Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, March 4, 2012

(Early) Spring Cleaning

Meet the reason I have to
put up with fencing.
I don’t know about you but I am neither mentally or physically ready to start gardening.

Last year at this time, according to the garden diary I keep, we had just gotten rid of the last of the heavy pile of snow that had blanketed the yard all winter. I was newly unemployed and eager to get out and get the garden ready, to welcome spring and the warmth and pretend the snow had never happened, like a bad dream.

This year we haven’t had any sizable snow since Halloween. This has been good and bad. Good for me driving to work, bad for my plow guy having nothing to do. Good that I haven’t had to shovel. Bad that the lawn and yard plants did not get the moisture from any melting snow, just a few heavy rainstorms.

And yet, here are my crocuses in full bloom, several weeks early. Here are my daffodils coming up, a few even flowering, and here are the tulips and iris coming above ground. All were surrounded by last year's tree leaves and debris.

When I went outside this March morning, only planning on putting a now-spent snowdrop plant a friend had given me into the ground, I wound up, as usual, doing three more things I didn’t expect to do. The liriope, which blooms in the fall, had to be cut back or no one would be able to see the daffodils just coming up. There were swirls of early weeds that had to be removed so the snowdrop wouldn’t be overwhelmed. There were leaves to scoop up and put into compost.

And, of course, to get to these things I had to pull down the deer netting.

There is an art to gardening with deer netting, and someday I must think about what I have learned to do and not do and write it all down. I am sure I am not the only person who has had to garden this way in the suburbs. Had I known 15 years ago when I was putting in my garden what I know now, the garden would look very different. No azaleas. No tulips. No euonymous bushes. All are behind deer netting now as are the small yew bushes in back.

Little by little I put in “deer-resistant” plants but have learned from long and painful experience a hungry deer will take a bite out of just about anything. So almost everything is behind a net, except the large ornamental grasses, onions and daffodils that are unfenced in a plot in the back where I once had an apple tree.

The thin plastic poles I put in to hold up the doubled netting (because a deer can easily chew or put a hoof through one layer) have worked better than metal poles the deer could use to support its weight as it tried to get to the plants. But the plastic poles shred easily, catching the netting in the breaks. I discovered quite a few poles with this problem this particular morning, making a hard job harder.

Luckily, I was able to work in relative quiet. No dogs in the dog park at what was once Greystone. No neighbors’ dogs chained in the backyard barking to be let in or defending a territory five times bigger than you or I may think it should be. I could listen to the birds already singing their territorial songs including cardinals and chickadees and titmice.

I’m sorry but after a week in a noisy, crowded newsroom I enjoy quiet on the weekends. It is why I moved to the suburbs. (My husband likes to remind me the noise level in our old city apartment was far worse than anything the neighbor’s dog can do, and he‘s right. Car alarms and bullets are worse.)

Once I was done I felt a sense of accomplishment, as well as the pain in my knees and shoulders.

But I also saw there is so much more to do now that the mild winter has prompted premature growth.

My butterfly bush,
as it will look later
in Spring.
Soon the grow-through rings will have to be put around the plants that would otherwise flop over. Soon the butterfly bush will have to be cut back (half of it was already cut back in November after the Halloween storm when I anticipated another snowy winter - which didn’t happen this snow-free winter). Soon I’ll be fighting squirrels for the apples, putting up the house for the visiting wren and taking in the seed feeders.

There will be more daylight, more noise, more chores to do.

This is as it should be. I would rather be achy and active than one of those people whose idea of spending a weekend is in front of a videogame, or playing virtual sports rather than real ones. I also prefer landscaping that is creative and pretty and not just the same old ilex or barberry that can keep its shape and requires the homeowner to do nothing.

I see lots of that kind of landscaping in my town and when I drive through the streets of much wealthier Englewood Cliffs to get to work. The huge homes now there (where once there were smaller dwellings) take up almost all the lot and the front “yard” is cut through with a circular driveway, the better to park your Mercedes or Lexus or BMW and show everyone how well-off you are. The yard services show up every week, whether the little bits of lawn need it or not. Plants are replaced with the season and deer netting is not necessary.

Thus I can have a “care-free” and sterile garden where I never have to come outside or I can continue to plant my vegetables and different types of annuals and perennials, even if that means having to do so above, below or behind deer netting.

I guess you’ll be seeing me outside, achy knees and all.

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