The lone voice of horticultural reason

The Gardener’s Beat

What endeavor apart from gardening brings one so closely in tune with the living, breathing, beating pulse of the earth? Had I begun my columns for this season amidst the relatively balmy temperatures of just two weeks ago, I most certainly would have screeched out of winter’s impound lot all cocky and flush-faced, bellowing spring is here, gas up the rototiller, let the games begin!

Now the resumption of April’s perfectly normal nighttime chill has returned the coolness to the soil, while predominantly cloudy skies have slowed the photosynthesis that earlier in the month had the trees, shrubs and perennial flowers of our region wide awake, out late and looking for the party. Ten days ago the blood-red leaflets that broke from bud on my Red Sparkler crab were growing noticeably longer every few days, but haven’t dared move a millimeter in the past five, wisely waiting to see in which direction this current weather will turn.

Yesterday in my narrow, shaded side yard I was on all fours, closely examining the soil for evidence of vole activity. Voles adore soil that has been loosened and amended and hosts shoots and roots of all length and size. I would adore voles except for the fact they eat these shoots and roots, which tends to put us at odds.

Suddenly before my eyes appeared a flower I had never seen before, a tiny, variegated Scilla featuring pendant blooms with outer veins of such luminous blue as could not be duplicated by man in paint or wallpaper was the prize offered a million dollars. Looking several feet into my neighbor’s yard I saw another, then farther another, then clusters of them, leading in a neon whirl down the gentle slope to his generous hosta glade. So that’s where the most beautiful flower I have ever seen came from, its seed wind-blown. Thank you.

When I began to remove the protective winter blanket of marsh hay from my perennial beds on April 1 — astonishingly early, again — I found Aconitum carmichaelii (Monkshood) up five inches tall and chives up six. In fact, nearly every perennial was up, my pitchfork uncovering scattered, nearly blanched clumps of Dicentra spectabilis (Bleeding Heart) and broad tufts of tender, new Chrysanthemum shoots pleading to be spared any minutes more of gardener-induced suffocation. For the next week, everything grew like mad.

Then nature dampered down, and now all is still. The planet changes every day; sometimes the change is when it stops between breaths. You can see it if you look, and feel it if you pause.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener