yellow and black orb weaver spider
Curing the Gardening Phobia

A Slow-Rewards School

Til now, I have been rewarded for my 1-hour efforts with modest gifts…hummingbird visits for one. A tiny brown helicopter actually hovered in front of me for about 5 seconds. We examined each other with mutual curiosity before she went on her way. 

The soft buzzing of bees as they make their staccato visits to the bee balm has kept me company.

Monarch butterflies…then their next-generation yellow, white, and black striped caterpillars added a visual thrill to my day.



Now though, I was turning to a section of yard that seemed unlikely to hold any—even small—rewards. I had to work on the biggest mess I’d ever seen. It seemed to hold no promise of intermittent, even tiny bits of satisfaction.

Unruly Pupils

Two years’ congestion choked all the hope that I had planted in the north bed. The cranesbill was reaching out into the lawn to escape the mess. Aggressive ferns smothered nearly all the lily of the valley. Canada thistle mocked its neighbors from 2 feet up. Other 7-foot high thugs blocked access to our raspberry patch.



I dove in thinking that I had a lot of weeding to do. But as I got started, I saw the fungus that was killing the lily of the valley and the ferns—even the thistle was gray and shriveling up with it. There was nothing to save…it had to be cleared and replanted.

Conjuring up some optimism, I accepted the prognosis that even small rewards would be delayed. I began pulling indiscriminately…used a weeder judiciously…then shoveled to get the ferns out. 1-hour’s time got me through a patch measuring about 18 x 60 inches, with at least another 100 square feet left.

Lennie, the French Nurse

I finally had some sympathy with my neighbor to the south who had only a square patch of grass in his backyard. Adam didn’t even attempt a garden.

In fact, it was an elderly French neighbor in that same house—a former World War II nurse—who had planted a lush 8 x 8 foot raspberry patch. I can still see Lennie reaching out to hand me a welcome gift—an overflowing quart of raspberries from her garden. As I accepted them with both hands, I glanced over her shoulder to the patch and envied her green thumb. Nursing and gardening…they definitely go together.

Adam cut it down in the first month of his occupancy. Seems heartless…but maybe he knew what he was doing…and wanted to do with his spare time…

Deserted by Nature

On the second day of excavation, I just kept my head down…pulling, weeding, shoveling…finding my rhythm. I took pictures after each hour, but they just show a growing patch of dirt. It’s not much to look at.



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I might’ve been able to pull my mood out of the dumps…if not for Day 5.

The realization came after 5 days…with all that digging…that I was not finding a single bug or worm. Even the bees weren’t coming over to visit. The soil was depleted. I rested for a few moments in Vajrasana, trying to make a little lemonade—then dutifully finished my hour and went inside.

By Day 6, I was hesitating to go out and was glad for rain.

Corinne of the Beehive Hairdo

On Day 7, I went outside, but wandered around…then decided to check out the Black-eyed Susans. They were parted down the middle and lying on the ground after the rain…I figured I might as well cut some of them.

I reached out to grab a few…when I saw it…my hand dangerously close to a large alien being. I screamed and leapt back, tripping over the stone edging on the bed behind me. I scrambled up, fearing that I had disturbed the Shelob and that she would be racing after me.

I paused to get my bearings…then crept back toward the creature. Her body was the size of a half-dollar, with 8 legs each about 3 inches long and markings that looked drastically venomous…a brilliant lemon yellow and glossy black. She had woven a web across the widest part of the span and sat ceremoniously in the center. Behind her was a concentration of webbing in a zigzag pattern.

yellow and black orb weaver spider
Black and yellow orb weaver spider with black-eyed Susan

Still panting, I pulled out my phone. How would I ever kill the thing? I don’t own a gun…I nervously fumbled a description into the search bar.

I thought of Grandma Corinne…the cool grandma with the blonde beehive hairdo and bright red lipstick. She had come to babysit, while Mom was in the hospital having Jeanne. We lived in Little Rock, in a house on the edge of the woods, filled with tarantulas…one of which had made its way into the cul-de-sac…

We ran in to get a grown-up, and out came Grandma with a straw broom held high over her beehive.

We were confident that the right grown-up was on the job, and we watched triumphantly as she swung it down hard on the alien. But the wolf creature had her revenge….as hundreds of spiderlings scurried in all directions from her lifeless body…sending the neighborhood kids and grownups screaming into the four winds as well.

The Principal Is In

I had a new appreciation for Grandma Corinne’s gutsiness…and was pretty sure I had not inherited it. Finally, into the bright phone screen popped an answer. I felt unsteady with the assurances that the orb weaver spider is nothing to fear.

In fact, we are all to be congratulated at having one in our gardens! The orb weaver is a great blessing, eating all bad bugs and having no interest whatsoever in our houses. It prefers the out-of-doors.

Well! Time to stop avoiding…I didn’t cut any flowers…and instead got to work in the nightmare bed…positioning myself so that I could look up easily every 5 minutes. Every 10 minutes, I nervously walked over to make sure she was sitting still. At one point, she was on the edge of her office, masterfully spinning a pupil between her 2 front legs.

Well…Shelob wasn’t the calming, cutsey reward I was looking for. So far though, she seems to be what I need. The horrible, nightmare messy bed is far enough away that I’m willing to stay safely in it and work for a while…

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