As I Live and Weed
“We love our gardens so much it hurts. For their sake we’ll bend over till our backs ache, yanking out fistfulls of quackgrass by the roots as if we are tearing out the hair of the world. We lead our favorite hoe like a dance partner down one long row and up the next, in a dance marathon that leaves us exhausted…
– Barbara Kingsolver, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”
Could it be anything other than love that enables someone to look upon a scene of such has-been and utter ruin and manage to see potential? It’s just one of the many questions I’ve had time to ponder while slowly turning this scene from plant graveyard to garden all over again. Granted, things might’ve been easier had I taken the time, last fall, to strip all the wearied plants out of the beds rather than waiting until the first snow came, ending all chances of my entering the garden for several months. Lesson learned!
The good news: not all the green you see in that photo is weeds! All of our perennials we started from seed, last year, survived to see the sun again! In fact, many of them are noticeably stockier and hardier already.
The bad news: quackgrass never sleeps; no, not even in winter beneath two feet of snow. Still, we gave it such a beating, last year, its persistence this year is not so much menacing as it is just annoying.
Other than ripping out practically petrified remains of taller-than-me sunflowers, sweet corn, and the knee-high gnarled stems of peppers and tomatoes, I’ve mainly been busy readying the soil for this year’s garden and — for the first time in my gardening experience — getting some spring crops planted.
Last year, our fence wasn’t completed until the last week of May and — even then — the garden was still just tilled soil, waiting to be given form and shaped into beds. Now that all of that’s already out of the way, we’ve got onion sets planted and sprouting, potatoes planted, peas sown and beginning to sprout, and a first-round sowing of mustard greens, collard greens, lettuce, spinach, kale, and radishes.
Most of the work in the garden, thus far, hasn’t been so photogenic. But, inside our “plant room” where the grow lights have been glowing since mid-February, there’s all sorts of infantile greenery to amuse and delight. As the days get longer and warmer, more and more seedlings are lining the shelves, taking up real estate beneath the lights and demanding my undivided attention.
Since we had more shelving space, this year, I took it upon myself to start most of our flower seedlings rather than buying so many annuals at the local nurseries. I like having choices I can’t find at garden centers, but flowers can be a lot needier than vegetables when starting from seed: 1) Some seedlings require light to germinate and so can’t be covered with soil and therefore require frequent misting if there’s any hope of seeing a sprout or two; 2) Many tend to grow at a staggeringly slow pace, so they’re often started in the depths of winter and kept on life support for months until it’s finally safe to transplant them outside. There have been some frustrating moments, but I’m hoping we’ll have blooms enough to make up for all the hassle come midsummer.
From top to bottom: German Chamomile, Four O’Clock, Calendula, and Cobaea Vine.
There has been no shortage of complaints from folks on the peninsula about spring being slow or delayed, this year. Tempting as it’s been to join in, I’ve found it hard to complain, honestly. It did take longer than I’d like for the snow to be completely gone from the garden, but Winter 2012 was hardly a winter at all (half the usual snowfall), and spring was a nightmare which led to zero cherries and several other fruit crops, followed by a near-drought that summer! Fast spring? No thanks!
No, we can’t complain. The days have been getting warmer and warmer all the time, and even the forest has been waking up gradually. Our front garden, too (the one we didn’t plant ourselves), has been coming to life over the past three weeks.
With the longer days and all that time I’ve been spending out in the fresh air, I’ve had lots of time to take in the spring wildflowers we’ve missed since last year. The light of a spring morning shining through the sparkling leaf buds of maples, aspens, and then illuminating all the colorful flowers is such a welcome sight and a contrast to the predictable color palette of winter. You hate to think spitefully of winter, but spring wins you over every year.
I think spring wildflowers are especially interesting since they’re always in such a hurry. In just a short time, they have to push their way through last fall’s layer of fallen leaves, grow strong stems and leaves, and manage to produce enough flowers to reproduce all before the forest canopy fully unfurls and shades out all of the sun for another year. To look at them, you’d never tell they lived such stressful lives!
Since the warm-up has been gradual, this year, the flowers have been longer lasting and more plentiful — especially the trout lilies. Each morning, the flowers open and — by noon — have turned themselves nearly inside out, only to slowly close up again by evening. They’re fun to watch.
With our calendars and our schedules, it’s so tempting to try and pin spring down as if we could make an appointment to enjoy it. Like autumn, spring is scarcely here before it’s gone. With each passing day, the changes are growing faster and faster, heading toward that frenzy of summer when all of nature is a free-for-all and (hopefully) the garden will be full of life once again.