An audio version of this essay can be found here.
A change of season has caused a flare up in my wife’s condition. She has shown symptoms in previous years but this time, it’s getting dire. I don’t know what has made the difference. Maybe it was moving to a different state a few months ago. Maybe it’s having a bigger yard. Whatever the cause, this thing is serious.
My wife has caught the gardening bug. Perhaps it is appropriate then that one of the most obvious symptoms is an increased interest in, well, bugs. The Mrs. is quickly becoming an expert on the hidden world of aphids, the dietary and reproductive habits of ladybugs. Ladybugs, as you know, have a reputation as cute, adorable critters. If you want to continue believing that, do not marry a gardener.
The symptoms of mad gardener disease (MGD) go far beyond a simple obsession with the insect world. Other signs include a sudden swelling in the amount of reading material showing up in the mail. Much of this will be festooned with images of livestock. If you spy a loved one reading magazines whose middles unfold to reveal a glossy pictures of chickens, it’s time to be concerned.
The reading is part of a larger problem. The condition invariably involves a compulsion to learn about topics that should remain forever shrouded by ignorance. For example, animal poop. I can say with confidence that in pretty much every arena of human endeavor, a sudden passionate interest in manure is always a bad sign. Should someone close to you feel compelled to subject you to more than two conversations about animal waste, including detailed descriptions of its consistency and uses, seek help.
Talk about manure is just the tip of the iceberg. Monitoring conversational topics will go a long way toward indicating the severity of the illness. For example, should you and your spouse be sitting out back on the porch listening to the stillness of the night while surrounded by the neighbors’ homes just a few steps in any direction, and should you begin to whisper sweet words of love only to have her whisper back, “Do you think we can fit a chicken coop in behind the garage?,” it may be too late.
As with any debilitating illness, MGD also affects the family and friends of the victim. It’s not uncommon for those in the family to have to yield living space to seedlings. The top of the dining room table, a corner of the entertainment center, a dearly needed drawer can all easily be lost to pots of sprouts yet too tender for the outdoors.
The healthy among us can see this is an example of how MGD distorts the thinking process. To those of us free of this dreadful condition, plants too weak to grow outdoors, if we consider them at all, are considered not worth having. To the mind perverted by MGD, the obvious solution is to bring the outdoors inside. For this reason, conversations in MGD households sometimes run like this:
He: Honey, have you seen my new tie.
She: I’m pretty sure it’s hanging in the closet between the beets and the summer squash.
At the same time, it is not above the MGD sufferer to ask family members to enable his or her disease. It’s not unusual for victims to seek help with the tasks large-scale gardening requires. For example, a hypothetical wife might say to her hypothetical husband “Honey, would you mind turning over some dirt in the back yard so I can plant a few things?”
In an effort to accommodate her, he might reply “Ok, Where?”
To which the victim of MGD would say, “Oh, just everywhere. Everywhere’s good.”
Like most illnesses of this type, the severity of symptoms waxes and wanes. MGD, in particular, seems to follow a seasonal pattern. Spring tends to be the worst. At that time, MGD victims can be most distressing to those they live with, constantly demanding help with their compulsions, rattling on endlessly about the details of sowing and reaping.
Fall tends to be best time of year for MGD victims and their families. The rest of the year, MGD sufferers can seem odd, out of touch with reality. Their relationships can get strained. But in fall, when the tables are heaped with the bounty the earth, under their care, has yielded, when the provisions are piled high and bellies are satisfied, well, at those times, the MGD sufferer hardly seems ill at all.