The Yearly Miracle
Early spring in the garden
by Lee Lawrence
From the April, 2018 issue
Last summer a friend who had a yard for the first time in her adult life wrote me a note. "Having never had a home before, I didn't realize how fun it would be to see things come back up the following year that you forgot you put in there the one before! And how freaking miraculous that things that are dead as doornails come back to life incredibly ... How did you let me live a whole lifetime without knowing this fun? Ha!"
Gardeners have their favorite seasons but not necessarily the same one for each person. For some, it's June, when the flowers are at their most glorious. For others, it's actually winter, when they leaf through catalogs, dreaming and redesigning their front borders. For many, it's late summer or early fall, when the greater part of the harvest piles up and the weather cools. For me, it's very early spring, both inside the house and out, when I'll survey, nearly every day, the pots under the grow lights, the flower beds, the vegetable garden, and the orchard, with ridiculous, child-like anticipation. I'm alert for the first stirrings of life, the bare reemergence of growth, still, after thirty years in my garden, as joyously eager as my friend.
Seedlings emerge, their bent crowns breaking the soil surface, the narrow threads of green reaching up out of the tiny pots to then stand and split suddenly, released from their seeds, into two leaves. Snowdrops, miraculously arising out of icy drifts, remain bent and huddled until the first sunny day stirs the petals to lift and spread. Rhubarb, its wrinkled leaves bundled in tight, burgundy fists, competes with asparagus to be the first to break ground, though the garlic sprouts, in four neat rows, usually raise their arms into the air first.
Every day I check the progress, so slow at the beginning. But then I pinch back the seedlings and watch them gain strength and girth. I
rush to admire the very early crocuses, a delicate linen blue, before the rabbits nibble them down. The rhubarb stalls for a week or two, and then one day the leaves unfurl and grow large almost overnight. Impatiently I check the asparagus, urging it to stretch tall enough, hoping the night temperatures won't fall below freezing, and then, a week or two later, we're eating it twice daily, and still we have too much. The rush is upon us now, early spring is over, and it's harder to savor the thrill of each new bit of growth.
This year, my husband and I will be gone for much of my favorite garden season. We'll arrive back home the end of April--rather late to begin most seedlings. I'll have to buy our tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants, and our celery root, cauliflower, and broccoli starts at the farmers market. Maybe I'll try planting a few cabbage and Brussels sprout seeds directly in the ground when I plant the peas, radishes, greens, and other cool-weather crops. The onion plants, ordered before we left, will arrive with our return, and they'll also need to go in immediately. Before any of the planting, though, we'll have to weed the vegetable garden and spread the aging compost pile over the beds. We'll have to hit the ground running.
Probably the crocuses will be gone, unless the dogs get lucky in their ongoing battle with the rabbits. Since the ground covers will already be stretching across the flower beds and the perennials will be peeking out of the ground, we've hired a crew to begin cleaning and mulching the beds before we get back. That still leaves the grapevines and raspberries to prune a month or two late, as well as planting the begonias and dahlias. Making this list, I wonder why we're leaving for so long.
This year's garden won't be like last year's, but then, no two years are ever the same. Too many other variables, environmental and human, figure into the mix. And sometimes it's more work, and sometimes it's more pleasure. But it's always, undeniably, a miracle.
[Originally published in April, 2018.]
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