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Step Away from the Garden


Gardeners are patient people, generally. Think about it. In a world in which the cable news cycle changes every 13 minutes or so, a gardener will wait for six months or longer for a seed to germinate. Gardeners put in perennials and shrubs knowing that they will reach their full potential about the same time as their kids do. They think nothing of planting a tree with the expectation that in, oh, 20 years or so, it will provide some shade. If we still live here. So why, when the calendar changes to March, do these stolid, unhurried souls suddenly get all wide-eyed and jittery? Why do these wise observers of nature’s slow pageant start acting like a bunch of all-sugared-up kids on Christmas Eve?

Behold the power of spring. Ever seen a dog try to go through a storm door to get to a mailman? Ever watched a cat that’s spotted a bird on a picnic table? Ever observed a man surfing on the television who comes across a football game? They all have one thing in common, the look in their eyes that says, “Must. Have. Now.”

So is it with the gardener. By the time spring arrives, the catalogs are tattered and coffee- (or merlot-) stained. The entire yard is mapped out in the gardener’s head and conversations are limited to “do you think it will work against the fence?” The gardener’s eyes have that far-away (at least as far as the backyard) look. The gardener’s muscles are longing to be twisted and strained. The gardener’s ego demands to be bruised. The gardener’s heart is aching to be broken. The gardener imagines hearing the seedlings in the basement crying out, “Plant us! Please! We must be free!”

The power of spring.
The gardener sees the early bulbs emerging. “Yay! It’s spring!” The only thing that keeps a gardener from going through the storm door head first is the little voice that keeps spoiling the party by saying things like, “What? Are you CRAZY? Get away from that garden! I mean it. Now! Shoo! Shoo! Get back in that house and watch Xtreme Sports on ESPN.”

Yes, gentle reader, it is the Voice of Reason. Gardeners hate the voice of reason. Especially in spring. We want to be out there, rearranging the mulch, trampling those delicate shoots, accidentally digging up plants that haven’t sprouted and, of course, compacting the soil.

That’s when that darned, annoying, pin-head of a joy-killer voice says, “What planet are you on, doofus? That soil is as damp as a bowl of Malt-o-meal! You smush that down now, you ain’t NEVER going to get it uncompacted! Not in this lifetime. Oh, no, honey! Get your sorry behind over to the nursery and see if you can stay out of trouble.”

And so, deflated, the gardener trundles over to the nursery. However, this advice is a tactical error on the part of the Voice of Reason. Because the nursery knows that the gardeners are coming and is ready. Especially if it’s 50 degrees and sunny in early March. The flats are all in place, and the hapless, zombie gardeners chant in unison, “Pansies, nemesia and stock, oh my. Pansies, nemesia and stock, oh my! Pansies, nemesia and stock, OH MY!”

There will be other plants set out, too, just to set the hook a little deeper. Trees, shrubs and perennials. Pulmonaria ALREADY IN BLOOM! “Must. Have. Now.”

At about this point, the Voice of Reason, who has been smoking a cigarette and not paying particular attention to the gardener, nearly swallows the filter when she (Voices of Reason are always female) sees that the gardener is about to spend 200 dollars on plants that will probably never make it into the ground. The Voice of Reason pounces.

“Whatchyou doing, meatball? Now you just roll that cart real nice and slow away from the cashier and we’ll just go down the block and get us a decaf Mochaccinno with whipped cream and an apricot rugala on the side. That’ll calm you down. Maybe.”

And that’s the way it goes up until time that it’s safe to let the gardener out into the garden, usually around Mother’s Day. The gardener froths at the mouth and tries to do something stupid and the Voice of Reason steps in and saves the day. Most of the time. It’s not a perfect system.

By June, as you can imagine, the Voice of Reason is a wreck and spends the next nine months in rehab, gearing up for next spring. It’s not a pretty or a glamorous job, but where would we gardeners be without the little voice in our heads that says,

“Step away from the garden, sugar.”

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questions

I keep seeing photos of interesting plants I’d like to grow, but they’re labeled zone 6 and I’m in zone 5. What can I do to successfully overwinter these marginal plants? I’d like to try them, but I don’t want to waste my money.

I have a dampish area with poor grass and moss that I would like to change to ground cover, but if I have only one plant, won’t it be boring? Can I get rid of the grass in winter or early spring?

We all seem to plant the basic herbs like basil, rosemary and parsley. What suggestions can you offer for more exotic herbs that I could add to my garden to spice things up both for cooking and adding interest/beauty to my landscape?

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