On digging in.

I’ve never been good at letting go, but I do tend to excel at digging in, which can have much the same effect. Today is a good case in point.

Monday I was feeling the hurt of missing our home in Maine; today, I’m starting to feel at home here at last. My dear angel-friend Marcia had agreed to share some plants with me, so I went to her house this afternoon. When I left, there was nowhere in my SUV to stuff another plant. And the smell! It was a tiny moving room full of spring. I couldn’t stop grinning the whole way home.

Allium, hellebore, anemone, lungwort, daylilies,turtlehead, iris, solomon’s seal, siberian bugloss, comfrey, lamb’s ears, wild ginger, ostrich ferns, lamium…so much goodness. And all this accompanies the rudbeckia, echinacea, dicentra, alchemilla, and tarragon that my stepmother brought me earlier, and the snow-in-summer, mint, and more lamb’s ears from another dear old friend…my garden is a physical demonstration of love.

It began to rain as I drove home, but lightly enough that the boys wanted to help me offload the plants in the driveway. And I shoveled a barrow of compost to help me transplant, and then I went to work. An hour and a half later, I’m soaked and dripping, muddy to the elbows, and happier than I’ve been in years. There’s something uncomplicatedly joyful about new plants.

I couldn’t get to all of them before bedtime reading, so there are still grocery bags full of comfrey, turtlehead, allium, and lamb’s ears adorning my yard, but they should make it through this damp night just fine and we’ll settle them into new homes come morning.

I am aware, as I write this, of my worries for all transplants, vegetable and animal: will their roots find the anchor they need, the sustenance and support? Even if I was too lazy to get enough compost from the pile? Will they get enough light? Is there enough mulch to keep them moist and stable but not so much as to smother them or encourage rot? Are they in the company of friends they like, who bring out the best in each other? Marcia tossed her head at my concerns — these plants are tough, she said. They will be fine.

And indeed they will.


On letting go.

This feels like the first spring since we left Maine, though it’s not — but it’s the first in our new house and so by contrast, the old one rises in my mind…

To the new owners of our house in Maine:

The dicentra is unfurling by the eastern wall
And the daffodils are in bloom, or nearly so.
I know the crocus came earlier, and I hope the
Bees did too, crawling their fur against the stamens.
I’m sure the aquilegia is up already, in its low lovely
Mounds of deep graypurplegreen.

Soon, whether you know it or not, the asparagus will come,
And the strawberries will put out their blossoms –
Before that happens, you will want to bring them compost,
And to press their flailing, frost-heaved roots back into the soil.
I always forgot to mulch, you see, and I imagine you did too.

Will you plant vegetables this year? Would you like to see
My crop rotation plans? What did we leave there for you,
Sunflower stalks? Occasional herbs? And generations of
Red mustard seeds, already sprouting. I hope you know
What they are.

The trees will blossom soon, the pear and apple, peach, plum, Asian pear,
And you will be overwhelmed by so much beauty and perhaps
also the responsibility. What do these things need?
In the still-wet bottom, you’ll see elderberries clumping, and
Two young brown ash trees, planted to replace the aging willows.
How is the chestnut?

I always meant to write a calendar of smells in that place;
For eight months of the year I could know the time by scent.
The hyacinth, the blossoming pear, then philadelphus,
Syringa vulgaris, then Korean lilac in the neighbor’s hedge.
Then Linden trees along the street, then roses, phlox.
Then the fruits begin, and goldenrod and hot dry grass.
Then grapes and leaf-fall, then sharp wet mud of autumn
And the pale tastelessness of the overlast tomatoes.

You will get new firewood in this year, and look out for
The groundhog who nests beneath the pile. Trap him
If you know what’s good for you.
Be sure to line the car-hatch with a towel before you cart him
Out of town.
There is no redeeming merit to a groundhog.

On winter nights, you can keep that basement woodstove going
To good effect, and if the furnace gives you trouble, call
Bruce, his number’s right there on the side.
I hope to god that French drain sump pump doesn’t die
On you this spring; we had the good luck of no attention
Whatsoever to it and it worked like a charm. Though
The access door falls off its hinges if you try and open it
(one reason we never tended to it much).

I apologize for the noisy nature of the forced air;
We took what may have been poor advice and
Chose the reliable furnace over the quiet one, a
Dilemma I feel sure we did not understand properly
Until later.

And yes, you are welcome for the kitchen; that bank
Of windows and the new insulation are indeed a dream.
Best room I’ve ever had. The paint color, should you need it,
Is Vanilla Ice. The living room is Linen White; the dining room Buxton Blue.

I recommend you put bird feeders on the north windows, preferably on the
Second floor; the windows tip in so you can easily refill them.
And squirrels can’t come.

Prune that front lilac from time to time, and give the azaleas
Under the maple a good watering and deep mulch.
The white rugosa/bayberry composite out there by the driveway
Sort of grew together, and it’s a mess but so fragrant we’d just
Mow around it.

Do you know yet about the side yard shade and the virtues
Of a picnic blanket there on a hot day? My heart hurts now
To think of it; that is where I spent most summer with
My sons, from their smallest chubby days. They learned to
Crawl in that grass and to stroke a kitten very gently
And to build a house of sticks in several designs.
They constructed zoos and wild animal scenes
Among the asarum and the maidenhair fern (I hope both
Have survived), cushioned by the moss we never did try to
Owls occasionally nested in the roots of the cedar tree.

Those straggly trees before the neighbor’s are witch hazel,
And they are lovely, or should be by now, you tell me.
And there’s a mighty auruncus and a lovely little fothergilla,
Mostly obscured by the spruce which has gotten
Entirely out of hand.
The white pine was tipped by tip borers and so bears
A premature crown, but those can in fact be pruned
If you can see any reason to do so.

Oh! The mountain laurel! Is it there? It took so long to establish
But then my goodness.

What else? The allium; the Echinacea; the weigela; the iris and my
Karen Grey peonies, which I miss.
I hope the red maple buds are falling soon all over the driveway,
With flocks of cedar waxwings nipping them up, flying
Flapping, and chatting. You can sit on the pebble patio,
Out from under the grape vines, and look up.


On growing new gardens.

There is clearly a metaphor waiting to happen in this title, and I’ll get there. At some point. But the thing that presses me to write right now is this:


Tiny green growing things. In the basement. (The one we spent tens of thousands of dollars to jack up and patch up and protect with new drainage. We’re still surprised it works.) It’s magic down there.

If you’ve never tried seed-starting, it’s not that complicated, but you do need more gear than you’d think. They need more light than you think, for starters, so you want proper grow lights (we use the $11 shop lights from Lowe’s with full-spectrum bulbs like the cheap ones they sell or the nicer ones from Agri-sun.). And they need more warmth than we have, so they want seed-starting mats (I use these, though I bought mine ages ago and for much cheaper). Then of course you need the trays (without holes, so you can water the seedlings from below and thus not drown them), the cells in which to start them, and a few of the clear domes to keep moisture in until things germinate. I also opted for a timer switch to keep my lights on a reasonable and self-managed schedule.

And you need some kind of rig to hold all this; we got a 5-tier wire shelf from Target (4′ long to match the shop lights we use), and we set two seed-mats end to end under each light on each shelf. This creates pretty huge capacity, which is good from where I sit, because I’m starting big new gardens and, let’s face it, making new friends in the neighborhood by giving away seedlings.

Then all you do is think about what you want to grow (I’m a huge fan of Fedco Seeds for inspiration and especially for purchasing), buy the seeds, check the timing of starting them, and go to it! Right now, we have various onions and leeks, broccoli and cauliflower and tiny Gonzalez cabbages; dahlias, marigolds, delphinium; parsley and fennel. And that uses up less than two of my flats! Thrilling. Up next are tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, echinacea, lavender, and a host of other goodnesses.

(Yes, I’ll do a proper post with pictures of our seed-starting rig; the most exciting thing is that the set-up cost only about $125, whereas the pre-made versions you can buy run up to over $800! And yes, I’ll do a proper post about the details of seed-starting, though surely you can find those elsewhere too…)

But NEW GARDENS. Did I mention? New gardens? Next steps include bulk delivery of compost, lots of cardboard, and a chainsaw…