Two hours. That's all I've got and that's all I'm giving to this garden today. It's important to bracket your time, to do more than one thing with your day, your week, your life. Balance is the key. Balance! Plus, at some point I'm going to have to make dinner. It's important to feed your family.
"Okay, girls, I'm back," I say to my primroses, plopping to my knees with a ready trowel. These pink beauties have been my summer's biggest surprise, blooming heroically since May, an act I've thanked them for daily. All the thanking has, I think, only encouraged them, and now they're edging toward obnoxious, choking out my yarrow and even my phlox.
"Balance is the key," I say to the primroses. "And you are too much of a good thing." And so I begin my yanking. I'll have to divide, transplant over by the old chicken coop. The more I yank, the more I get good whiffs of this fresh soil, and so, inevitably, the more I realize I want to do nothing else with my life, ever, but garden.
Two hours? Asking a person like me to spend just two hours in the garden is like asking a squirrel to please refrain from eating all your birdseed.
I've stopped wondering how this happened to me. One day I just woke up and realized I had a beautiful garden but hardly any friends left. Too busy gardening. I thought about balance, the key. A balance between hobby time and friend time and time on the phone with your sister. A balanced diet. A balanced checkbook! An exercise program balanced between aerobic activity and strength training. Blah blah blah.
Balance is boring. I'm more of a gorger. When it comes to gardening, I know I'm not alone. I see people like me at nurseries all the time. We hang around so long, looking at little tags, pondering, dreaming, poking, checking for aphids, that we inevitably get approached by other shoppers. "Excuse me, how late are you open?" Or, "Where are the geraniums?" We love this. We have dirty ankles, and sneakers without shoelaces that slip easily on and off, and freckled shoulders, and we can think of no greater honor than being mistaken for a garden center employee.
In my family there are two in my generation bitten this hard by the bug. My brother is worse than I am. He starts seeds in January in an industrial-size greenhouse, and in May he has "Flower Day," the day when the contents of the greenhouse are removed and stuck in the ground by dozens of friends, volunteers and neighborhood kids eager for cash. "Insta-garden!" my mother calls it, followed by, "Your brother is crazy." She says this with more than a hint of pride, since she's the one who started this whole thing. As a child in the city, she had a concrete yard surrounded by a solid wood fence. Through a hole in the fence she could see into the neighbor's yard, where there stood a solitary rose bush. It made its way into her dreams at night and then in the daytime, as she imagined herself a grown woman surrounded by flowers.
My picture of my mother in summer is mostly just her back, hunched over, weeding, transplanting, never stopping even for lunch. This didn't ignite me. I didn't want to be her. I wanted to go bowling. I wanted to ride my bike and try cigarettes. How I ended up her is a mystery of the dirt and the worms.
My brother's garden is all annuals, whereas mine is almost all perennials. This says everything about us. His is more work but so much easier, emotionally. Annuals are decorations. You stick them in and water them, and then in the fall they give up and you say goodbye. No further commitment. Perennials hide in the fall, and all winter you only half-believe they're coming back. In the spring they peep through, and every time it's a reunion. "Well, there you are." And then the fights begin, the lavender getting choked by the clematis you forgot to stake. And then the memories of the good old days when you planted that clematis, two years ago, when hardly anything was here and this soil was clay, clay, clay. Then the thoughts of two years from now when the sugar maples will be that much bigger, so should you start working in some shade plants now?
See, I've used up 30 minutes already, and all I've done is imagine.
"Two hours!" I shout to my primroses. Two hours is ridiculous, and two hours is not gonna happen.
This leads me to one conclusion: pizza. I'll call for a small cheese and a large veggie. If I can persuade the family to eat on the patio, I can wolf down my piece and return to my garden, engaging in actual people conversation while I yank.
It's all about balance, and if you have to multitask, so be it.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.