Wednesday, June 10, 2020

A Gardening Spring

One silver lining of the Spring of 2020 for my family has been the rediscovery of weekends at home. Normally, we’d have shifted gears straight from ski season into spring soccer season. This year, our ski season ended abruptly, like so many other things, in mid-March, and COVID-19 erased soccer season outright. This spring, our family time has shifted to the gardens.

When my husband (before he was my husband) and I moved into this house nearly 16 years ago, there was a large garden out front: a mishmash of perennials, varied and sprawling ground cover, and a few veggies growing in the midst of the flowers. Behind the garden was a wild rugosa hedge, a fragrant section of which continues to thrive in unordered beauty along the curved edge of our driveway. Beyond the rugosa was a field.

The spring after this became home, we dug out most of the rose hedge, turned the field into a lawn to hold the tent for our wedding reception, and redesigned much of the perennial garden out front. For several years after that, we managed to hold the weeds at bay, adding mulch to help in the fight every couple of years. But the weeds, as weeds are wont to do, gradually took over.

As the kids grew, so did our weekend (and weekday, after school, after work) obligations. Last spring, I barely got around to planting the vegetable gardens. One end of the big garden, left completely untended, grew the best crop of weeds I’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, the perennial bed took on a decidedly jungle-like persona.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is rip something bare and rebuild from the roots up. This spring, we found ourselves with the time to start over. Instead of lacing up soccer cleats on weekend days, the kids grabbed shovels and rakes. Like kids everywhere, mine are not always thrilled to be tasked with chores, but this project – for whatever reason – they got behind.

We spent a few weeks, little by little, uprooting the perennials worth keeping. Some we stashed at the edge of the yard to replant in the revamped – and much smaller – garden. Others we gave away to friends, neighbors, and family members. The rest – the ones so infiltrated by weeds they seemed a lost cause – were hauled to the edge of the woods, where they’re now growing in a heaping hodgepodge.

The littlest among us proved to be the best shovel jumper, using mighty leaps to split sprawling perennials into moveable size. My son climbed into the role of tractor operator, maneuvering between garden wall and granite posts to gather and discard loads of muddy root balls and rocks, and later to drop piles of loam for spreading. My older daughter rescued a piece of baptisia – banned from the restored garden for its propensity to spread by way of thick, snaking roots – and rehomed it to the edge of the yard, where its purple blooms seem happy enough.

Together, the five of us dug and shoveled and raked. Once everything was out, we started reassembling the pieces we wanted to keep. Into the newly weed-less dirt we planted astilbes and day lilies, hostas and lady’s mantle, black-eyed Susan and flag iris and moonbeam coreopsis. We spread grass seed and straw mulch onto the unplanted area.

Our gardening efforts have not been restricted to flowers. The veggie beds, too, have had a small overhaul. On Memorial Day, when we would normally be at a soccer tournament far from home, the kids helped my dad fashion two long raised beds, upcycling the thick boards from our old, homemade swing set, which we took down years ago. These are placed into the big garden out back and have since been planted with carrots and beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and some zinnia seeds for good measure. Elsewhere, zucchini and cucumbers, peas and beets, celery, and a variety of peppers – from sweet to spicy – are tucked into the soil.

Planting vegetables when the memory of winter is still fresh always feels like hope to me – hope that the last bits of snow will melt and the days will grow warm again, hope that tiny seeds will transform into green stalks, and that the future will hold a plethora of colors and flavors.

As nice as it’s been this spring to turn our efforts to the gardens, to have time to sow seeds and consider the placement of perennials, there’s a different sense of hope now. Hope that next year, we’ll have a little less time for gardening – because we’ll be back to busy weekends – but that we’ll remember to slow down, pull a few weeds, plant a few seeds, and stop to smell the blooms of the old rosa rugosa.

Original content published by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul. This essay appears as Meghan's June 12, 2020 Close to Home column in the Littleton Record. 

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