I planted flowers all last weekend, but Monday the weather turned rainy and a bit colder, so I stayed indoors. One generally doesn’t want to plant in the rain, although it depends on what you’re planting and the equipment you’re using. A farmer driving a tractor hauling a 20-row planter may end up stuck in the mud, while a gardener setting out a few seedlings is free to get as wet and dirty as he likes.
My excuse is, I don’t do cold. Dirty is fine and wet is okay if it’s warm enough, but I don’t do cold, which is anything less than 70º.
But what this meant was that I was stuck indoors for three straight days when I had dozens of seedlings waiting for me out on the patio. So I woke up this morning determined that I’d make some progress outdoors.
The morning was wet; I checked the weather radar. I sniffed the air, I looked at the sky, I read the forecasts. I prioritized my tasks, depending on how much time Mother Nature gave me outside. And I went to work.
The first thing was getting the marigold terrace finished; I’d had to quit Sunday evening about 2/3 of the way through. This terrace is just a little landscape feature, maybe 25 feet long, that levels out a slope in my backyard. Any kind of flower would grow well there, but when I first bought this house (five years ago tomorrow!) I planted marigolds, and was so pleased with the results the terrace acquired a name. In previous years I planted several varieties, colors and sizes of marigolds, but this year I decided to cut back to fewer, bigger flowers. Marigolds have to be dead-headed and I’m trying to get away from having to do constant maintenance all summer. Spending less on marigolds allows me to diversify elsewhere. Now the terrace is done and I even had a few plants left over, which I put in a couple of planter boxes on the deck. I hadn’t planned on getting started on the deck but they’ll be happy there.
I cleaned up the last of the leaves and twigs around my old maple tree, which has such a huge canopy that grass won’t grow underneath it. I’d previously planted a dozen lily of the valley bulbs, and today I added a few leftover impatiens. Had to extend the little plastic fence so they don’t get run over by the lawnboy. That was fun; I’ve never put impatiens in the ground before, but they’ll be well-shaded there, extending the color from my side porch with its planters and hanging baskets into the yard itself.
These are my first attempts to fill in that area under the tree, which has the potential for being a real beauty spot in coming years. I once drew up an elaborate plan using dozens of bulbs and bushes, but it was more ambitious and expensive than I was prepared for at the time. Now I’ve established a precedent; I’m not just growing weeds under that tree anymore, it’s going to be landscaped. Start small and go on from there.
It’s hard to describe how exhilarating it is to sit on the ground and dig those little holes, taking care with the earthworms so I don’t hurt them, drop in the little starters and pat them in solidly, generally making a huge mess and yet putting everything back where it belongs; it’s the soil that’s so exciting. It’s some of the most fertile earth on the planet, rich and black, like having a yard full of potting soil, except better. It’s river muck really, carried here by a great flood eons ago. Living here is like farming on the Nile Delta back in the days of the Pharoahs.
This area was once part of the Grand Kankakee Marsh, a swamp as big as the Florida Everglades and teeming with life. Then the White man came, drained the swamp for farming and the Army Corps of Engineers finished it off—environmental rape of the first magnitude, an international scandal. You’ve heard of the deforestation of the Amazon? Hoosiers beat ’em to it, and I live on the results.
I grew up on this land, a hundred years after the devastation was done, and all we were told as kids was, “Look what was underneath the water, all this beautiful black loam!” But so it is, better than a yard full of potting soil.
When I moved back here five years ago I put in four tomato plants. I bought cages for them but they still spread five feet wide, producing fruit the size of softballs. I knew it was great dirt but that opened my eyes. I’ve been trying to take advantage of what I have ever since. It’s so much fun to work it between my fingers.
I filled up two more planter boxes of wax begonias for the deck, then I was done for the day. The only thing left, and a huge project it is, is carving out a new vegetable garden in the back by the alley. It will involve a lot of manual labor, digging and moving rocks. That’s where the broccoli and cabbages, strawberries, peppers and tomatoes will go, along with tons of sage to keep out critters, and gladiolus bulbs. I’m not expecting perfection this first year, it will be enough just to get the area dug out. I can expand it next year and have a more coherent plan. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that. Maybe all I’ll get done this year is a space big enough to accomodate the plants I’ve already bought and the seeds I’ve started; next year I can go bigger.
I came inside the house with wet, dirty pants, filthy hands, my hair a mess, and I’ve never felt better in my life. Does gardening fire off endorphins? I don’t have anyone else to grow this stuff for, no visitors yet, only a handful of blog-readers, so I can’t even sublimate and say “I’m doing this for other people.” I’m not, I’m doing this for myself.
It is incredible fun to dig in the dirt and start something new.++