Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Desperate Houseplants

ABC's Desperate Housewives is a show about a group of neighbors on a permanently sunny suburban street called Wisteria Lane. It's a wry, soapy spoof of American culture narrated by a dead woman.

Rule number one in soap operas is that domesticated ladies must cook, clean and garden in very nice clothes and yet never get dirty. Now and again an artfully placed smudge will show up on a cheek or maybe an argument will involve the spray hose. Otherwise, these girls are flawless, along with their gardens.

Wisteria Lane is heavy on white picket fencing, arbors, porch railings and posts, all handsomely entwined with blooming Wisteria vines. Many scenes are filmed with purple or white Wisteria gently waving in the fake breeze (blown by big electric fans) figured somewhere in the composition. Wisteria blooms literally every day of every year in this neighborhood, without fail, and every flower is always at its loveliest peak.

Gardening is not a plot device on Desperate Housewives but it plays a pivotal role in defining the lifestyles of the central female characters. While some of them are shown actually working in their gardens - especially the Martha Stewart clone Bree Hodge (played by Marcia Cross) - others merely ignore their landscaping with equally fabulous results.

Solice (Eva Longoria-Parker) once kept a gardener in her employment but even after he was history (she broke off their affair to save her marriage) her landscape remained as beautiful as ever.

Every home in this make-believe neighborhood has virtuous green lawns, clear of dandelions and crabgrass. Nodding
Agapanthus bloom in every border and never require dead heading. Roses flower ceaselessly without the application of fungicides. It never rains. (Or, if it does, the sun manages to keep shining in that Hollywood way.) Their lawns are not plagued by Japanese beetles or chinchbugs, and nothing gets mildew.

The only thing that requires a spray in their perfect enclave is sexy hair.

Desperate Housewives needs an additional story arc that more directly involves gardening.  Perhaps Susan Meyers (Teri Hatcher) could find a new hobby, one that does not involve looking for a man.  Something much more interesting. Vegetable Gardening, let's say.  

Susan starts with a few tomato plants that wilt suddenly and drop their fruit, which sends her in a panic to the garden supply store, where she spends a hundred dollars on products that guarantee "firm, ripe, juicy tomatoes just like your grandma used to grow!"

Susan's tomatoes wither and die despite her best efforts, but instead of discouraging her,  her experience with crop failure deepens her determination to grow a decent vegetable.  So she rents a tiller, trucks in compost, hires a cute carpenter (they have a fling but she dumps him for her new passion - the garden) to build cedar trellises, installs drip irrigation and starts a compost pile.

A couple of years pass.  Susan has expanded her vegetable beds considerably after removing three large trees, installed a cold frame, improved soil
tilth and mulched heavily.  She rotates annually, plants green crops and picks off each potato beetle by hand.

One lovely afternoon when the Wisteria is in full bloom her old friends invite Susan to lunch. It's been so very long, they plead, since they have had a chance to catch up.  Oh, no, Susan declines, I cannot go out today.  You see, I have to apply the fish emulsion before noon, when the sun is very hot.

Another day?  Her friends suggest.  Unfortunately not, Susan replies.  There is too much to accomplish in the garden: so many weeds!  Check for squash bugs!  If I don't get the egg clusters there will be hell to pay in a few weeks!  And I have all that compost to spread!

Over a glass of wine her old friends shake their befuddled heads.  What happened to her, they ask?  We barely know her these days.  She used to be so much fun and now all she wants to do is garden.

Poor Susan, they all agree, she really needs to get a life!


My Mother's Garden said...

Ah...The life and passions of a gardener! I love it!!!


Joe Lamp'l said...

Shane, that was brilliant! Bravo for such excellent screen writing. Maybe act II could be that Susan actually does find the man of her dreams when she goes to the food bank to donate the surplus from her bountiful harvest, only to meet Mr. Right, who happens to be there at just the precise time, donating surplus crops from his organic vegetable garden too. It's love at first sight. They make a few suggestive comments as they compare crops and the rest is history. Now that's a show I could really get into!

Janet said...

Pretty clever! That is one way to get some more gardening on TV!

Anonymous said...

great, Shane. you are the man. now would you please let me know where i can get a non-toxic garden hose, as well as the same for a soaker hose? thanks. ps, write to me, myarmolinsky at santegroup dot org