Saturday, May 16, 2009
For a gardener and a garden, time to start growing
Finally, the sun has come out. What a dark, damp spring it's been! Until now, there's hardly been a day that wasn't too cold and wet to work the soil. It has been too chilly for most annuals and vegetables to be planted, even in my many pots.
I have coleus and plectranthus cuttings that I've been nursing along all winter burgeoning off the kitchen windowsill, lanky tomato seedlings crawling up from under their fluorescent lights and tender young elephant ears reaching longingly for the sun outside the windowpane. But it has just kept raining.
If you can't garden, I thought, maybe it's time to blog. So here I am.
I'm a longtime newspaper reporter and editor. Well, we know how it's going with newspapers. So it's time for me to find new adventures in writing, gardening, greening, horticulture, sustainability, whatever comes next.
I know it will have something to do with plants. The day I learned my life was making a sharp turn, I came home and watered those tomato seedlings. The next evening, my dining room piled with the hastily bundled baggage of a career, I couldn't go to bed without pinching back the coleus plants to keep them bushy.
After a long night I rose hoping for hours of cleansing, exhausting, distracting, mind-clearing gardening. But it rained. All I could do was thin the lettuce, radishes and spinach that were holding space in the 3rd-floor porch containers until I could plant the tomatoes and make myself a spirit-lifting salad of tender young spring greens with a lemon vinaigrette.
A day or two later I went out to visit my mother in Indiana. Sure, I got the hugs and cookies and bountiful advice. But then she hustled me into the car to rescue some wild lupine, the preferred plant of her beloved Karner blue butterflies, from a house-building site (yes, there still are a few). It was raining (of course) and I struggled so hard to dig nice big clumps that I broke her shovel handle. We slipped and slid and got stuck with spines from the native prickly pear cactus. She reminded me that last year this time we were at another construction site rescuing spring beauty. We dripped and splashed and laughed.
There's spring beauty all over my garden this year. It doesn't know its circumstances have changed and it's suddenly in the suburbs. It just knows it has rich soil with plenty of beneficial microorganisms, not too much sun, not too much shade. It's found a great new spot and it's thriving.
That's what gardening will do for you. It reminds you that life goes on. A garden needs you when you feel unneeded and anchors you when the world is aswirl. No matter what else is going on in your life, there's something to do in the garden.
The plants don't care who you work for; they don't know or care if they have a gardener at all. But they can tell if they have the right soil, enough sun, enough water. They know when they've landed in the right spot. And a gardener who can make a spot right can be rewarded with great things--even wildflowers blooming on what once was itself a suburban construction site.
This is my chance to find a new spot, to see what new conditions I can thrive in. It's my new spring. And the signs are good: there's been plenty of rain, and now the sun is out.
Photo: Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) in the garden. Photo by Beth Botts.
Got a garden question? I recommend you call or e-mail the Plant Clinic of The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, the Master Gardeners of the University of Illinois Extension or the Plant Information Service of the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.