- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 10, 2006

There are two sides to every garden. One side is scented, lush and orderly. Humankind strolls in harmony with sun-dappled greenery; the gentle burble of a fountain and the murmur of civilized conversation may be heard among the pastel blossoms.

The other side is putrid, alien and alarming. Humankind runs screaming from the compost pile upon encountering a behemoth slug — the veritable emperor of all slugs — holding court among the rotten apple parings and moldering leaves.

Ah, the slug.

Behold the slug. The king slug. He may be surrounded by a bevy of slug handmaidens or a whole platoon of undulating sluglets. If we look closely, we will see the big king slug is smiling supremely as he watches the human bolting from the mulch — all those expensive tools with the ergonomic handles clattering to the ground.

The king slug assumes an omnipotent expression and nods serenely.

“And now we will witness the goo dance,” he tells all the other slugs. “It is most enjoyable.”

Sure enough, the human commences to do the goo dance, triggered after encountering something viscous, unknown, pale, skittering or bulbous while rooting around in the garden. The goo dance follows a long-established pattern, amusing to slugs — not to mention grubs, night crawlers, centipedes, millipedes and hornworms.

In a moment of great drama, the human springs up and offers a stark, emphatic soliloquy — usually “Ew-w-w-w.” One hand invariably shakes in the air. The human may do a few mincing steps and a lap around the yard before racing into the house in search of floral-scented antibacterial soap.

At this point, all the slugs cheer, wave around their soft little slug antlers and offer a round of applause for the king of slugs, who inspired the goo dance in the first place.

Of course, the slug king also knows humans are easily spooked. They are loathe to get out the slug bait or sacrifice a can of good beer to assemble a curious, possibly mythological, homemade slug exterminator.

“Honey, why are you pouring that Heineken into a bowl?”

“So the slugs will come out at night and drink it. They get drunk and fall into the bowl and drown. It’s an old farmer’s method.”

Yes, and then one has to fish out a dead or dead-drunk slug from the bowl and figure out what to do with it. Even the biggest oaf of a dog won’t touch the thing. And forget about any slug-smushing activities, as that only leads another goo dance.

Slugs also know humans are kindhearted. That is why they puff themselves out into turgid slug magnificence — antlers waving — as they glide across the front steps on a cushion of silver slime.

“Aw gee, honey. I can’t kill the thing. It’s so, so vulnerable.”

The minute the slug hears the word “vulnerable,” it knows it has won.

Yard horrors have done little to dissuade humans from getting out into the garden, though. Why, the biggest single tomato ever grown on this planet weighed almost 8 pounds, while the biggest stalk of broccoli tipped the scales at 35 pounds, according to Guinness. And some guy in Japan grew a 68-pound radish.

Meanwhile, the National Gardening Association reported that 91 million American households got out there and wrestled with slugs, weeds, cutworms and soil pH last year.

That’s 83 percent of the nation, the association says — up 11 percent from the previous year. Americans also spent more than $35 billion doing this. Many managed to foil the slugs, weeds and cutworms and produce such things as roses, fescue and ginkgo trees. This is a very savvy thing to do, at least according to the American Nursery and Landscape Association.

It maintains that landscaping adds 7 percent to 15 percent to a home’s total value. And those trees. According to the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers, a “mature” tree can have an appraised value of $1,000 to $10,000.

Who knew?

Oh, and those trees also reduce noise around the house by 50 percent — this according to the Environmental Protection Agency — and provide the equivalent of $273 per year in air cooling, erosion and storm-water control, plus wildlife shelter benefits, according to American Forests, an industry publication.

Not to be overlooked, the Roper Poll of American Demographics notes that the top reasons people garden are to be outdoors (cited by 44 percent of the respondents), to be around beautiful things (42 percent), to relax and escape the pressures of modern life (39 percent) and to stay active (35 percent).

There were no numbers cited by slug respondents, though some experts theorize slugs stay in the garden to be entertained and drink beer.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and drunken slugs for The Washington Times’ national desk. Contact her at 202/636-3085 or [email protected]

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