These Roots Were Made for Walking and Other Top 10 Plant Hits

All in the Family

Perhaps I overreacted to my wife’s request to move the sage. My behavior may have been caused by a traumatic experience I had a few summers ago when I received a call from my brother-in-law. He needed help moving something, so I gladly drove over to his house. I expected an old refrigerator or some other large appliance to be waiting. Instead, the object was a eight-foot tall tree that he wanted to dig up and move six inches to the right because it lined up with the lamp post in his front yard. That’s a true story which proves one thing: My wife didn’t buy the book over the Internet after all. She borrowed it from her brother.

Tim Bete is the director of the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop at the University of Dayton. More of his work can be found at


150 plants you can move 150 times

When I first saw the plant book that taught my wife the auditioning concept, it looked harmless enough. (In an effort to protect other husbands, I won’t mention the book’s title.) The tagline on the cover read, “The 150 Best Perennials for Great-Looking, Trouble-Free Gardens.” Great-looking – yes. Trouble-free – no.

What shocked me most were the words I found in the first few pages of the book.

“Don’t be shy about digging up and moving plants that don’t look right…It’s tough to get the garden right the first time, and half the fun is in the tweaking that follows.”

If digging up plants and moving them is half the fun, the other half must be stepping on the tines of a rake and feeling the handle smack you square in the face.

You have to watch your wife every minute or the next thing you know, she’ll be purchasing subversive materials over the Internet. Of course, I’m referring to gardening books. I paid no attention to a recent hardcover acquisition made by my wife until we were planting some new flowers in front of our house.

As I was patting down the soil around the first plant, my wife said, “We’ll audition that plant there for a while.”

“Audition?” I had heard of people talking to their plants but never asking their plants to talk back. I don’t know much about gardening, so I went along for the ride. I seem to do a lot of that. Since the plant was Russian Sage, I used my best Russian accent and moved the leaves of the plant with my hands as I made the plant speak.

“My Englesh not berry gut,” I ventriloquized for the plant, “but I wut like to be in your beautiful garden, berry, berry much.”

“Not that type of audition” said my wife. “Audition means that we don’t know if that’s the exact spot we want the plant to be.”

“We” was a terribly strong word to use. I knew that this was exactly the spot I wanted the plant to be. It’s roots were covered. It was that moment I first realized I was morally opposed to transplanting anything. Then I had the sudden realization that we had dozens of plants left to audition. I felt a great desire to be rearranging furniture.

“Wouldn’t our couch look much better against the other wall in the living room?” I hinted. My wife wouldn’t take the bait and asked me to replant the sage three inches to the left.

This could be your big break

I like my concept of plant auditions much better than my wife’s. I was ready for the Hollyhocks to audition as Buddy Hollyhocks and sing, “That will be the day, that I’m fertilized.” The White Nancy Spotted Dead Needle became White Nancy Sinatra in my mind and sang, “These Roots Were Made for Walking.” The Sunny Bono Blue Speedwell chimed in with, “I’ve Got You Bulb.” The May West Sage coaxed, “Come up and seed me some time.” All the Lily Tomlin of the Valley could say was, “Is this the pear tree to whom I am speaking?”

The Johnny Jumpup would have done a great monologue as Johnny Carson Jumpup.

“Tim is such a dumb gardener…” he would have begun, pausing while the other plants yelled, “How dumb is he!?” “…Tim is so dumb, he wouldn’t plant any Bellflower because he was afraid the neighbors would complain about the noise.”

I stopped the auditions immediately. When I start to insult myself through the mouth of a plant, it’s time to call it quits.

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