Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Opening Day

We threw out the first trowel this past weekend and officially began the 2007 gardening season at our previously snowbound and then waterlogged homestead.

In previous years the opening day ceremony was the turning of the vegetable garden. This year it was the unveiling of the perennial beds.

The garden turning was at least partially gratuitous - or at least doing it on the first warm weekend in late March or early April was. I first started the activity, soon to be a ritual, during the spring of our first full year in our house. It was the second time I had tilled that earth. The first was the preceding Memorial day weekend when we created the plot with the guidance of my father-in-law - an inveterate gardener sharing his wisdom with his son-in-law of ten years who up until that time had shown not the slightest sign of interest in the subject.

I wasn't an exerciser at that time but my body was still young enough to believe that two hours of lifting dirt and sweating in the cool air was enough to make up for one hundred sixty-six hours of lethargy during the rest of the week - and in the process exorcise winter from the landscape. More importantly I enjoyed it and felt, as I looked at the hand tilled and hand raked pebbles of soil drying in the warm seasonal sun, that I had actually accomplished something good.

I continued to perform this ceremony annually for the next twenty-nine years - for about one third of that time sharing it with our now-deceased Labrador Retriever Nicole Marie who assisted by burrowing her nose into the cold soil at the start and rolling languorously in the lukewarm loam to wrap it up. I'll do it again this year before the warm weather comes. And will, as always, expect to see the imbedded outline of her muscular black back in the softened soil and feel her mud-coated snout resting in my hand.

But this spring, probably because Mars saw some new life on one of the bushes in front of our family room and decided that she wanted to trim away its dead branches, we chose to work together to cleanup the perennial beds first.

When we first moved in we had none of these plots. Now we have eight - two of them going into their third year, and just about all of them added to annually. Each of them had been left un-pruned and buried in a blanket of oak leaves over the winter. Now, in the drab days of early spring, with the snow gone and lawns and trees not yet burgeoning, the pale colored dead stalks sticking out of the partially decomposed foliage added to the picture of dormancy that was at odds with what should be the hope of the new season.

Our own landscape is too shady and our yard to wet to support the crocuses and daffodils that already decorate some of sunnier/drier yards in town. So we look for more modest signs of life. Even the most basic evidence that photosynthesis is occurring on our property is a cause for celebration - in this case a hamburger and black olive pizza for dinner.

In prior years, because they were opened up a little later in the season, there was more green to be uncovered. But most of the octet of beds were still able to provide a modest display of chlorophyll to soothe our desperately searching eyes: False Dragon stalks and sedum buds, iris tubers and fledgling ornamental grasses, daylily swellings and hosta tips, and a quintet of promising green leaves from the bulb mixture given to us several years ago by our friends the Oblaks.

It wasn't just a function of my aging that made me choose what might appear to be the easier of the two opening day tasks - although I actually had entertained in the back of my mind that I might attempt to till the garden after we had finished with the perennial beds. But two hours and thirty minutes of garden calisthenics (squatting, crouching, duck-walking, rising, raking, ripping, and mower mulching) turned out to be enough exercise to eliminate the need for an upper-body workout.

Our choice was actually the result of us now having enough of the multi-year blooming plants on our property to warrant a substantial cleanup effort on their behalf around this time of year. At this point in our horticultural life there are as many ongoing accomplishments that need nurturing as potential projects that will require the proper foundation.

Fortunately at this point in our chronological lives we have the time, energy and enthusiasm for both.

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