Blood Sweat and Tears or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Spring Chores

Gardening Instructions generally fall into two camps: the first goes into so much detail that you are tired and feeling inadequate even before you start, and the second is full of non-threatening but vague and wispy words. Words that are meant to make a difficult, possibly back-breaking, nail-breaking and sweat–inducing task sound like the easiest little ol’ thing you could ever do—Why, almost as easy as buzzing the intercom to summon the groundskeeper.

woman_pitching-hayI read an article recently from the second camp, where the writer describes various spring chores that we should all be out there doing, right now, TODAY in fact!

These, incidentally, are chores that might be done while wearing the lovely embroidered garden smock from the charming (and very clean) garden supply store advertised in the magazine. A place where you may purchase indispensable garden accessories, like cadmium yellow wooden clogs. These are to be worn while traipsing ‘round your muck, muck being not heavy enough already.

“Yes”, you say to the shop owner, “bring me those clogs! Wrap them up immediately! I MUST have them! Oh, and the smock with the embroidered tulips. Now I am truly ready to garden.”

Anyway, back to task number one in the spring chore department: It has to do with peonies

Step 1: Lift the peonies. ‘Lift’, as in, gently grasp the edges of the leaves, and raise in an upward direction. Start now. Notice how the peony gently wafts upward like living gossamer. Hear the angel chorus rise to a crescendo as the surrounding earth slips away and falls gently to the ground. Watch as the peony roots move up ever higher in the air. Hold that note. Hold that peony.

Task number one is now over. You may proceed to Step 2. Divide your peony.

Of course, once you have lifted your peony in the above manner, dividing is a mere bagatelle.

Dividing. Another lovely term, quite peaceful sounding. However, in many cases the act of dividing could be more accurately described as, “hacking apart plant while simultaneously not hacking apart fingers”.

Lifting peonies should be done, the article says, ‘every few years’ — Nowhere is it actually pinpointed how many years this really is. Possibly every hundred years? Think of those rows of peonies growing in front of abandoned farmhouses. Peonies that were probably planted in the thirties, thriving beautifully. I wonder how many times those plants have been “lifted”?

I can hear the farmer’s wife calling out,“Hang on a minute, Jeb dear, I’ll be out to help you move those hay bales in a jiffy – I just need to take a second to lift and divide this row of peonies.”

Now to the More Information Than You Need variety of garden advice. Information at length about the nitty gritty of dividing, including the disclosure that that phlox can sometimes be ‘difficult’ and diagrams where dividing (aka ‘hacking apart’) is performed with two pitchforks and a supreme amount of coordination, (and possibly safety equipment, when you consider the pitchfork angle).

And what about Double digging?

For years I have been guilty of never, ever attempting this procedure. My secret shame. My eyes have a habit of glazing over when I look at the Step-by-Step-Easy-to-Follow Diagrams.

I confess that when confronted with prodigious amounts of information, my first response is to think there must be an easier way. And, fortunately, there usually is.

In life as in gardening, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.

Eventually you’ll get it right if you just dive in with abandon.

Yet, it is also true that the more you do something you enjoy, the more you want to keep on doing it. Eventually making an effort to Do It Right is something that happens to most gardeners in time.

My sister recently told me that after years reading about the necessity of sterilizing pots before reusing them for taking cuttings, this year she is finally going to get out the bleach and see what happens. And her geraniums will probably thank her for it.

Over time in our gardens, we perfect our craft, or art, with the result that some task which once seemed daunting is now routine–hence the two camps of writing. It all depends on what side of the bed you stand. Are you a confirmed double digger or a get-the-plant-into-the-soil-as-quickly-as-possible gardener?

We who are gardening maniacs perhaps have to hide the truth from ourselves. A lot of it is hard work.

In the heat of the moment, however, when we are suddenly seized with the realization that the blue phlox most certainly doesn’t belong there–why on earth was it planted, THERE when if it were just 3 feet over it would complement the drift of Johnson’s Blue geraniums magnificently!

The gardening brain (similar in some respects to the reptilian brain) kicks in: The phlox must be moved at once. The phlox must be moved now. And we….lift.

Of course, it is neverending. Satisfaction with our gardens can arrive in large bucketsful and othertimes in dribs and drabs.

This morning, as we had our traditional walk round my sister’s garden with cups of tea in hand, (an essential rite as any growth from last night at dinnertime to this morning at nine thirty must be duly noted), my sister looked around at a truly splendid spring show, sighed heavily and said, “Well, of course, EVERYTHING has to be moved.”

1 comment

  1. You know how it is, Sarah. Things grow bigger than they’re supposed to — or smaller. Things don’t bloom at the right time — or in the right colour. This shape looks better with that shape over there. In other words, everything always has to be moved.

    Great post! Helen

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