Spring begins the garden season with enticing hints of color

#418 in a series of true experiences in real estate
February 2003, Hills Newspapers

Spring is coming; not here quite yet, but it will surround us before long. Plum trees show their pink, daffodils are blooming. Every day I pick a few ripe daffodil buds to bring into the house before the slugs chew them. I miss some; their yellow remains at the top of their stalks, tattered slug lunches. But the flowers that stand in pitchers above my kitchen sink are whole and beautiful, trumpets facing me, a canary yellow that seems to shout good cheer.

In between rainstorms, I’ve done a little work in my garden. I raced out one day in early January to hack down the rose bushes, didn’t do a careful job as it was cold and gray and I didn’t want to be outside. When the sun was shining on each of two weekends, I had the chance to rake up wet brown leaves from my flower beds, exposing the dirt. Phlox and irises and daylilies are poking through the earth, some mounding as high as five or six inches now. The leaves are an extraordinary fresh green, young and clean. I love the look.

In fact, this is my favorite time of year in the garden. When I’ve cleared the beds of detritus left from winter, when I can see wide bare spaces between beginning growth – no flowers yet – the garden is full of a promise that I find especially appealing.

The gravel pathways are sprouting millions of seedlings, tiny two-leaf annuals, the seeds of which accidentally spilled on the paths when I took out spent plants last fall. I try to remove old re-seeders carefully, stuffing them inside bags, because I know how prolific they are. But unavoidably, seeds from hollyhocks and valerian, impatience and forget-me-nots fall all over areas where I don’t want them.

I’ll have to spray the paths or wait until the plants grow larger, then pull each one by hand. They’re too small at this point to grasp and the quantity is too numerous. It would take weeks on my hands and knees with tweezers to pluck each one.

Flower catalogs arrive in my mailbox each day. They contain enticing full-color photos of spring bulbs: many types of daffodils (even pink ones and creamy white ones), crocus, tulips and more. Almost all of these I would like to include in my yard. It’s interesting that I am being offered these now; if I order them, they won’t be sent until the fall, the right time to plant them. I won’t see them in flower until next spring.

But I guess the catalog people know that it is at this time of year that I will be most easily seduced to buy. Smart people; they’re right. I look out my window to the patches of bulbs now in bloom and I do want more, many more. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve written out several bulb orders. If I mail them, along with my credit card number, dozens and dozens of bulbs will come to my doorstep in brown boxes, probably in October.

My orders have not been mailed and may not be. Years of experience have taught me that while my appetite is high in February, when faced with what to do with new bulbs in the fall, I am dismayed. They must be planted, but where? The shipment arrives when my garden is full to overflowing. There is no space to add anything. It will be another month or two before it’s time to do my fall clean-up, to remove enough spent vegetation that I can put my bulbs underground.

What other gardeners do is store their bulbs in the refrigerator, in the vegetable crisper. I’ve done this too, but I have a problem with getting them out. Safe in the crisper for the time being, the day that I get up thinking that I’ll remove and plant them eludes me.

If I don’t put it off forever (I haven’t yet let bulbs rot in the refrigerator), it will probably be a cold, dark day when guilt moves me to take the bulbs to the garden to bury, another day just as I have experienced recently at the other end of the year, when I would rather be warm inside.

Shivering and impatient, I look around for good spots with relatively decent, diggable soil that are not already occupied, preferably places located where I can see them from inside the house. What I see when I look out at the garden is important to me.

When time and inclination allow, I love the garden, work in it at every possible moment, adding and subtracting plants, trimming and cleaning up, forming the whole to my current vision. At other times, busy with other aspects of life, or just not in the mood, I let the garden go wild. I still walk through it frequently, and I can’t keep myself from pulling weeds and snapping off dead flowers as I go, but these times are similar to letting my housekeeping go. Chores stack up, are left for another day until I’m in a clean-up mood again.

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