The Season’s Last Hurrah and a Surprising New Beginning
There are a few weeks left in my long, fitful gardening season. I will be busy trying to nail those lingering mischievous weeds. (How can I miss weeds, that I pass every day, with seed heads the size of Big Ben?) At the end of September I’ll put my hoe away and take a break so that I can enjoy October with no interruptions.
I grow tired of gardening. Every year, for the last 40 years, at this time of year, I want to get rid the whole bug-eaten mess and put it out on the curb for junk pickup day.
But the heat must have gotten to me. Suddenly, without warning, I feel clingy. I don’t want to toss out my garden.
I remember 15 years ago when my mother ceremonially brought my childhood Bill Mazeroski signature baseball glove to my office. Mazeroski played his entire professional career for the Pittsburgh Pirates and is remembered for belting a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, in game 7, to win the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees.
Mom said, “I’m sure you’d like to have your glove again.”
I said, “Wow, thank you, Mom,” and tossed the glove in the dumpster as soon as she left. Now I miss the old baseball mitt.
It rained steadily all this past spring. I worried I was getting too old—for not just one garden but also for a second cultivated patch. I have my principal garden in the city and a smaller garden in the country. I pared back the city garden last fall and converted some scree beds into turf. Chores didn’t seem much easier this spring. I couldn’t keep up with the weeds.
I was in trouble. If I couldn’t find enthusiasm for the spring garden, heaven forbid what was in store for August. But, as outlooks are wont to do, mine changed.
When I was in the retail business, customers would drive to Holbrook Farm (1980-1995) in Fletcher, NC. The frantic, nursery season began in early April and ended in late May. The most ambitious customers would arrive with gardening magazines, and many of those had pages marked for special plants. English gardens were the rage back then.
Some were thinking about a BIG perennial border. How about something along the scale of 200’ long x 18’ wide? I was thinking about paying down my bank line of credit. I knew these spring dreamers were digging a big hole. I was already in the hole.
I would ask, “How much time do you want to spend in the garden?”
They looked at me like I was crazy. “As much time as possible,” they would answer.
I turned the question around. “How much time do you want to spend in the August garden?”
“Well, I don’t want to spend any time in the heat and humidity.”
I burst their bubble every time. I stared at big station wagons as they drove back up Lance Lane. The fish got away.
I was not a good businessman. I should have approached retail sales like a tent show revival preacher. Nobody should have driven away with dreams dashed.
My customers were probably happier with smaller gardens, but because of my honesty, I nearly went broke.
I closed the nursery in 1995, packed up and started a new garden in Louisville.
My warning about the dread of the late summer garden rang true for the next 21 years. Legendary weeds, heat, humidity, mosquitoes and chiggers. Who the hell wants any of it?
Well, it’s part of the deal.
Abigail Rennekamp and I talked about the deal this summer. Abi and grew up together and have been sharing gardening notes for over 30 years. We’re 65 this year and Medicare-ready. Our dopamine levels are diminished. Our gardens are a big chore. We’re tired.
I was at a crossroads.
Abi, a great gardener, told me she’d begun to think of her garden as a fun workplace. I didn’t pick up the meaning right away.
And then it struck me, several weeks later. Of course the garden is work. Some days are better than others. “Sometimes you just need to change your perspective,” Abi said.
I thought of an interview I heard on NPR, with the writer Reynolds Price, many years ago. Price, who had grown up in rural North Carolina, was asked what his greatest gift as a child had been. He said his favorite gift had come from his grandmother. She had told him a story.
Reynolds Price’s grandmother compared life to a traffic light. She explained that the light stays green for a long time, but eventually it turns yellow and you have to slow down. And then the light turns red and you have to stop. And wait.
Be patient and the light will, sooner or later, turn green again. Is it any wonder that Price’s outstanding novel is called “A Long and Happy Life?”
A pawpaw (Asimina triloba) seed germinated in Louisville on August 31, a year after raccoons had eaten the fruit clean and left seeds scattered all over the place. It’s intriguing why pawpaw seeds wait so late in the growing season to germinate. (First frost may come within six weeks.)
Pawpaw seeds have an undeveloped embryo that requires an extended ripening period, in the ground, before germination. Naturally occurring chemical inhibitors may delay germination for two years.
This pawpaw seed sent up a cotyledon (pictured here), and within 10 days, a full set of leaves emerged. The seedling is putting down a courageous taproot sufficient to get it through the first winter.
During this god-awful, hot and humid late summer, the heroic pawpaw seed pulled away from its mooring and came to life.
The traffic light turned green again.
I grabbed my lunch pail and thermos and walked out to the garden.
I had work to do.
on September 14, 2016 at 9:41 am, in the category Real Gardens, What’s Happening.