The Lucky Gardener

Now that was a tree!
March 30, 2010, 21:13
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The intense rain and wind storms of mid-March left staggering damage to trees and property throughout the Hudson Valley. Our house lost power for the second time in as many weeks, though we were spared the structural devastation so many others experienced.

The giant Oak tree that belonged to the stump in the attached photo crashed down on a client’s house, taking with it siding, roofing, decking, patio and other smaller trees.

I measured the diameter of the tree at over six feet. My friend Matt (shown inside the tree) is no shrimp himself. This was one of the largest trees I’ve ever seen in the Northeast, certainly the largest I’ve ever been able to crawl into.

Opening Day
March 30, 2010, 12:07
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What marks the arrival of Spring for you? Is it one thing in particular, like the classic sighting of the first robin? Or seeing bags of grass seed stacked outside the hardware store? Or maybe, like me, it is simply something in the air. For those of us who garden in the Northeast, our personal Rites of Spring are usually tied to events happening in our own backyards.

Gardening has become a national pastime of huge proportions. And, partly because we have become a nation of gardeners, Spring is perhaps the longest-awaited time of the year. It seems that no matter how closely we watch for the signs, the annual rebirth of plants begins long before we realize it–bulbs and perennials popping through the ground, tree buds swelling in readiness to leaf, a hint of color on the Forsythias and a sudden awareness that the remnant debris of Winter on our property needs to be dealt with.

Of course, it isn’t just plants that point the way to Spring. Starting in early March, young turkeys descend on our lawn, the goldfinches flying around our birdfeeders turn yellow again and swarms of tiny insects appear out of nowhere, buzzing by for brief moments, only to be gone with the wind. The neighborhood cats overcome their cold weather phobias to, once again, maraud the birds that were fortunate enough to survive the harshness of winter.

Spring is also the beginning of that other national pastime, baseball. Opening day is another of the most-anticipated events in our country. We follow the teams and players for weeks beforehand, watching them stretch, run and throw, working out the kinks in their bodies and games.

Unfortunately, gardeners don’t get a Spring Training to ease them into the season. Our opening days count, and are typically followed by stints on the disabled list with calluses, sore muscles and pulled backs.

These two national obsessions are similar in many ways. Like baseball players, gardeners get to work outside and roll around on the grass and we don’t work in the rain. Our seasons last only during warm weather, and, like baseball teams, gardeners will travel during the season to other gardens near and far. We even trade plants between gardens–sometimes scandalously in mid-season.

I love visiting other gardener’s gardens. I learn a lot when I’m listening to someone describe the thought processes behind their creations. I enjoy having people walk through my gardens, too, but as much as I enjoy visiting new gardens, being surrounded by my own plants, rocks and thoughts definitely qualifies as my own home field advantage.

The ‘Paranoid’ Gardener
March 25, 2010, 19:07
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“Now is the winter of our discontent.”
- William Shakespeare, Richard III

As I set fingers to keyboard, mid way through the month of March, a blanket of snow still covers the ground outside my studio. When, in a normal season, I would be following the progressive emergence of bulbs and greening tips of perennials, my current garden view is of the messy flower spikes from last year’s perennials I’ve neglected to cut back.

“Yes! There will be growth in the spring!”Chance the Gardener (Jerzy Kosinski – Being There)

Needing to justify last seasons’ lack of initiative, I cultivated a back up plan to get out early this year – before new growth starts in earnest. That would be right about now. With the snow and inevitable rain and mud we’ll get in March/April, my already delayed timetable seems in jeopardy.

Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.“
- Victor Hugo

Even before the weather interfered, my lapse of resolve for mundane gardening tasks led to self-doubt towards getting the work done at all. Aside from last year’s leftovers, there is storm-related damage to trees and shrubs to deal with, lugging the debris to a truck and schlepping it all to the dump. My knees hurt at the mere thought of it all. Besides, it’s warm and dry in the house.

A little Madness in the spring is wholesome.” – Emily Dickinson

I’ll need some serious inspiration to accomplish my goals in a timely manner. Confronting failure and potential public contempt should get me out the door. I awake startled at night, imagining the specter of ever-spreading ridicule for my unkempt gardens. I would be exposed as a fraud. Sponsorships revoked. The backlash would be disastrous to my family’s reputation. Surely these likely consequences would be enough to arm me with the energy I’ll need to get the pruning shears out and go at it. Or will it?

I like to watch.” – Chance the Gardener (Jerzy Kosinski – Being There)

At long last facing its magnitude, I realize I can’t do the work alone. Deflated and terrified, I suddenly remember my cadre of gardeners lying in wait for the season to begin. With renewed stimulus, I enlist the hoard for the pruning, sawing and disposal needed to maintain the family’s good name. So bolstered by the dozen extra hands, I take the role of overseer, directing and critiquing at a shovel’s length.

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
- Margaret Atwood

Knowing all will be right by day’s end, I become the ‘gentleman farmer’, digging and pruning only as I please. My neuroses were for naught. As it turned out, there was a solution for my gardening problems. I wonder, however, if anyone on my crew can help with my irrational issues, as well.

Life on the edge of a tundra
March 9, 2010, 14:24
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Nyack, NY:

The first undeniable event of the spring thaw.

The glacier outside my window is receding. Just enough to expose the flowering Snowdrops freshly out of the ground.

The melting snow forms a trickling rill, eventually settling in a shallow pool, then breaking free and gaining force as it advances down the hillside.

Watercress plants, fresh from dormancy, are greening up. Chipmunks nibble their tender leaves and sip from the icy cold stream. Rabbits consume newly exposed wild onion and lawn shoots. Overhead a pair of Red-Tail Hawks circle and assess their attack strategy.

The scene reminds me of a national Geographic TV special and I almost expect Marlin Perkins to tell me that much as the mother rabbit protects her young, Mutual of Omaha will protect…”

This is going to be the most beautiful day of 2010.