The Tube of Toothpaste

by Norman Todd  2003


I wish that there were more things in life that were like the tube of toothpaste.  Routinely, I go to the ever-growing grocery list on the side of the fridge and add ‘toothpaste’.  Two weeks later, I am still getting another squeeze out of the old tube.  There are very few things in this consumer-driven society of ours that keep on giving a little more the way the tube of toothpaste does.  Someone said that a frugal cook squeezes a lemon until the pips squeak but it’s easy to feel frugal with the tube of toothpaste.


Families and friends are notable givers of the extra squeeze.  Pets often give good returns on emotional investment but in the inert category it’s hard to think of many things that give that little bit more than expected.


I think gardens can be likened to the tube of toothpaste.  At any rate, in my experience, the garden’s rate of return increases with time.  Time, helped a little by our labour, usually results in the returns getting bigger and better each year.  I know a time will come when things are just too big and cramped and overgrown but even after more than a quarter century, my garden hasn’t reached that stage yet and my personal ‘best before’ date will surely come, if not already reached, before that of the garden’s.


You often hear it said, “There is no such thing as an instant garden”. In my opinion that’s a very happy situation.  An instant garden implies constancy – it has already achieved its limit.  There will be never be that pleasant raising of eyebrows when that extra, unexpected extrusion is laid on the toothbrush.


I would classify some plants as being of the toothpaste tube genre.  The English primrose (primula vulgaris) always surprises me with its bountiful giving.  It shows a bloom for the six darkest months of the year.  Cyclamen hederifolium (neapolitanum) is a ten-month plant. Its heart shaped leaves have silver markings – as individual as our fingerprints –and they persist for 10 months.  It flowers for over three months – from August to November.  Potentilla fruticosa blooms from May until October as do many of the cistus.


Among rhododendrons, I would put ‘Ernie Dee’ in the toothpaste class.  He blooms for five months – half in the fall and half in the spring.  ‘Lee’s Scarlet’ is another plant that seems to give that unexpected extra; blooming for five months over the winter.  ‘Noyo Brave’ always surprises me with its polished decorum.  It is as nattily dressed as a behind-the-bench NHL head coach.  I would pick ‘Dreamland’ as the female equivalent in sartorial refinement.  ‘Nancy Evans’ always gives more that she gets.  I don’t know who ‘Nancy Evans’ is in human terms but I would surely like to give her a big squeeze for all the surplus squeezes she has given me.


Arbutus trees keep on giving – leaves and bark and berries and even branches – but this is not a true gift like that bonus from the toothpaste tube.  It takes considerable effort to blow all of this detritus onto the neighbours’ property.  It does, however, make good mulch.


On the other hand, some things are always taking.  Have you noticed how much it now costs to let the bank use your money?  Service charges are bigger than interest payments.  Banks are more like vacuum cleaners than toothpaste tubes.  And for some strange reason, the dues we pay to get this newsletter seem to keep sucking in more of our hard earned cash.  Thank goodness most of us think the interest we get from being a member is still worth the annual investment.


Still, it’s probably best to concentrate on the things and events that perk us up with their surprising generosity rather than mope on the leech-like cupidity of our contemporary culture.  “The little things are great to a little man.”