Whatever it is that spring does to the soul, it’s doing it bigtime this year. And even though I owe you a long overdue Post, full of facts and tips and musings (insight is accidental), all I feel capable of is an ode to joy.
We’ve all spent a year-and-change fearing and fleeing from tiny white balls spiked with evil red points. And we’re not quite done yet. So, when I pulled into my driveway after two weeks away, bracketed by three airports and four flights populated by too many people who think masks are best worn below the nose, all I wanted was to collapse.
But what greeted me was a vision of spring sprayed across the front yard. Blast of awe! The colors popping atop green stems and dangling from branches, white and crimson and lazuli and dawn-pink and apricot and bright butter yellow (your choice, forsythia or dandelions; the bees love both), packed a powerful thrill.
I can’t quite pinpoint whether it was the sort of thrill that shivers your spine up to your heartstrings when a just-born baby belts out its first yell, or the kind that seizes your ribcage when you find you’re still breathing after dodging a bullet. Maybe a combination.
Haven’t we all had our senses sharpened by the past year-plus of collective traumas? I know it’s not just me. The New York Times reports New Yorkers’ raptures over tulips they swear are more profuse, more aburst with color this year. I’m not saying that New Yorkers are the essence of blasé, but when you live in the second most exciting city in the world (yes, Paris wins), it probably takes a lot to excite you. After all, weren’t they the ones who invented the word meh?
They’re noticing what I’m noticing: there is beauty riotous around us.
Around me. Minutely: with the bumblebee’s lurch-landing on a spray of cherry blossoms; with the unfurling of the impossibly deep-purple tulips, every petal edged as though nature had shaped it with heavenly pinking shears. Or on larger scale, on the lemon magnolia that last year emitted one piteous flower, but this year bedecked itself top-to-bottom in a creamy yellow riposte to the buttery flaunt of forsythia across the lawn.
Name it. Tame it?
And even with the weeds—especially with the weeds! They flower so fast and so furious, they must know the fate I have in store for them. My first task in the spring garden is not to plant; it’s to weed, because I know from experience that the weeds will win if I ignore them.
I’ve been reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, which makes me think that I should know those weeds’ names. So I ordered Dickinson and Royer’s Weeds of North America. I will not go to the extent of asking the weeds’ permission, but I can at least call their names as I root them out.
Plantain, its green rosettes of leaves easy to identify. I should, in fact, ask its permission for the rooting out, because it’s edible and medicinal, and adds zest to a salad. I should treat it with considerable respect, and maybe even eat it.
And dandelions! Read up on these and you’d think we should be cultivating them–except who needs to, when they grow themselves just about anywhere, thank you very much.
Then there are Johnny jump-ups, from the violet family. The Weeds guide tells me they hail from Europe and Asia, and have “escape[d] from cultivation.” I picture the getaway: the moment the cottage door shut out the evening, the Johnnies hiked up their leafy emerald pantaloons and hightailed it into the nearby meadow, flowery faces alight with laughter. They are still laughing. Especially at me, in hilarious popups all over the lawn.
Others? It will take some scrounging to find their names. The tiny ground-hugging creepers with their fairy-blue blossoms. The low-leafed lurkers between the bricks of the walk, throwing up flower stalks like periscopes. I can see their whites blooming where an eye might peer out.
I could invent names for them myself, for now. That might add to the number of popular names they acquired before Linnaeus came around and pasted Latin on them.
All in good time
Did I say ode to joy? It may not be joy for the weeds, but for the garden as a whole, it’s a happy tradeoff. The crabapple trees nod their pink-festooned branches, tapping thanks at my hat as I remove the blue-blooming creepers besetting their roots. The new leaves of a resurging aster emerge into view as I dig out the dense carpet that had settled around it; by the next day the aster seems to have doubled in size. The prostrate larch exudes relief as I advance on those periscoped legions that had been greedily eyeing it, and resumes its inching progress toward bed’s edge.
Granted, I’m cultivating for decoration at this point; the veggies will come later, as will their weeds. But the big thrill is that things are growing. They are coming back. Life is recovering and taking over again. The grasses that will become July hay burgeon in the meadow. The trees at the woods’ fringe are shaking diaphanous scarves in shades of green. Male robins patrol their territories, while mockingbirds flirt shamelessly with each other; we all know what comes next there.
Me, I’m just trimming a bit to help point a few flowers in a particular direction on one infinitesimal patch of planet Earth. Outside doing my thing while everyone else does theirs.
The inner weeds…
Then comes a rainy day that drives me indoors, and starts me to wondering. We’ve all been so sequestered and shuttered for the past year. That has allowed some underground development—sinking new roots, inching into new territories we might never have explored had we continued ranging out in the open. But maybe, as we begin re-emerging, we—I—need to consider anew what to cultivate in the precious, precarious life that remains.
In order to give it light and nourishment, to bring it to bloom, what might have to be trimmed away? What should I be weeding out in my own life?
Name it; tame it. That’s going to take a good many rainy days to figure out.
And now, your turn:
Remember to sign up for the “newsletter” if you want notices of future posts, if you haven’t already done so. And whether you sign up or not, please post your comments below. (If others post comments before you, the Reply box for your comment will appear after their posts.) I try to reply to every comment, but please feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.
- What flowers do you most look forward to, in your own garden or others’, when spring arrive? What do you think makes them so appealing to you?
- How many of the weeds who frequent your garden and your lawn can you name? Which ones do you try hardest to get rid of, and which ones do you pretty much let go?
- Do you think this spring was especially powerful for you?
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Remember I’m running a contest for 2021: the reader who sends me (kateriffoley at gmail dot com) the weirdest garden-related snippet of news or information between now and December 31, 2021, will win some kind of cool prize. Might be a hori hori: might be a gorgeous gardening book. I promise it won’t be a woodchuck. I’ll offer a few choices when the time comes. So please, keep your antennae up for choice tidbits, and send them on!