Thursday, April 22, 2010

Brave New Hopes



I spend the best hours of an afternoon weeding and cleaning up a couple of small plots in the front garden. It’s amazing the difference one spring makes. One spring from the next. A winter’s worth of forgetting in between.
“O brave new world that hath such people in it!” exclaims Miranda the innocent.
“’Tis new to thee,” answers her father Prospero, the voice of experience.
The best thing about this is finding the plants that have come back so much stronger than a year ago. I dig out the lingering brown leaves that have tangled among the roots or otherwise escaped apprehension up till now and find spreading examples of a saw-toothed leaf plant I am now pretty sure is a poppy. The lily-of-the-valley now look to be coming in thickly enough to make to make a visual chorus of white bells next month.
Admittedly, the joy of discover is abetted by a year of forgetting and scatter-shot record keeping. I planted more than one kind of poppy two years ago, I think, and one of them (though I have no idea which) appears to be gathering strength.
Another low plant is pushing out strikingly attractive small, dark green, close-together leaves – amazing how much variety is encompassed by the simple word “leaf.” What is this new arrival? But then I actually find a purchase tag with a name and a picture of a low blue-flowering plant with leaves that just may be what I’m seeing. I christen thee (at least provisionally) Evolvulus Blue Daze. The plant is strong and healthy; I’m looking forward to seeing, or remembering, what it does.
This season is promise embodied. It’s the objective correlative for hope.
The lace-flower hydrangea, which has struggled since I planted it (in the wrong place) two years ago, is full of beaming light-green leaves. I clip off all the dry, taller branches which are lacking leaves without looking up whether it’s the right time to do this or not. It makes the plant look better now; I am in an immediate gratification state of mind; I don’t care if it ends up reducing the plant’s size. Maybe this hydrangea, which has flowered but also wilted in the hot weather, will end up weathering the mid-summer sun this year even though my estimate of how much shade this smaller moiety of the front garden received was wrong – to the detriment of a shade-loving species.
I have hope for the stunted monkshood as well, which failed to get up in the world far enough last year to flower, and for the English daisy (I think that’s what it is), a mottled, flat-leaved, ground-hugging stranger that hasn’t done anything but make these few low leaves in the past.
It’s not easy ground, this side of things, close to a big maple shade tree and a thousand searching roots. I dug this area up myself two years with a spade, removing the thin turf, turning over the root-bothered soil, cutting out bigger roots where I could. Today I use my new claw tool to cultivate the tetchy soil, loosening it, but not as easily as in places further from the tree. I add humus to this spot, peat-moss, compost, every year but part of me suspects that any soil improvements I make just encourage the tree to send out more roots to soak up the new nutrients.
I move on to the still more difficult plot directly under the maple tree. Here I am cheered that a few bunches of grape hyacinth have taken hold and are considerably thicker than last year.
But the Ajuga reptans which was the star of the flowerful month of May out here last spring seems to have died back drastically. (A cold winter without enough snow cover?) A patch of poor growth on poor, rooty ground, which had showed some drying out last year, seems to have multiplied by ten since last year. I decide to give it time. So far all I do is pull weeds, which means tufts of determined the grass in this spot, clean out dead leaves, thereby “staging” the area by highlighting the deep greens and bright colors of the plants that have come back with their bright spring surge upon them.