I fear this may mean that spring, when it comes, will last about three days, and everything will bloom simultaneously and then fry immediately in 85 degree heat. The long cool incubation that best suits spring flowers may not be with us this year. But that remains to be seen.
I don’t count my entire childhood history of relentless cultivation in this calculation, because we were forced to do it. My father liked vegetables, so at very early ages my brother and I were herded into the yard with hoes and rakes and put to work chopping, weeding, thinning and aerating things. We also served as pest control. We could collect the insect pests in a jar and use them for bug fights or we could mash them between two pieces of wood, whichever amused us the most. Such intensive hand-cranked cultivation results in excellent produce. In fact it is the only way to get any results at all. Domesticated plants react to neglect by dropping dead on the spot. Also, there is no known agricultural poison as discriminating as a kid with a good working notion of “good bug versus bad bug.” One of the things we learned is that bad bugs are not bad in the Calvinist sense. They are just the wrong bug in the wrong place, the same way a weed can be defined as a flower that nobody wants. I would call our childhood activity gardening now, but at the time we regarded it as a punishment and spent our gardening time asking what we had done wrong and why this was a fair sentence for doing it. Obviously we had not yet heard of Original Sin or read Genesis or anything like that and would have been incredulous if we had.
So, our first garden year was 1988 and was caused by a random plant catalog, the famous Dutch Gardens catalog, which at the time was better printed (and more interesting) than most best-sellers. As an aside, the Dutch Gardens catalog of 2014 still has most of the same old plants in it, showing the hidden evolutionary conservatism of gardens. All garden catalogs seem to boast new and stunning plants to be amazed by, and then sell mainly the same old ones. But I digress.
What I am trying to say is that after Karen and I debated the propriety of trying some of these novel plant wonders, we ordered about $60 worth of assorted roots, bulbs and tubers. When they arrived, I bought a shiny
new shovel from the hardware store and guiltily slunk around the corner of the house, lest anyone spot me performing a manual act, and excavated the angle between the chimney and the front yard. It was a fluke, a Neolithic-class happenstance, that this was a south-facing spot against a brick wall. All gardeners will now say, “Ah, yes…”
The type of flower bed I dug is the sort traditionally called a Dog’s Grave. I threw the dirt from it down the hill, stacked the peculiar objects that had come in the mail more or less right-side-up at the bottom of the bed, and then filled it back up by pouring a large bag of potting soil over it. I never expected any of it to come up. That probably helps explain why I crammed enough plants to fill a 20-foot border into a 3 x 5 hole. I assumed at the time that they were doomed anyway.
In an amazingly short time everything came up, and since our city neighborhood had no deer, all of it survived to bloom. The little bed was too full to have weeds. It was a floral jungle so thick that nothing could have been staked up had it needed to be. It was a solid green plug of plant matter, a vegetal eruption. In a true stroke of luck, we’d somehow ordered both short and tall plants, with some very large plants that climbed up and got out of the way of the shorter ones.