gardening

Grandpa used to keep two giant gardens. The front one was bordered with gladiolus, Grandma’s favorite flower. I remember the five-gallon buckets of bulbs he kept in the basement during the winter. I also remember the crates and boxes of squash, carrots, potatoes and parsnips he sent home with us in the autumn. White parsnips, fried up in a little butter? Not bad, my dad would say. I grew to like them just because of the way Dad talked about them.

My aunt kept one large immaculate garden almost as big as Grandpa’s two put together. I spent some hot summer afternoons moving too slowly down the rows of green beans, wondering when the bottom of my bucket would disappear. Harvesting the sweet peas took longer because we’d all stop to shell a few as we went, snacking on the round tart peas, almost crunchy in their raw ripeness.

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My best friend grew a garden too. Her mother was an avid flower gardener, and soon Anni had her own little strip of black wet earth, turned over and brightened with tiny moss roses. She took care of the ferns too – large green fronds nearly as tall as I was that we bruised playing hide-and-seek.

Mom’s gardens were a bit more chaotic. There were raised vegetable beds behind the house that we kids toiled over unwillingly. There were marigolds seeded along the edge of the field that came back and surprised us every year, and an odd row of gladiolus we’d planted from bulbs Grandpa gave us. We always forgot to dig up the bulbs for the winter but somehow they came back. There were a few beds around our large lawn, too, planted with tiger lilies and daylilies, sedums, irises, tulips and daisies and geraniums.

I learned what a garden could look like and somehow worked myself up to believing it would be impossible to start my own. I tend to idealize and romanticize new things, new ideas, until I’m actually afraid to try them. It happened with gardening. I love flowers, I want a garden, but I’m terrified I won’t do it well so I haven’t bothered to do it at all. This spring my mother-in-law brought me a potted arrangement of daffodils and grape hyacinths. They’ve run their course and stopped blooming already, and I finally dug up the bulbs.

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This autumn we’ll be moving to a place with a tiny garden bed, and I want to at least try gardening, even if it means starting with five daffodil and six grape hyacinth bulbs. I took my wee boy outside to play while I rubbed the dirt off the bulbs and separated them by variety. The hyacinths were already reproducing, I noticed! Some of the bulbs had little half-bulbs growing off of them.

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The bulbs are in paper bags in the pantry now, labeled and waiting patiently to be planted in the pre-winter chill. And me? I’m excited. It felt wonderful to get some dirt on my fingers, let the earth touch me again. There will be flowers growing next spring that I dug up and cared for and planted, and though it’s only a few bulbs from a grocery-store arrangement, I’m still proud.

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spring

I have always said that fall is my favorite season, until it is spring. Then spring is my favorite. It is still true, and it is spring now. Last year at this time I made it my goal to walk a mile a day until Erik was born. I started walking, sunshine or no. I took laps around the park, crossed the busy street into the quiet neighborhoods, walked along the golf course and the bike trails. Spring was popping up everywhere, and it is again.

There are hyacinths growing, and tulips and daffodils and grape hyacinths. I see the spiky shoots that will be irises this summer, and the waxy lilac leaves unfolding slowly. Creeping ground covers are subtly regaining color from their tough roots to their tender fingertips. Trees are slowly, slowly greening and blooming. This city is its most vibrant self during the spring, I think.

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I put Erik on my back and we set out. I take mental pictures over and over – that sweet cottage with the cherry tree, a glimpse of sky through that the willow branches. Erik pushes against my back and turns his bald head to watch the passing cars, neighborhood dogs, anyone on a bicycle.

In Minnesota, spring began as soon as the air was above freezing temperatures. Puddles grew, roofs dripped through the gutters, snow glistened, mists formed. The air itself seemed new and fresh; indescribably so. There is no damp, new smell of changing season in Colorado. We are “high desert” after all. But there is a fresh scent still – a whiff of pine carried down the mountain, the dry-green smell of yuccas washed over the sun-baked rocks. Yes, there is still a hint of spring in the air, even as on the ground.

Spring has a power like no other season to get me outside in Colorado. I like to wander, to discover. I hunt beauty and bloom, keeping photographs as my bounty. We come home with roses in our cheeks, and set out again tomorrow.

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