Tag Archives: spring gardening

Early May Gardening

I post a photo a day on social media, have done it for over a year now. Every day, at least one photo.  Lately, because I am lazy and also because I love the newness of this season, I post images of the flowers I am planting, the pepper plants and herbs.  I never have to leave the yard, and there is the added bonus of a photographic record of my early intentions as I welcome summer. 

But it isn’t summer yet, and the spring flowers, my favorite, are still making their appearance. Some home repair last summer threatened my Annabelle hydrangea, so I separated it into three plants, which I now call Sad, Sadder, and Saddest.  But maybe after a good settling in they will survive and even thrive in their new little plots of land.

The peony has bloomed and it looked lonely.  It needs company but it is such a lovely peony I hesitate to give it any because I am convinced no other peony will compare and a less than gorgeous plant will bring down the neighborhood, knock some of the shine off this one, out there, doing its beautiful thing. 

The porch and patio table still heave with flat boxes of things I need to get into the ground.  The packets of zinnia seeds sit on the mantel by the side door in a vain attempt to remind me to scatter them in the beds that have been prepared for weeks. 

But what I don’t have, what I long for more than anything, are my grandmother’s bearded iris.  There was an ancient bed of them along the side of her house, a part of the yard we were seldom in.  There was a cherry tree near by, perfectly scaled for children to climb, and I imagine that figured into our lack of unsupervised time there.  

But no matter, her elderly neighbor, Annie Starks, had iris, too, on the other side of my grandmother’s yard, and they stood in dense and uneven rows in the cool early mornings, dripping with dew and heavy with scent, a scent I will always think of as purple. I used to sit among them, feeling the cool dry dirt that anchored them, the morning damp on my bare legs.  

But surely this isn’t right.  Perhaps I just wanted to nestle down with them, to search for the little faces of yellow that played hide and seek deep in their throats, to drink in the coolness, the rich earth, the good place for hiding and being alone.  

The iris of my heart is purple, deep purple, I think, but maybe not.  I can’t remember now the exact color and no photos exist that might tell me. They may have been lighter, lilac perhaps, and I have searched for them in garden centers and other people’s yards, and I am surprised by the amount of time I dither over this. But it seems important, that color.

For my friend, Silas, the color is yellow. He has moved several times since his aunt, Sis, died, and always she moves with him in the irises he dug from her yard, the ones he transplants and tends and tears up over each spring.  She is miles and years away from him now, but never closer than when her yellow iris bloom, filling a vase with bursts of bright and elegant color, filling the house with the particular scent, swelling his heart for this aunt who was more than an aunt to him. 

I post photos of peonies and people post photos of their peonies back.  Or share stories of their grandmother’s peonies, how they wish they had them still, long swaths of them lining the driveway of a house no longer standing. I post close-ups of sage and Greek oregano, again, out of laziness, but also because the leaves are delicately edged and intricate in a way we never notice when we harvest them in a hurry, something simmering on the stove requiring their attendance. 

There will come a time when the weather will turn hot, which is hard on me, but not as hard as the humidity that will come with it. I give my plants and flowers as good a beginning as I can, knowing that neglect is coming.  In the sweltering, asthma-inducing height of summer, my approach to gardening is Darwinian. 

But for now, for a little while longer, let the tenderness continue. 

My Little Family In The Dirt

Already I have stopped by a couple of nurseries and picked up some babies, herbs mostly, but a Shasta daisy or two, hibiscus, a geranium, old-fashioned perennials I’m not too sure about.  But then, how can we ever know, I mean really, what the little ones will grow into?Will they take to the ways in which we have trained them, nurtured them?  Or will they go their own way, headstrong and difficult, exasperating us, bullying their more delicate siblings, hogging all the light? 

My happiest time in spring is seeing all my young plants, flowers and herbs together, bunched up on the porch in a puppy pile of color and texture.  They sit in the shallow cardboard boxes I bring them home in, and I thrill at the riotous abundance of it.

The day will come when I separate them, take them out of the playpen and put them in their own beds, and it will be sad for all of us.  They will thrive, eventually, more than they ever could on the porch, crowded and craning their slender necks so they might face the sun.  But for the first few nights they will look small and a bit lost in all that space I’ve given them to grow.  

Soon they will settle in, they will nestle sweetly under a brown blanket of new soil and mulch, but there will be a difficult night or two. They may get cold and need extra cover, and I will oblige, placing tea towels and pillowcases just so.  Some nights they are thirsty.  Other nights will arrive with too much wind, until the time they come to rely on it, the sound of it drifting them off to sleep, their roots growing sturdier with each gust and whisper.

I have taken to calling them girls. I greet them in the morning, compliment them, even when they don’t deserve it, just to encourage them along. But sometimes the compliments are genuine, heartfelt, especially in the early days and all that color and green and hopefulness take me by surprise when I open the door in the morning or return from an errand and see their happy brilliance as I pull into the drive. 

But I am a casual parent, too.  By summer’s end they will have had it, will have grown old and tired, or turned their faces to the wall, fading as slowly as their blooms. I give them what they need, food and drink, and I help them tidy up their rooms on occasion.  Sometimes a little treat to refresh their blossoms, or support for their giant and heavy heads. But I let them be themselves. It is the only way.  For I know, I always know, these girls will leave me.

A couple of grandpas and grandmas live around my house. I am not quite so casual with them.  I scratch on their branches, looking for that bit of green that says they have survived one more winter.  I watch for signs of new leaf or budding with a mixture of dread and hope and anticipatory grief. 

I talk to them, too, but in a different timbre, and we commiserate where as the young flowers and I dream. There isn’t much to do for them, really, but sit with them in the sun, enjoy the deepening shadows as they play across their faces. There are no heroic measures to be taken in my yard.  I tried that once, long ago, and hastened the death of a perfectly good, but aged shrub.  One that had a bit more to teach me. A bit more to give. I thought I knew more than I did, and overdid the cure, a cure for which there was no disease but simple, noble old age. 

My little family will grow over the next few weeks, more plants carried home in boxes and containers and little paper packets to be opened and emptied upon prepared patches of ground. I learn each season which plants are apt to be happiest here, which ones will need more light than I can provide.  I will stock the shelves with nourishing food and special treats, but not too many.  Maybe a little something to brighten their blooms like party dresses.  Maybe something to keep the bugs off.  After that, they, like all of us, are on their own.