The garden club picnic was an annual rite of summer in my family and my how we hated it, Dad included. Mom made us climb in the station wagon to go and dragged us out once we arrived. You could count on a boiling hot day and because one or both of my younger sisters were usually carried, my brother and I fussed doubly. Dad grumbled and cast fake smiles at people until he could throw the picnic blanket out from his arm. Mostly I remember being ornery to the toothy ladies who wanted to squeeze me.
The Kool-Aid and cookies tasted good and nosing about someone elseís house intrigued me, but having to drag my tired little legs up hilly mowed and watered lawns, stepping onto garden stones in buckle-pinching sandals and squinting through the sun reflecting brightly off my eyeglasses wasnít fun. I cannot to this day picture a single flower, only the shade branches under which I hid and the yummy sugar cookie I snatched from the basket before lunch.
I associate all things in the garden with my mother. I remember the $10 stick my Dad planted in the front lawn that grew into a majestic Japanese Maple. I remember the May Day assortment of daffodils, hyacinths, tulips and maybe a pussy willow twig or two that we would lay out on the kitchen table. Mom rolled our bouquets in paper cones tied off with ribbons and sent we three girls to the neighbors to deliver them. I was 30 years old before I planted anything of my own, and yes, mom gave it to me. They were supposed to be antique, blue scilla, but I never saw them because the bulbs were somehow planted upside down.
Iím currently staring at a tiny, green, glass pitcher coveting a dainty array of Lily of the Valley and bleeding heart stems that bloomed in my garden a couple of days ago. The former my mother planted in abundance in the back yard and is the first flower and scent with which I fell in love. The latter my mother-in-law introduced me to when I first toured her lush rock and water gardens. Pure white wedding bells and whimsical hearts bursting with love - what a coupling!
Speaking of couples, instead of raising a dog or a cat together, I think lovers should grow gardens before committing to a relationship. Thereís nothing quite like squeezing horse manure between your fingers; killing snakes, trapping beetles and fooling varmints; and predicting rain and drought patterns for teaching patience and collaboration. When you can calmly decide between cranking up the water sprinkler or taking a shower, youíve definitely learned the art of compromise.
I personally begin circling the yard in late April, searching out buds that are close to sprouting and tiny blossoms about to unfold. Itís a daily grind, but I do it before something has bloomed and gone. They say stop and smell the roses, but I seriously doubt anybody in this zone can because we are all too busy running around trying not to miss the handful of days that the perennials and flowering trees send their sweetness through the air. Here it is barely June and my row of forsythias is already gone - GONE - not to bloom again for the better of eleven months! The recent cold snap finished off the flowering cherry trees, too, sending petals raining all over the steps, down the driveway and onto my car. At least I could drive around in them for a while.
Thereís also the maddening decision whether to leave all the bounty in their glory outside or to cut off a bunch of blooms to adore inside. You could be stuck in that dilemma inside the quadrants of your brain for some time before realizing your posies have begun to droop. If you get to them before they are about to die and just when they could last a few extra days soaked in one of your cherished vases, then youíve won the battle. God forbid you forgo another 360 long days because you left the scissors inside or got stuck in traffic.
Iíve learned to plant, water and weed and when to feed and to prune, but it really bothers me that my flowers donít match or contrast. I dream of entire fields of orange poppies or of purple allium all by themselves and front yards filled with delphiniums and irises separated by backyards of Tiger Lilies. Instead, I have this progressive clash of oranges and purples at intervals all summer long. Why the varying shades of flocks and wildflowers donít offer to jump in from the woods and help out once in a while irks me to no end. ĎNo one is walking way out that far from the house to see you, you got that? Do you hear me? Nobody.í
Gardening: Itís just a maddening, downright, drag out fight for five days of blissful perfume and brilliant color each year.