Some women spend Mother’s Day lounging in bed, surrounded by empty coffee cups, left over from a home-made breakfast in bed. Some get all dressed up and have a very expensive brunch where, if they’re lucky, their children will make fun of all the other dressed-up mothers. I spend Mother’s Day wrist deep in compost, sweat dripping off my nose, and worms slipping through my fingers.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m one of those people, you know, the ones in the Garden Department at Home Depot who are drooling over rosebushes. I spend the long, dark months of winter pouring over my Rodale’s perennial guide. I can name six different David Austen roses. I keep a stack of nursery catalogs in a pile by my favorite reading chair – yard porn.
I always wait until Mother’s Day to officially start the planting season, although this year, New Jersey was about three weeks ahead of itself, and the lilacs were already dying instead of just bursting out this weekend. But I stuck with tradition. I took myself out early, grabbed a Dunkin to go, and spent an hour walking slowly between the aisles of my closest nursery. The first time out, I stick with the basics. I’ll make two or three more trips this month, rounding out my collection after I see how all the pots and planters line up. And this year – I think I’m springing for a fountain (don’t tell my husband).
I’m not too obsessed. Not as bad as some people. Not as bad as Martha Stewart, for instance. Although, with enough cash and some additional acreage, I could give her a run for her money. Our yard is pie-shaped, the widest part being next to the house, and it gradually narrows as it climbs up a series of rough stone walls to a tiny tip of yard I refer to as the Wish-I-was-in-Bermuda triangle, because it is overgrown, completely shaded, and whenever I make an effort to clean it up, I break down after the first thirty minutes, retreat to the deck, and drink something tropical so I’ll feel better.
I have a collection of clay pots in various sizes, many of them empty, but all of you fellow dirt people know that you NEVER throw out a clay pot. My gardening tools are treated better than my car. I have four different types of gloves, and my pruning shears are sharper than my J.A. Henckels knives. I have more hose attachments than most people have pairs of shoes.
Everyone needs a hobby, and gardening, I say quite proudly, is mine. I write and I cook, but neither of those things is quite the same as gardening. Playing in the dirt is what I do for no one but myself. I never think twice about spending money on plants, even though I will go a week without buying paper towels if I don’t have time to drive to Costco and get them cheaper. I also never tell my husband how much anything that goes into the garden costs. If he feels compelled to tell me the exact cost of every speaker, wire, receiver, or whatever that goes into his home theater system, well, that’s him. Maybe he feels a bit guilty about it. I don’t. This is my hobby. I’m entitled to a splurge every now and then. Like every Mother’s Day. And the weekend after that. And when they have the wagonload sale at Cerbos – all the plants you can fit in a little red wagon for only $25.00.
I don’t spend a penny on mulch or compost, because my community has a great place, known around my house as Woodchip Mountain, where you can pull your car up and fill it with compost or woodchips. This is a lot of work, by the way, and what I spend in gas is probably equal to the cash saved, but it makes me feel good to think I’m getting a bargain. And that usually prompts me to buy yet ANOTHER Angel Face rose bush, even though I’ve already managed to kill off four of them, and I should probably take this as a sign from God.
I have a perennial bed, a shade garden, and a rose garden that my husband planted for me for my fortieth birthday. I can be very tough about my gardens. I take a Darwinian approach. If you’re tough enough to survive, I’ll feed you, keep you mulched and weeded, and try to keep the deer away. But my yard is no place for wussies. If there’s any sign of weakness – drooping, yellowing, aphid infestation – there is no pampering. You’re out. Ask the balloon flowers, delphiniums or blue cornflowers. Ask the tulips. I love tulips, but the chipmunks and voles in my yard feed on the bulbs every winter, and as much as I’m a fan of wildlife, I’m tired of planting what amounts to an enormous smorgasbord every fall. Thrive or be gone.
Unless you’re an Angel Face rose. I really want that one, and this year I may try in a big pot on the deck.
I also have a collection of pink Flamingos in my yard, half a dozen in various sizes and styles. They add, I like to say, an air of whimsy. I don’t do gnomes, although I’m occasionally tempted. I’ve got a few frogs and a gargoyle as well. But mostly, I’ve got lots and lots of plants.
Martha Stewart once said that it takes at least seven years to develop a garden. I’ve been working on mine for almost twenty years. I keep expanding outward, farther up the hill, a few feet at a time. Someday I’ll have it all just the way I want it. I’ll put in a little pond. Finally get rid of every bit of poison ivy. Have a bank of azaleas that will dazzle the eye every spring. But for now, I’ll look at those little corners of wild weeds and brambles as My Next Thing. Something to think about for next year.
Something to help dream away the winter.