

I also keep myself together by my edges: with a touch of mascara; a squirt of hair spray; a bit of lip liner and my thin, gold hoop earrings which brush against me like butterflies I feel as centered as a dart in a bulls eye. Even the people in my life act more kindly when I stroke them around their edges and stop before it hurts rather than bite into their centers as though I owned them.

All in all, I don’t know what would have happened to me if I hadn’t been listening to the garden show that Saturday morning. Actually I do know. I would have fallen off my deck by now and probably killed myself. I could have killed myself. Instead of climbing on a chair every day all summer long, leaning way beyond my railing and setting my watering can dead set into the middle of every single hanging basket, I stand on my toes, aim for the edges and pour. What works for a lawn is certainly good enough for a plant in a pot.

As far as the lipstick, it is the doing of the edges first which separates the men from the boys, metaphorically speaking, of course - which just happens to be the way we gardeners talk most of the time.


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