In our family, my sister Chris hosts Christmas and I host Easter. Among her many talents, Chris pulls out the stops when it comes to holiday decorating. Even in the dead of winter, her house brims with festive greenery, twinkling lights and potted poinsettias.
Then comes early spring and Easter. How can I compete? The ground is muddy at best or still snow-sodden at worst. No buds have popped yet, and any early bloomers have, more often than not, petrified pitifully in a late freeze. Being a gardener, I consider it a point of pride to find a way to jumpstart the season in time for the spring holidays.
Containers are a great solution since they can be moved to protect against volatile spring weather. But what plants might work well in early spring – I’m talking late March or early April – and where do we get our hands on them?
Where does the time go? Seems like nano-seconds since I gave up on my overgrown, drought and heat-ravaged mess of a garden in the fall, planted a white flag in the shriveled remains of a tomato plant in a dried up container and screamed to anyone who would listen (mostly squirrels and birds), “It’s yours! You own it! Do your worst. Dig up some bulbs. Go ahead, leave some foxhole-sized divots in the lawn. Knock yourselves out! Go on, sparrows, poop all over everything. Here, I’m putting out an extra lawn chair for just that purpose! Should I leave my bicycle out here, too? You want that, too? Huh? I don’t care! I quit. I resign. I abdicate. I bifurcate. I conjugate! I’ll be back in the spring. Or summer. Or in 2017. Maybe. Don’t hold your breath because… because… there’s nothing weirder than a blue squirrel.”
And with that, I walked into the house and rather animatedly rearranged all of my ties by date of purchase. Flash forward five months or so. Here we are. Spring. Yup. Spring.
As Ned crept up to the gate, he was struck by the eerie glow emanating from the yard. The last thing Ned wanted was eerie glow all over his face but it was too late. Besides, Susan was in there somewhere and he wasn’t going to cut and run. Not now. Ned wiped some eerie glow onto his jeans, took a deep breath and moved into the yard.
The glow was coming from somewhere in the distance, partially blocked by rows of evergreens. Ned made a mental note. It was an E-flat. Then cautiously, he crept forward. Footsteps. Voices. Coming this way. A moment of panic.
I’m feeling guilty. Perhaps that’s because my column was due last week and I’ve now written, let’s see, 18 words.
But I’m feeling guilty also because I’m a gardener. Many people mistakenly believe that guilt has to do with the kind of religion you practice—you know, Jewish guilt or Catholic guilt. (I read once that people who suffer from Buddhist guilt come back in the next life as dung beetles. I’ll get back to you with that weblink as soon as I track it down.)
All the snow we’ve had recently brought many more birds to the feeders outside our kitchen window. A lone starling was joined by sparrows, house finches, downy woodpeckers, seven cardinals, goldfinches (which are beginning to show faint yellow feathers as they lose their winter plumage), mourning doves and the occasional Cooper’s hawk (which sends the small birds scattering). It’s a good time to be indoors cooking and sowing seeds of tomato and pepper plants. As soon as the snow melts, I’ll get my soil thermometer and when the top inch of soil reaches to 52 F or so, I’ll begin sowing kale seeds.
There’s a nip in the air — I wouldn’t yet call it a chill — that prompted me to rummage through the box on the back porch yesterday and bring out the bags of bulbs I will be planting. Some of them maybe even today.
I like holiday carols. Really, I do. Honest. Don’t look at me like that. I know it’s hard to tell from the annual hit job I do on them in this column. Hey, I like my plants, too, and yet I kill them with astonishing regularity. Maybe it’s a “you always hurt the one you love” kind of thing.
So a word of advice. Don’t make me like you. It could be bad for your health. Come to think of it, singing any of these ditties around friends or co-workers might land you in intensive care. Just sayin’.
“Do you have geraniums?” “Pelargonium or cranesbill?” “Sorry?” “Er, Pelargonium or cranesbill.” “No, I’m not interested in birds. I want a geranium. Got any red ones?” “Exactly. I was just explaining that what you call a geranium is actually a Pelargonium.” “Then why don’t they call it that?” “Well, it’s sometimes called a storksbill.” “Like I said, I don’t wanna bird.” “No, I’m just saying that cranesbills and storksbills are two different things.” “Especially to their mamas.”
Wouldn’t life be just about perfect if roses could grow in shade? It so happens that once in a while you come across one that says it “tolerates some shade.” So when I saw those magical words attached to ‘Zépherine Drouhin’, I took them as a clear invitation to buy one and plant it by my front porch landing where it would get some morning sun although there was a 50-year-old mock orange shrub standing nearby on the right and a ‘DeGroot’s Spire’ arborvitae a few feet in front of it next to the steps. There was a pocket through which the rose would get “some” sun as it faced east in the morning, but alas, not enough.
The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming! The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming! I knew that would get your attention. It would be a lot harder to get gardeners to respond to a cry of “The bulbs are drawing nigh! The bulbs are drawing nigh!” How about “The rhizomes are riding!” or “The tubers are turning!“ or “The corms are, uh, corming!” Okay, now it’s getting a little out of control.
My point is that we are under attack by these “stealth” plants. Some folks think I’m paranoid but those people are the ones who are out to get me. I say look around! What do you see? Tiny shoots poking up through the leaves and fast food wrappers in your neighborhood. Do you know what that says to me? Reconnaissance, people! Uh-huh. Little periscopes checking out the situation. “Is it safe?” “Is the snow gone yet?” “Any dogs around?” “Ooh, look, a caterpillar!”
The day we brought her home from the nursery, we were the proudest parents on the block. We hadn’t always wanted one. In fact, the thought hadn’t really crossed our minds until we noticed how happy Kathleen’s brother and sister-in-law were with theirs. Slowly, irrevocably, the notion crept into our heads that perhaps it was time to make a commitment.
Still, I was the one who held back. Was I ready for this kind of a change? Could I handle the responsibility? What if I was found wanting?
As we sat in the yard and looked at her, tiny and green and purple, we thought about the years to come when we would share spring days and summer evenings and even snow-covered afternoons behind our house. I carried with me a mental snapshot of the three of us enjoying ourselves in the yard. I even had the perfect spot picked out for her, where she would always stand.
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