A Garden of Visual Delights by
(127 Stories)

Prompted By The Garden

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I’ve never had a green thumb or much interest in hands-on gardening, although I appreciate the efforts of others to create areas of beauty and grow good food. Probably this has to do with being allergic to flora–and I mean all flora. As a child I sneezed because of the lilac bush near my bedroom window. In my 20s, living in small apartments, I didn’t think about gardens very often. I had to remind my dates not to give me flowers, or if they did, they were placed outside on a balcony or patio where I could see them but not sniff them. Jasmine makes me nauseous. At my wedding, I carried a special bouquet with scentless flowers. On the tables were simple plants without blossoms.

I resorted to wearing sunglasses and a painter's mask to do any gardening, even trimming the lemon tree. Upon seeing me, my cat recoiled in horror.

At the first suburban house I owned, I didn’t have to worry about gardening. On the east side of Menlo Park, California, the O’Connor tract where I lived had been a chicken ranch in the early 20th century, and the soil was rich with … you can guess. Every seed that wafted into my yard grew, even east coast trees that weren’t supposed to be there.

When I moved to a small condo I considered having a little garden on my patio to accompany the nice lemon tree there. My enthusiasm waned as my eyes teared and my nose clogged. I resorted to wearing sunglasses and a painter’s mask to do any gardening, even trimming the lemon tree. Upon seeing me, my cat recoiled in horror. At this point my doctor recommended that I be tested for specific allergies, so I was poked 40 times along my arms and back with various pollens, molds, and related substances. I tested positive for 38 of them–basically all plants, trees, flowers, and even the natural mold in the soil.

At this point I reverted to my previous strategy of experiencing gardens by looking. On my patio at my current home there are some plants and citrus trees, but no flowers, and during the right season we grow tomato plants in pots. I have to remind my sweetheart that I can water but not dig up soil. Occasionally, if the season and time are absolutely right, I can sit out on the patio for a short while. Mostly, I use my eyes to appreciate the beautiful, varied greens I can see, and the swarming of hummingbirds against the red feeder.

Should the wildfire smoke ever abate, I’ll go back to walks with my painter’s mask (good for social distancing as well) to appreciate the neighborhood plants and flowers, in all their colorful beauty. While it might not be the same as active gardening, looking at nature is wonderful.


Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Wow, Marian, allergic to 38 of the 40 things you were tested for! No wonder you are not a gardener, it would be hazardous to your health! I love the idea of reminding dates not to give you flowers – I can’t remember ever having a date who did bring me flowers, but you can’t be too careful!

    As you know from my story, I am also in the “looking at nature” rather than “active gardening” camp. Seems like there are a lot of us, and we are lucky that there are others who enjoy gardening so we can admire it.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    As a child I remember friends with severe food and grass allergies, so I can sympathize with you, Marian. The daughter of a friend (who is now a doctor) also was allergic to flowers. She couldn’t even drink certain herbal teas, and always carried an EPI-pen. So your appreciation from afar sounds like the best move, given your health situation.

    How are you doing vis-a-vis the fires? I worry about my daughter in San Jose.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Betsy, I definitely will stick with appreciation from afar. The fires have been tough (I’m right on the San Jose border), and the air can be visually deceptive, so I check the particulate numbers every morning. A wet paper towel over the nose and mouth helps when running out to get the newspaper or mail.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    You certainly have good reason to be in the anti-gardening club (unlike, say, myself). I hadn’t even considered that possibility. But glad you can still appreciate the beauties of nature from afar. And hopefully we can all get closer to nature in a few months.

    Also, I promise never to bring you flowers. You’re welcome.

  4. Bless you, and I’m sorry that florabunda makes your body miserable! My ex was like that when he was a child, living on “contact” to avoid constant misery. I felt guilty enjoying spring as much as I did. He did eventually grow out of those. I send my sympathies, and appreciation for your gratitude for the windows(closed or open) in which you get to enjoy the outdoors!

  5. Sorry about those allergies Marian, but I’m so glad you’re not allergic to cats!

    My cousin Yotam and his family had a dog for many years. Suddenly Yotam developed a dog allergy and they had to get rid of their beloved pet!

  6. Ah, Mare…echoing your last sentence, looking at nature IS wonderful! Thankfully it can be appreciated from afar, not to mention as art and even poetry. (Ah, sunflower…)

    If you ever do decide to get a hypoallergenic dog, you won’t regret it! I have one, our Charlie, and although I do have pet allergies, I can actually bury my face in his hair — it’s hair, not fur — without any problem at all. Pure joy!

  7. Marian, that’s tragic! And yet here you are, hale, healthy, and hopefully happy with both feet on the ground. 38/40 allergies! Did you ever give a thought to joining NASA or any similar inorganic passion? Made me laugh AND cry ;-).

    • Marian says:

      Well, Charles, I guess space would be a good environment (deserts, concrete cities, or maybe the beach near the SF Sunset district would be possible). No one can explain so many allergies, except that in my mid 30s I was (accidentally) poisoned when our house painter used a solvent to make some trim shiny, which sent the paint toxins quickly into my body. We’ll never really know.

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