They come from a long line of "gardenaholics".
Victims of a disease with symptoms including dirt under the fingernails (and inexplicably in other crevices where it should be unlikely for dirt to homestead); criss-cross scratches on the knees which neighbor children use to play tic-tac-toe; secret nightmares about rabbits the size of bull moose; and the sweating tremors that seem to arrive about the first week of every April.
It's not easy growing up in a family of gardenaholics. My parents, Lilly Lilac and Basil Larsen, both went to Gardenaholics Anonymous for a while, but fell off the wagon and eventually had a trowel-a-day habit to support.
My sister, Ruby Begonia, has more flowers than Pasadena during the Rose Bowl; and my brother Pepper has grown more vegetables than Ted Kennedy has had bad haircuts.
Uncle Scallion is known for his gardening binges. Last year, he invested heavily in the best hybrid "tomaters," an "irrigation system" - "don't you dare call it a sprinkler, boy" - a 400-horsepower roto-tiller that does to his backyard what the Civil War did to Georgia, a supply of chemicals that would make Dow Industries blush, and a plethora of high-tech tools and devices designed to grow anything better, bigger and faster than it's meant to be.
The net result last year was two runty tomatoes with a slightly lime green radioactive glow about them.
"Gardening makes economic sense, boy," he once told me. "You wouldn't catch our forefathers paying 69 cents a pound for tomaters at the Fareway when they had their two hands and a gallon of DDT in the garage, no sir."
I calculate that production of those two treasured tomatoes cost him approximately $649.85 each.
From the grin on his face as he bit into that expensive peanut-butter-and-tomato sandwich, I'd have to say that they might have been worth it.
Then there's Aunt Daisy Petunia, the most ill-fated of the hard-luck breed, the flower gardener. You'll find her in the yard almost any day, wheezing from allergies she doesn't care to admit, wincing from third-degree sunburn, thistle-scraped from elbow to knee, hands bloody from tearing at stubborn roots. She gardened herself into the hospital three times last year - sat on a pitchfork in May, didn't see the lawnmower coming in July, and then there was the mishap with the swarm of killer bees in September.
I asked her why she did it.
"Because," she grasped weakly, "it's healthy. And it feels so gooood."
I am afraid this weakness in the gene pool has infected a new generation.
My wife tells me that daughter Katie has her eye on the bare spot in the backyard. This girl who has worn away every blade of grass with her bicycle came home one day with a packet of "Butterfly Garden Mixture" seeds, and she's not afraid to use them.
There's a better chance that Michael Jordan will show up with a two-foot afro than growing a garden on that patch of trampled dirt, but I've seen this pattern before.
A "little garden" turns into a small farm. And, of course, you can't have a garden without a few statues of various saints and jockies that wouldn't be caught dead in such a place. Once you've gone that far, of course, you need a goldfish pond, a waterfall, a stone walkway, multi-level landscaping, mood lighting, in-ground sprinkler system, benches, posts and a few hot pink flamingoes.
Son Chris is more into trees. Not ornamental trees, but something along the lines of the General Sherman Sequoia. He would gladly have our house removed to make room, as long as the trees don't get in the way of his basketball hoop.
Someone please stop us, before we garden again.
I've always made special efforts to avoid the pitfalls that have turned my family into gardenaholics. It isn't that I don't have the same urges, though.
The soil siren song sings for all those who will listen. It calls seductively about this time every year. "Pssst! Wouldn't a homegrown lettuce salad help shrivel that gut? Wouldn't a shower of forget-me-nots along the fence spruce this dump up? Wouldn't the kids love a pumpkin patch? Wouldn't an herb garden fly the neighbors into a jealous snit?"
Stop! Make the voices go away!
To identify a true garden nut, you have to watch them weed.
The casual dirtmonger doesn't mind a weed here and there. After all, they are usually more interesting than what you planted in the first place, and always easier to grow. These are the gardeners who tend toward compassionate tolerance. "Hmmmmm. Looks like a weed, but could turn out to be a morning glory or maybe a redwood tree. I'll just give it another week..."
The gardenaholic defends his territory like a cross between Bobby Knight and a pit bull. Each weed that dares sprout is a personal insult to be leaped upon with chemical warfare, slashed and pulped with razor-sharp implements, and finally ripped out with bare hands in a snit of righteous indignation.
This serves as an example to any others that might be down there thinking of sprouting.
My personal addiction is trees. It started simply enough - a little blue spruce after dinner, or a silver maple out with the boys. The rain forest is my idea of a sparsely landscaped lawn.
When it comes to elaborate precision gardening, the kind where you have to wear overalls, arrange flowers and veggies in alphabetical order and construct tiny demilitarized zones against rabbits; it strikes me as a form of self-abuse that I can't afford to add to a list that is already considerable in that department.
When I get the itch to hoe my way across the horizon, I lay down until it goes away. Or I bring the hose in, telling my wife I'm going to make sure it's done before winter freeze-up this year.
"But it is only April 2nd, dear," she says.