In the spring, a gardener's work is never done


April 20, 1991|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

Spring is busting out all over. My yard shows all of the symptoms.

The lawn is awash in a rainbow of colors, from golden dandelions to purple-flowering ground ivy. Motorists stop to gawk. I presume they are envious.

All over the yard, the wildlife is stirring. Suddenly, there are fresh mole hills in the lawn and carpenter ants streaming into the tool shed. (I believe the "carpenter" ants have come to construct a new wing on the shed. But my wife is skeptical and suggests we check it out.)

Recently, I awoke at dawn to find the flower bed overrun by a roaming band of wild chickens terrorizing the countryside. One of the chickens chased our dog Katydid, a Labrador retriever. On the opposite side of the yard a rabbit, frustrated in its attempt to jTC reach the lettuce growing in the cold frame, was nibbling instead the tender growth of a young azalea.

Oh, what a beautiful morning.

It rained later that day. Of course, April showers bring . . . dead earthworms, which litter the sidewalk after each downpour. If you don't scrape up the corpses, they bake on the cement and leave little wormy outlines of the deceased, until the pavement resembles the site of a murder investigation.

Geez, like I don't have enough yard work to do. There are a zillion chores facing gardeners each spring, maybe 2 zillion, most of which have an April deadline. Sow the lettuce. Service the mower. Service the tiller. Transplant the cabbages. Lime the lawn. Plant the onions. Seed the lawn. Plant the pansies. Fertilize the lawn. Sow the spinach. Water the lawn. Clean the tools. Mow the lawn. Sow the beets. Plant the potatoes. Transplant the broccoli. Prune the fruit trees. Spray the fruit trees.

Whew. Gardening in April is as hectic as filing one's income tax. During a cold, dry spring, it is worse. All newly-planted seeds and seedlings are susceptible to nature's whims and must be monitored day and night, protected against frost and drought. Sometimes, garden hose in hand, I feel like a wet nurse.

Moreover, there is a second battalion of 50 seedlings sitting on the back porch, and a third wave of 50 more tender annuals basking under the indoor gro-lights, all waiting to enter the great outdoors. Trying to synchronize their planting schedule, I feel like an air traffic controller: "Attention! 'Jet Star' tomatoes, you now have clearance to land in the garden. Proceed to the northeast corner and put your roots down."

Until they are planted, these seedlings are at risk. Unattended, their small pots can dry out in a matter of hours. If I am not careful, the robust tomato plant I left on the porch this morning could be dead by dinner time. Last year, the sun fried my eggplant seedlings before they even got to the garden. So I try to keep an eye on them.

My other eye is trained on Timmy, our diabetic cat. His condition makes it necessary for Timmy to be chaperoned outside at all times. Invariably, my wife lets Timmy outside on those warm spring days when I am faced with 2 zillion chores, or maybe 3 zillion. This means I must stop what I am doing and follow Timmy around the yard, leaving every new job unfinished because the stupid cat won't sit still.

I dare not complain again about this baby-sitting ordeal. "Shame on you," my wife says. "Timmy could be dead tomorrow." She has been saying that for 12 years.

Finally, Timmy goes inside and is replaced by my wife, who has already mapped out the rest of my day. She likes to landscape the yard with large rocks, and has spotted a large one in the woods nearby. She says this rock would complement our bulb bed.

To my wife, who is studying art, placing this rock in the garden is a form of "textural relief." I disagree. I hate rocks. I am always picking them out of the vegetable garden and throwing them away.

I detest the thought of transplanting a 100-pound rock from the same woods in which I just dumped nearly 100 pounds of small rocks. It means I have made no progress at all. Worse, it means the rocks are winning.

Alas, I have no choice. My wife wants the rock, and I must comply or she'll say I don't love her.

An hour later, the rock is resting comfortably in the bulb bed and I am sprawled out nearby. The damn thing is so big that to make room for it in the garden, we had to dig up several daffodils. Before I could replant the bulbs, Katydid grabbed one in her mouth and started throwing it up in the air. The silly dog thinks it's a tennis ball. I'm too tired to argue.

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