You may have seen Penny Simonson. She appears on those local early, early morning TV shows giving tips to those of us whose plants and gardens do not thrive. Penny is a plant and garden know-it-all with credentials. She works for Washington State University and is charged with educating those of us in the Spokane area who regularly kill off houseplants and grow corn that doesn’t get knee-high even after the Fourth of July.
People like me. My tomatoes have never ripened to crimson on the vine. They were always green by the first frost in the fall. Now, in my advanced age, I live in a condominium but still grow tomatoes on our deck. Although these tomatoes receive intense sunshine, they still don’t ripen to red by the first autumn frost. My neighbors peer from their decks looking at my tomatoes and assessing my agri-skills. I may have taken credit for some things Penny Simonson has told me over the years which I have repeated as if it were my own knowledge.
On live TV, Penny once uttered a phrase that I have often used to enhance my green-thumb image, “Annuals grow fast and die young.” My neighbors are awed by that remark. They think that I am a bit of a plant and garden whiz. In order to maintain my image, I sneak out on my deck during the nights in mid-August, and paint the tomatoes a bright red, using a can of acrylic spray paint. I use newspapers to keep the paint off the vines. Red vines are a dead giveaway to seasoned experts or even the casual observer.
Then I purchase some tomatoes (on the vine) at the grocery store and hand them out to unsuspecting neighbors, “we’ve got more tomatoes than we can eat.”
Everyone likes free tomatoes. They are easily fooled. However, Penny Simonson is not. I recently spotted her on one of those early, early morning television shows. She was seated with several experts manning (womanning?) a bank of telephones. They were answering calls about dying flowers, barren gardens and tree rust. I know Penny as a friend, although we only meet up at times during the GU basketball season. I called the number on the television screen and slammed down the receiver when anyone but Penny answered. Finally Penny picked up my call and invited me to ask a botanical question.
And I did, “Mold is forming on my creeping phlox. What should I do?” I spoke in my favorite fake accent so she would not recognize my voice which she has not heard in three months anyway.
“Is that a red mold or a green mold?” Penny responded with a question.
“Both!” I sensed she was stumped by my phony inquiry.
“Darin, I believe your question requires a medical solution. See a doctor.”
I slammed the receiver down before she could send her laugh cackling through the telephone line. I will not be mocked by an employee of the state. I am a taxpayer who pays her salary.