Op/Ed

Jessie Raymond: Garden is no match for hori-hori

I may be speaking too soon, but I’m pretty sure 2020 is going to be my best gardening year ever. I’ve got a game-changing tool and a bold new attitude.
A friend of mine recently recommended a gardening implement she called a “Japanese weeding knife.” It’s also known as a “hori-hori,” but here’s a tip: Be careful who you say that to. The first time I called the garden center to ask if they had one, the lady took offense and hung up on me. 
When I called back, I spelled it out for her, and then she understood. 
I went on to explain that “hori” means “to dig” in Japanese, but at that point she wasn’t in the mood for trivia.
The hori-hori is a fierce multipurpose tool that looks like a cross between a trowel and a dagger, with a blade about eight inches long. It has many uses: If you’re planting bulbs with it, for example, and get ambushed by a band of marauders, you can switch instantly from digging to hand-to-hand combat. 
The first few days I had the hori-hori, I spent hours expertly popping dandelion taproots out of the ground with a triumphant “Ha!” But the knife does so much more: Got grass growing in your garden? Weeds creeping in along the edge of the raised beds? A mountain lion springing out of the bushes? The hori-hori will make short work of them all.
This tool came along at the right time, too, just when I’ve finally started asserting my authority over the gardens. 
As I’ve said before, I’m too kind as a gardener. I tend to let perennials grow (and overgrow) where they want because I don’t want them to think I’m mean.
But another friend of mine, whose gardens always look fantastic, explained that it’s OK to be ruthless. In fact, it’s imperative.
I tested my resolve just last weekend. I have a surfeit of lovely but aggressive spotted dead nettle that has, over the years, crept across my gardens and even into the lawn. This ground cover has attractive, two-toned leaves and purple-pink flowers that grow a few inches high.
But it does not respect other plants’ personal space.
This year it became apparent that if I didn’t get it under control, it would soon make its way into the house and smother us in our sleep. So, brandishing my hori-hori, I confronted just one large bed of it.
Feigning businesslike detachment, I dug out several square feet of the plant — still blooming and looking very pretty, I’m sad to say. Silent and stoic, I threw armfuls of it onto the compost pile.
Then I ran into the house and sobbed.
When I went back outside, I had to cover my ears to block out the plaintive cries of the uprooted plants coming from the compost.
But the garden looked great. And that gave me the courage to keep going.
Over time, the hard-heartedness is becoming second nature. Not only have I purged a lot of excess plants, but when those that remain see the hori-hori blade glinting in the sun, they behave. I’m the boss of everything now. 
Except for the chickens.
Our laying hens, who roam freely, have priorities that conflict with mine. Any time they see me turning the earth — such as when I rearrange the perennials that have been spared by the hori-hori — they rush over to claw through the soil in search of snacks. 
Without fail, minutes after I’ve relocated a plant, the chickens will send it flying, a casualty of their bug-hunting efforts.
It’s infuriating.
I’ve tried intimidating them with the hori-hori, but they pay no attention to my posturing. I’d never hold a pet chicken at knifepoint, and they know it.
I’d like to think that I might someday stand up to the chickens, as I now have with the gardens, and enact a total ban on poultry in the flower beds. But for now, when I replant perennials I’m employing a less confrontational strategy: covert ops.
 Dressed in camo, I dart behind trees, crouch beneath shrubs and, hori-hori clenched between my teeth, silently slither into the garden so the hens don’t notice what I’m doing.
Laugh if you want, but it works.
And there’s a side benefit: If marauders ever do infiltrate the property, there’s a good chance I’ll see them before they see me.

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