Even the crustiest among us has a hard time suppressing thoughts of rebirth during spring.
But this year’s version of the season seems more like a rehabilitation after a near-death experience. A couple of weeks ago, a survey of the yard showed everything in shock, stunned by the relentless waves of a pitiless winter. As usual, the crazy, clueless peonies didn’t get the memo and were rocketing upward as though they were in Miami.
What hadn’t been rendered comatose had been ravaged by the deer, which preyed on never-before-touched bushes, requiring them to reach within inches of the front windows. Once I opened the door and was nearly flattened by a good size doe who, at 3 feet away, was as surprised as I was by the encounter. It levitated like a lamb and sprinted away, my curses following her across the street to the vacant lot that apparently serves as a staging area for attacks on our place.
But time and temperature will heal and we dutifully organized the garden amid the bleak landscape outside the enclosure. The ceremonial hanging of the Le Jardin sign is always a nice moment. Over the years we have come to rely on rolls of black plastic weed suppressor and pre-planting, the two rectangular mounds resemble oddly decorated shallow graves. This year we vow to go with more flowers and fewer cukes and zukes and do a better job of pinching off the shoots on the tomato plants, although no blood oaths were uttered over the better tomato maintenance part. There will be missed weekends, things will begin to get out of control and you start fighting a rear-guard battle for the rest of the summer.
For some reason, probably dumb luck, our first few gardening seasons were the most productive. I’d carry bags of cucumbers and tomatoes back to the office in those days; nowadays we are steeled against meager crop yields and rejoice at surprise successes. This is the essence of weekend gardening.
The garden is officially the province of my wife, and she has over the years yearned to cultivate the entire side yard and sell the bounty from a roadside card table or at a farmer’s market. I come from Nebraska farming stock and have enough deeply embedded agricultural genes that this idea flares with momentary resonance, only to be quickly snuffed out by the dense weight of reality. But, as I am prone to say, if we hit the lottery and our hard-won daily reality was pleasantly blown to smithereens, I would give serious consideration to such a scheme.
In Manhattan, spring triggers a far more subtle interaction with members of the plant kingdom: I add Miracle-Gro to the plant-watering bottle — that’s pretty much the entirety of the subtle interaction. The plants respond immediately, sending out new bunches of leaves and reaching toward the ceiling with an admirable gusto.
I am the keeper of the apartment plants because my wife has conclusively demonstrated a black thumb in this skill area. My internal plant-watering clock is a good one, and I’ve kept some of the plants alive for over a decade. I have found that the use of hydrometers actually skews proper watering technique because they give you too much information that leads to over-analysis and, usually, over-watering. It’s better, I’ve found, to go with your gut in these matters.
It must be said that these are not stately plants, not show plants. They flank the living room window tandem and are rather unkempt, having been repotted several times after brushes with death or unrestrained growth. But they do have back stories. One plant was deemed the “Susan plant,” after my wife’s late sister, because it came from her funeral service. This plant is now three plants, two of them 4 feet high. We nearly lost the original several times due to residential moves, remodeling episodes or dehydration during vacation absences. But now they are here for the long haul.
The other is the “cancer plant” that my step-daughter gave me after a surgical operation 10 years ago. It too has had many alarming health issues over the years. Once, maybe twice, we had to resort to sticking a cutting in water to keep it going. Given the provenance of the Susan plant, it will reside in the apartment permanently and probably travel to whatever location materializes after the apartment becomes history. As for the cancer plant, I have often joked that getting rid of it, or carelessly letting it die, might offend the cancer gods and they would be moved toward mischief and set certain things in motion. That of course is preposterous. At this point in its life, it more resembles weed than plant and has zero aesthetic interior decoration value.
You couldn’t give this plant away.
All things considered? I’m not planning to.