2008-02-07 / News

Daydreaming about spring

Flotsam and Jetsam
By Donna Drago

I've been gardening in my head.

This exercise, which began a few weeks ago, started as a way to keep myself warm. Instead of looking out the window at lifeless patches of earth, where gold and gray sticks and stems poke up here and there, I imagine the spring unfolding of each living thing. In my head, these random clusters of porcupine-like shapes rise up- as in time-lapse photography- and become their finished products.

It's like a test for me. I look at a clump, say its Latin name, like platycodon grandiflora, and then magically transform it into the bluest balloon flower it wants to be. The next clump is solidago 'fireworks,' a goldenrod that is already showing a mat of green just waiting for a warm day to send it skyward. In my game, it rises up and each stem arcs away from the next to form a perfect vase of brilliant yellow.

My favorite plants are the most invasive. Even in the dark days of winter, it's possible to see how these rascals are overstepping their bounds and waiting for the seasonal signal to put their mojo into high gear. The bee balm is coming up many feet away from last year's spot, and the evening primrose shoots are like warriors storming a castle- they will go and go until a spade comes down firmly and says "enough." Then, when I'm not looking, they will try it again.

Depending on how cold and ugly it is outside, I sometimes work my way through the entire garden, building the flowers from beneath the snow, and then shuffling them around so they are better suited to their neighbors. All this without shovels, hoes or strained knees.

When I've rearranged the sunny border several times, I look out the back door with my dog and imagine that I am pruning the rose bushes into perfect mounds. Now they are piles of twigs- like a wintry game of pick-up-sticks, each surrounded by a mound of horse manure. Despite their appearance, I know they are secure and ready to pop into glorious, fragrant neighbors, who, in June, will fight each other for my attention.

The dog, who suffers from lack of imagination, is bored by my seeming wackiness- after all, how long can one stare out the back door at a barren landscape. He seems to inquire about my sanity before he goes back to a sunny spot on the floor under the kitchen table.

I pull out the catalogs.

There are a dozen or more piled up on the coffee table in the living room. No matter how many times I've fingered each one, it gets looked at again. And again.

I make lists.

Plants I already have that need to be moved to a new location.

Plants I don't yet have, but want.

Plants that I want but have no room for.

Plants I'm bored with.

Plants that have bullied out their neighbors and need to be divided.

Plants that I will give to the garden club for the annual plant sale in May.

Plants that I forgot the name of.

Plants that are just perfect.

I have hundreds of sticky notes stuck in the catalogs. Some are just stuck on a page I want to return to. Some are stuck on a poetic description of a plant. Some are mysteries that I stuck on and can't remember why.

I make a plan, scrap it and make others.

As of this moment, I am planning to add more reds and oranges to the south side border, after being inspired by gardens I visited last summer in England. While all the gardens were different, they each possessed flowers that grew as if fed with IV steroids. There were bronzy castor beans, more than 10-feet tall, and kniphophias (torch flowers), which shot up everywhere like bold rockets. Acanthus (bear's breeches) plants too wide to get arms around sat next to bold amaranths (love lies bleeding) with long red tassels waving as I passed. To a gardener, there is nothing more fantastic than a border in mid-summer.

In the forays through my catalogs I have stuck notes on nearly every page with red and orange blooms- both colors that scream about the summer days I am longing for.

There are 54 days till April 1. Crocuses will be up, the threat of snow will be pretty well past. A spade will slide effortlessly into the soil.

Until then, the color will be in my head and I have my catalogs, my imagination and my dog to keep me warm.

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