The lone voice of horticultural reason

April Muse

Does anything offer more relief than spring? I know why Minnesotans live longer than people in other parts of the country. We have to; we exist in a cycle where for four months a year we are forced to survive, literally. Due to our true, merciless winters we develop skills to keep from slipping and breaking our tailbones, to deter our ears from turning black, to avoid smashing ourselves up sideways in cars, to basically not do something really dumb and freeze to death.

As a child we had a male Siamese cat, Suki, that became very sick when he was barely a year old, and as we took him to the vet to die I remember Suki sucked it in and shut off all auxiliary power and sat motionless, immobile, eyes closed, barely breathing, zoned in, focused on his single, basic life support system. The vet could do nothing, except call every morning to report, “Well, he’s still with us,” and then after a week Suki came home and ruled our household and the woods of Deephaven for the next 20 years.

He had figured out how to survive, and learning that lesson can enable one to live a long, long time.

Spring is each year’s checkpoint, our annual notch for having made it again. Every spring Minnesotans add one more layer of toughness against mortality, and the relief spring brings the psyche is the main conduit for that. Patience is rewarded and optimism instilled. We are once again at the fresh start of the cycle, having emerged not just victorious, but goofily smug in victory; not only did we survive, but you know what? That wasn’t so bad.

Gardeners are hugely susceptible to these benefits. As nurturers, gardeners quickly establish the two-way street that brings healthy reward back to those who care for things with passion. Little instills longevity like focusing comfortably in on the eternal rhythm of the earth. We know that death in the garden is only temporary. Birth and life are the true constants, and that’s a beneficial lesson to learn. Gardeners tend to be a little hopped up on growth. Come spring it’s difficult to reflect aging when rejuvenation surrounds us so.

Mid-April I don’t do much in the garden except look at it, my mind casually experimenting with some additions, deletions and shifts in perennials that I can only assume will result in a better-looking garden than last year. That’s about all we gardeners ever really do, is promise to top last year. We’re worse than the marketing departments of the Twins and Vikings combined.

I removed my winter mulch on April 1, about the same time as last year, and about three weeks earlier than most years; here we go again, with this early start. We’ll get a freeze yet, probably more than one, but what can you do? I have lilies up every bit of ten inches tall, and one shock of purple-leaved bleeding heart up taller than that. Leave it covered and it would be a leggy, blanched mess.

Avoid tromping around in the garden beds, it’s too early for dividing perennials or moving anything. The rain and cool weather of the past few weeks have resumed the soil’s chill. Your beds must be clean of all debris right now, however, so if you didn’t do it last fall you need to figure out how to remove all leaves, straw, and last year’s dead, slimy growth from your garden without stepping in it.

That’s because your soil is very much thawed, which means that vegetable gardeners can go ahead now and sow lettuce, watermelon, radishes, spinach and peas. And that sounds like a pleasant, healthy thing to do this weekend.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener