Saturday, November 3, 2007

first days

It always takes a few days for a vacation to kick in. The body and mind continue to race around as if there is something imperative to accomplish, and feels at loose ends because in reality there is nothing pulling you forward. Everyone knows it takes at least a week to unwind, then another week to begin to relax.

On day two of our vacation, a friend leaves a message on the answering machine. “Hi! I hope you have all your projects done now so you can start to enjoy your time off!” We groan and laugh. We haven’t even begun our “projects”, a long list of before-snow-flies duties that hang over our heads like heavy, metal gray snow-clouds. For me, the perennial gardens are at the crux of the list. All month a voice at the back of my mind has been admonishing,“You need to cut down the garden. Dig and divide. Plant. Mulch.” I have been a reluctant listener, avoiding the garden as if it doesn’t even exist.

I love my garden. I have spent nine and half years toiling over the 900 square feet of flower and herb beds, stone paths, and painted gray fence. Those square feet have seen two variations of garden, three tractors to till, and then season after season of hand-tilling, all to keep the grasses at bay. My garden sits in a meadow surrounded on all sides by switch grass, buttercup, madder, and wild chervil. Every year, the grasses threaten to overtake as they thread their roots through the coreopsis and bearded iris. There is also the problem of the mint. Years ago, as a novice gardener impatient for thick borders of vegetation, I planted mint, along with tansy. Now the two run like wildfire through the beds and require constant taming throughout the season. Each season is like starting from scratch.

This summer and fall, I have neglected my garden. Too much time was spent building and planting the new, sunken garden which now has officially become Caleb’s garden. He has taken over all the raised beds for his vegetables, especially his lettuces, chicories, and wild arugula. He still quite can’t believe that he has become a gardener. He always thought it would be my realm. Caleb enjoys looking at gardens, and has often been my help in the structural elements of the garden, but never one to become animated over the winter nursery catalogs that start to arrive in January. His mother is an inveterate gardener, and he used to buck at the gardening chores that he was given as a child. Now, he thinks about his garden all the time, ways in which he can improve the soil, collect more heat, make clever cold frames. Almost as if it is a necessary inverse, I have turned my back on my garden, and the numerous pots of plants requiring my attention before it gets much colder.

Perhaps it’s my reluctance in admitting that it is time for the garden to be put to bed. I am uncomfortable with death. Perhaps it is something I’ve inherited from my mother who wails at autumn. She has always hated the loss of the plants, the onslaught of dead leaves and brown stalks. Her own mother died in the autumn and I am sure that is a large part of her aversion. Just like she hates the scent of lilies because they were the flowers at the funeral.

I look out over the brown stalks in my garden, though the mint is still valiantly green, and the salvia is incredibly still blooming. I look at the stacks of outdoor cushions and red and white striped chairs ready to be put away before the weather really turns. I make a list of all that needs to be planted: 20 roses, 14 box wood, a hedge of black-eyed susan, 4 plum trees, 2 hydrangea, one apple. I have written this all before. I am somehow hopeful that writing it again will help me to actually go in the garden. But, of course, before I can begin planting, there is a host of other things to accomplish: the cutting back, the weeding, the dividing, and amending the soil. Tomorrow.

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