For me, the garden is the best home I’ve ever made for myself. It’s where I relish the refreshing scent of rosemary and the smoky tints of ‘Hot Cocoa’ roses, that remind me of taffeta skirts. I love to listen to the bush tits whistle, to the chickadees and song sparrows belting out their arias.
Maybe because I grew up in a home where cleaning and cooking were accompanied by heavy sighs, I never took pleasure in housework. But out in the garden, most every job, except for mowing, is fun for me. My first garden teacher, Frank Curtis, radiated so much love for gardening that I caught the bug. He did everything with tender loving care, from settling his baby tomato plants into the soil, to nipping out the suckers, from building a compost pile to turning the soil. He taught me everything he knew—how and when to sow seeds, how to wield a mattock, which plants were weeds—with so much joy! His enthusiasm was contagious.
From the beginning, gardening connected me with a big world of emerging life—woody stems swelling with buds, tiny hellebore seedlings sprouting beneath the mother plants, iridescent black beetles climbing out from a pile of damp leaves. Sometimes I even stop to marvel at the persistence of weeds, at the temerity of slugs and aphids.
If I help out, the wetland I live on becomes a better garden. The native clay soil, for example, is a perfect medium for growing plants—once I amend it with pumice or crushed rock for better drainage, and with compost for more fertility and tilth. The garden needs me to bring it to fruition—we become partners in creation. What a miracle that is!
It’s still work, but in the spirit of joy and play. I take a brain vacation while I’m digging, raking or weeding. A writer’s mind, always busy with words and phrases and punctuation, needs a break from all that mental activity. And I’m guessing that most all of our minds are overloaded with blather and can use a good airing out in the garden.
Even in winter, there’s plenty to do. This week I cut back all the old leaves on the hellebores. There, peeking out from underneath, are the new buds, almost ready to open. One dark purple hellebore is already showing its beautiful face. And here and there, small grey slugs lounge beneath the leaves, growing fatter each day. It’s an easy choice between the flowers and the slugs—slugs gotta go!
Soon it will be time to prune the grape arbor and the roses, but not quite yet. Jumping the gun now could mean exposing the newly pruned plants to the next cold front. I can wait. Meanwhile, I can safely cut back all the deadened stems of totally hardy perennials like turtleflowers, asters, and gooseneck loosestrife. The compost piles grow tall and hefty with leaves, kitchen peelings and old potting soil, waiting for the next rain to pack them down.