Monday, May 25, 2009

Therapeutic dirt

My mother has been a gardener for as long as I can remember. As as a little kid, I would visit her at the greenhouse and nursery where she worked. I'd play in the yard and wonder at the fascination she showed for crawling around moving plants, adding plants, weeding. I never understood it. Somehow, her passion never rubbed off.

Then I became a homeowner.

Suddenly, with a combination of photosynthetic blah and leafy yuck facing us every time we pulled into the driveway, learning to garden became something of a necessity. The front lawn, which was more moss than grass, was rototilled under and we anxiously waited for the new grass seed to do its thing. Then we yanked the old, bland, and not terribly healthy shrubs and laid out a new bed with a nice selection of plants that theoretically would grow into something a bit more appealing. We also went ahead and created several new beds in the backyard to anchor our shed and to add character to an otherwise bland fenced-in rectangle with grass.

The first attempt at gardening...our new lawn in the early stages of sprouting and a new front bed circa 2006

Two years ago, I was itching to do something else and kept tossing ideas at my wife about new beds in the front yard. She thought we should just do something small in back but I pushed. Finally she asked "why is this so important to you" and I replied "Because it's therapeutic."

And it was. Something interesting happened in our first round of gardening...I realized that not only did I like gardening but that it actually was therapeutic. I could set aside everything that was causing stress and instead dig and plant and haul huge amounts of mulch and emerge sore and tired and dirty but far more relaxed. Part of it was the instant gratification that comes with seeing the fruits of your labors at the end of the day. On the other hand, if you look at the photo above, there's not a whole lot to be immediately gratified about. That comes later.

Like this weekend...

We recently realized that the little tiny plants that we put in the ground three years before had become so large that they'd not only completely outgrown the initial front garden but were also fighting for space and overwhelming each other. Plus, the plantings in the back yard were looking good but disconnected, small islands of hydrangeas and clematis but nothing tying them all together.

Cue the power tools and dump truck!

Saturday broke bright and early with  a large pile of hemlock mulch being deposited in our driveway. After a family gathering at lunchtime (belated 40th birthday get-together, postponed due to my grandmother's death), we went shopping and loaded up the car with plants, soil, and peat moss, the tools of the trade. 

Then came Sunday with sporadic rain as my step-father and I split time wrestling a bucking rototiller as it chewed up a large section of the lawn we'd so lovingly restored, expanding the original bed and connecting it to a triangular bed we added two years ago. Once that was done, we experienced the anti-joy of getting rid of the clumps of grass that remained before hauling the rototiller into the backyard to chew out a new bed by one fence and tear up the sod between the established beds. This was followed by an afternoon of digging up the crowded, well-established plants and spreading them out in front, augmented by some of the new plants purchased the day before and other plants moved from elsewhere in the yard.

The end result of Sunday's efforts? A new, unified bed in front with the original residents and new plants given some elbow room and a matched set of aching muscles that left my wife and I both sore as hell from all the bending, digging, and hauling.

Front Gardens Mark II -- bigger and deeper, giving room for the hostas and shrubs that were so tiny not too long ago

Ahhhh mulch...what would we do without you? Attractive, kills weeds, and gives me a reason to use my wheelbarrow.

Memorial Day morning hobbled onto the stage way too early and with a bit too much stiffness in these 40-year old joints. Still, there was stuff to do out front and the whole stretch of new back beds to deal. So we settled down to another 10 hours of gardening in the sun, alternately playing the 1980s rock playlist on the iPod and listening to the Red Sox hold on for a win against the Twins. By early evening, the new bed with my anniversary gift from my wife (3 dwarf scotch brooms with stunning crimson blooms) was in place, the old beds were connected, the  last of the new plants were in and the last of our 3 cubic yards of mulch had been spread. Once again, I was sore as hell.

But you know what? I felt great. Strangers on their way to the bike path stopped and complimented our efforts. The original owner of our house, whom we'd never met, came by to say how much he loved what we were doing. I'd dug out grass plugs, planted new plants, shoveled mulch into and out of a wheelbarrow, endured a sunburn on the back of my neck, and I hadn't felt so relaxed in weeks.

It was exhausting and I know I'll be suffering tomorrow (despite extensive stretching, I'm aching just sitting here on Monday evening typing) but it was completely worth it. Every time I leave for work or come from an exhausting day, every time I sit out on the deck in back, every time friends or family come to visit, our efforts -- two and half days of planning and planting -- will be on display for all to see and I'll be able to point to these gardens and say "Yeah, we did that."

It took some time but it does seem that my mother's passion of gardening did indeed rub off and I'm happier for it.

1 comment:

Silent Arktos said...

two sanity