The Gardener at War

Throughout our lives we hustle and we slave
__To turn our gardens into magic places
__Where beauty at its pinnacle erases
Our darkest intimations of the grave;
But what mundane reward would ever save
__Us from the unavoidable disgraces
__Of having fought entire non-human races
Because we hate the way that they behave?

A mammal or an insect has no worth
__To us unless it happens to support
The projects we deem crucial here on earth,
__And killing noxious pests is not a sport
But necessary work: There is no dearth
__Of vermin that invade our own home court.




A slug employs its radula to tear
The petioles of hostas in the spring,
Which breaks the hearts of gardeners unaware
That remedies exist. The tattered leaves
Will never heal, and there is not a thing
That can be done but bear the loss and try
To be prepared next season. No one grieves
Too much if pelleted molluscicides
Are used to make these slimy creatures die—
They’re sold in nearly every garden center—
But take it from a seasoned hand who prides
Himself on natural cures: Relief is near,
As near as any liquor store you enter
From time to time. Those slugs are fools for yeast
And malt, so offer them a bowl of beer
And bid them come enjoy their final feast.

First published in The Lyric


Open Season

There aren’t too many plants a deer won’t eat,
And species that would kill the fool who dared
__To taste them are a treat
To this perennial worst enemy
Of gardens tended by the unprepared.
__A fence won’t help unless
It’s over six feet high, or deer can see
A second fence just past the first and guess

Correctly that there’s no good place to land.
Another method used by many folks
__Who choose to take a stand
Against marauding deer is spreading flakes
Of fragrant soap, putrescent whites and yolks
__Of eggs, Milorganite,
Or fresh coyote piss—whatever makes
A deer begin to lose its appetite—

Around the beds and on the leaves of plants
They’re eager to protect. I find it odd
__That marksmen get no chance,
No matter how much damage has occurred,
To do what’s needed to defend their sod
__Until the end of fall.
It comes to this: Let’s thin the goddamn herd
Before there isn’t anywhere at all

A law-abiding citizen can live
An ordered life! It’s personal, and I
__Won’t ask you to forgive
Me, dearest deer, for spraying garlic oil
(Or bullets, if it comes to that) to try
__To keep you bucks and does
From tramping through my cultivated soil
And eating all the buds off every rose.

First published in The Pennsylvania Review



C.B. Anderson was the longtime gardener for the PBS television series, The Victory Garden.  Hundreds of his poems have appeared in scores of print and electronic journals out of North America, Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, Australia and India.  His collection, Mortal Soup and the Blue Yonder was published in 2013 by White Violet Press.

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14 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    What a treat, Mr. Anderson (no need to open one’s mouth. These three adroitly combine humor and reflection. What to me is most impressive, though, is how naturally the language flows, despite the demands of rhyme and meter, while all three remain poetic beyond the technical challenges met. Congratulations.

    • C.B. Anderson

      I do the best I can, Julian, and sometimes it works out. I wish I could say that I planned it that way, but the juggling act you allude to is mostly due to blind luck. I try to use normal English sentences and insert rhyme & meter where necessary. I think I’m more of a craftsman than an artist.

  2. Joe Tessitore

    Terrific poetry that, for me, begs the question:
    is it (the poetry) related to
    the “Victory” in “Victory

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Joe T., I may be mistaken but wasn’t the phrase “Victory Garden” used during World War II to describe private plots of land that civilians cultivated to raise vegetables? I think the idea was to make rationing a bit easier on everyone.

      The three poems are exquisitely crafted. Notice that “Slugfest” (which has an amazing rhyme scheme!) is composed of only four sentences. This demands intense and careful enjambment, which Anderson does without a hitch.

      As for “The Gardener at War,” the political allegory hits one in the face like a roundhouse right. Bravo!

      • Joe Tessitore


        It was used during World War II (I think predominately by the British), but I’m wondering if C.B. hasn’t made it his own.

      • C.B. Anderson


        You are exactly correct. I have seen the propaganda video that tells people exactly how many row-feet of Swiss chard they should grow to sustain a family through times of shortage. I didn’t realize that the first poem was a political allegory until you pointed it out. The poem was drawn from the hard lessons of life, but now I see that my life is subject to a harsher reality than encountered while dealing with lower zoological orders and phyla.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Well, Joe, it’s no victory if garden pests defeat one’s efforts. You would be shocked if I told you how many woodchucks, squirrels and rabbits I killed in my professional career — not to mention skunks, raccoons, opossums and the like, and chipmunks too. Victory always comes with a moral cost, but it’s a cost that any successful gardener must bear.

  3. James A. Tweedie

    To date, after three months I have defeated the squirrels, which are no longer in my attic, and, after 10 years of battle I have defeated the moles in our yard, mand my wife has been drowning the slugs in beer. So now we suddenly have a pair of rabbits holed up behind the Shasta Daisies accompanied daily by a rotating duet and trio of yearling deer (four males and one female). Goodbye radishes, goodbye all the non-Shasta daisies and now, with the deer trampling the Shasta Daisies and the rabbits biting them off (out of spite, it seems, since they don’t eat them) we have a zoo made up of critters that we shoo away when we can and, when all else fails, we turn on the sprinklers. So far, without a fence and with plenty of shoo-ings and sprinkler-infant, our small garden is growing nicely. No doubt the rabbits will enjoy the beans, zucchini and other goodies when they become edible later this summer.

    I shared the last two poems with my wife (the family gardener) and she laughed out loud. Thanks C.B. For creating and sharing the poems.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Yes, James, the cost of homegrown flowers and vegetables is eternal vigilance. If there is one saving grace in all of this, it is that tomatoes, since they are in the nightshade family, are immune to most mammalian pests.

  4. Rod Walford

    Being an Englishman, C.B. I am not familiar with many of the critters (I think you call them ) that you refer to but I did enjoy the poems and found some of the construction very different from that which normally appeals to me but clearly very skilfully crafted so thank you for assisting me to live and learn.
    Very good down-to-earth poetry C.B. ( sorry – couldn’t resist!!)

    • C.B. Anderson

      Give thanks, Rod, that you don’t have to deal with some of the critters I deal with on a daily basis. But I’m sure they have analogs in your quarter of the world you must come to terms with if you wish to maintain a garden.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Now that you mention it, Leo, these poems ARE somewhat didactic.

      • Sally Cook

        Dear Kip –
        Your garden poems are remarkably succinct; crisp as a lettuce leaf, intricate as a broccoli head; smooth and clear as the skin of a perfectly ripened tomato ! Please give us more insights into your arboreal adventures.

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