Anyone who is willing to describe themselves as “The Grumpy Gardener” gets my vote of confidence. Why? Because I can get grumpy myself about some issues but — not having written for Southern Living Magazine for 34 years — I am not comfortable expressing myself as bluntly as Steve Bender does.
Bender recently added to his literary legacy by penning “The Grumpy Gardener: An A to Z Guide from the Galaxy’s Most Irritable Green Thumb.” Forget about being the orneriest gardener on the planet: Only the galaxy will do.
When I spoke with Bender by phone this week, he sounded perfectly convivial, so I asked him about his prickly title.
“I am grumpy for about 75 percent of the day, until dinnertime, when I roll out the cocktail cart,” he let on. “Maybe it’s that I am just more straightforward than others. I see a lot of people promoting really awful plants and using stupid gardening practices, and I don’t mind saying so.”
So we talked about “awful” plants and “stupid” gardening practices. Here’s what he had to say.
“Crape murder is a term for cutting back your crape myrtle branches to the stump every year. In newer neighborhoods, you hear ‘When are you gonna cut that thing? We all cut ours.’ It seems like it happens once the Super Bowl is over. Men get a little bored and are filled with testosterone. So, what do they do? They get out the chainsaw and start whacking on their crape myrtles. That’s why I have a ‘crape murder’ contest every year. You can take pictures of your neighbors and shame them throughout the nation. A recent winner was from Metairie, by the way.”
On hate mail (and squirrels)
“There’ve been so many it’s hard to pick the most hateful letter I ever got. But I did a tongue-in-cheek story once about how much I hate squirrels because they dig up plants and eat bulbs. Daffodil bulbs are poisonous to them, so when I wrote my column, we staged the picture to go with it. We set up a headstone that read ‘Rest in Peace Rocky. One bulb too many.’ There was something that looked like a fresh grave and Walmart plastic flowers thrown around. Well, one reader seriously thought I had killed a squirrel by shoving daffodil bulbs down its throat and sent me a letter addressed to ‘Steve Bender, Squirrel Nazi.”
On killing a plant
“People always feel guilty when they kill something, but the death of a plant should not be considered a disaster. Instead, it’s an opportunity to try new things.”
On exotic garden tools
“Forget about them — they’re just gimmicks. There are a few tools I always go back to: a good shovel, a good trowel, a leaf rake, loppers, a good pair of pruning shears. Spend the money and buy the good stuff. I also think a good 2½-gallon galvanized watering can is indispensable so you don’t have to drag a heavy hose all around.”
“I hate Ligustrum. It should be called disgustum.”
“Don’t use rubber mulch — that’s just the tire companies trying to make you feel good about recycling. Don’t use colored mulch, either. Why would you want mulch the color of Lucy Ricardo’s hair? If your mulch is the first thing I notice about your garden, there is something wrong with it.”
On KnockOut roses
“Too much of a good thing.”
The Grumpy Gardener (Steve Bender)
WHERE: Longue Vue, 7 Bamboo Road
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