April 18th, 2011

Spring’s Hope Eternal

Becca Sanders

Spring is late this year. There’s still snow on the ground, the trees are bare, and as soon as the temperature rises above forty, people turn up at the grocery store wearing shorts. It’s the midwesterner’s characteristically polite way of giving Old Man Winter the finger.

My way is to pour over seed catalogues and landscaping books. I’ve got spring fever in a bad way and “fever” is an apt word. My brain can’t stop humming with ideas for turning our rather ordinary yard into an oasis of cultivated beauty. Sleep, when it comes, is fitful: I once broke the dark silence of our house by shouting out “Pergola!”

The library with its huge home improvement section feeds this fever. There are several volumes of books just about tree houses, incredible structures with bedrooms and showers, ladders and slides and sky-high perches with telescopes for midnight star-gazing, all of it suspended in canopies of green. These are places of wonder that make my heart race – but not in a good way. Unfortunately, I’m a kid at heart. Read that to mean: unrealistic and naive. Even as my conscious mind is saying, “There’s no way you are going spend your life reading works of great literature in a hammock with a cooling drink at your side,” my fever-brain is thinking, “I wonder if that elm at the back is strong enough to support all that lumber…”

Climbing down from the tree for moment, I find the ground level is not much better. A garden is not a hobby for those who need instant gratification: it takes years to become fully realized. It is work for the careful and patient; not for the impulsive and dewey-eyed. And guess which category I fit into?

But I have to hand it to me: I am not a quitter. How many plants have I killed because I bought them on impulse and then never got them in the ground? How many seeds have I planted and then forgotten the location – so they went unwatered, untended or cruelly cut down in their youth by the lawn mower? Yet every year I hatch new schemes for shade gardens and herbaceous borders.

Even now the top of the washing machine is home to 72 little seedlings, planted with hopeful hands by yours truly and my daughter F. Every day I hoist her onto my hip and we see what’s happened during the night.

“Look, F.! Those are the cherry tomatoes! And those are the moonflowers. Look how big they are!”

“Wow, Mama. They’re beautiful!” I remember her standing in last year’s vegetable garden, eating the tomatoes off the vine: not one made it into the house. The dog kept stepping on the pepper plants, I’d place a trumpet vine in a too-shady location and it never bloomed, the basil was eaten by bugs.

But to F., it was a wonder.

I’ll keep planting.

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