Tuesday, April 8, 2014
F is for Flower Beds
It's winter. Even with global warming, that still means six solid months of nothing blooming in the flower beds. Four months in which the most exhilarating of all forms of exercise—digging—is impossible because the ground is frozen as hard as a cast-iron pan. An entire season in which there is no happily wandering the aisles of a good nursery.
Winter is tough for gardeners in northern Michigan to endure. While you'll never catch me saying that I like winter, I do respect it. I even consider it necessary. Here's what a winter break does; It keeps us from getting jaded. Erases from memory the excesses and failures of the year before. Allows us to believe that next year, for sure, it's all going to work—there will be no weeds, no drought, no dead-as-doornails $29 plants.
Winter is part of what makes gardening so addictive—it's a dreamy season of absurd longing and unreasonable hope. Since we can't plant real plants, we gardeners tend to read plant catalogs obsessively, getting a weird vicarious boost from their lush photographs of greenery and blooms. We make unrealistic plans for the yard, unfettered by the limits of the space or its soil conditions.
By replacing reality with a make-believe canvas onto which we can project our own vision of paradise, winter keeps us from becoming too practical. That's important, because gardening is not a practical pursuit. Sure, it will allow us to keep the yard neat or grow a nice salad for dinner, but that isn't why we grub in the dirt on grimy knees swatting mosquitos and black flies. We do it because we are chasing the mystery and miracle of life, and when we see our crocuses and lettuces and roses spring forth it brings us closer to it.
Winter keeps the gardener reaching for that mystery. And when all those plants we ordered in fits of winter madness actually do show up in the spring, demanding to be planted, the garden really does become more beautiful (or at least more crowded) every year. In gardening, it's the off-season that makes the game.