If you’re a gardener, you know the siren call of bedding plants and seed packets from the neighborhood garden center. Buy me! Plant me!
And if you’re like me, you give in because you believe the colorful posters. You picture in a wide-brimmed hat in a weed-free garden, holding more produce to feed a small army.
April is the gardener’s clean slate. That’s why I like spring best—before it gets hot and buggy and weedy. This year will be different. This time I’ll demand order. I’ll weed, prune, dead-head, spray and otherwise tend to these precious baby plants, watch them grow into youths and adults with luscious fruit or roots or stalks or whatever the edible part may be. I won’t wimp out. The rabbits and deer won’t show up. Tomato worms and slugs will never appear. Aphids will never hatch.
I didn’t grow up in farm country for nothing. So many tractors and planters and plows making slow processions along the county roads made me aware of what time it was: time to till large swaths of black soil, time to begin another cycle of corn and soybeans.
It was the natural order of things. Later, in my first apartment in Bloomington, Illinois, I felt out of order not being up close with plants and so I bought a pair of redwood flower boxes to plant impatiens and marigolds on my balcony. And it has so every year since. I must plant something.
By mid-March this year I had my little raised bed spaded, raked. Onion sets and lettuce plants, then seeds for spinach, arugula and radishes. For a few precious weeks in May and June we can enjoy better-than-fresh produce, the satisfaction of putting my big toe into the realm of self-sufficiency.
Perennials may be my best friends. I’ve managed to establish an asparagus bed—with all the lime and sand I can muster to sweeten clay. And I’ve kept Mr. Rhubarb alive, that one faithful plant that shoots his crimson stalks outward before slugs chew his bold green leaves to lace.
I have best luck with chives and sage and rosemary. They come back every year without my help. Low-maintenance should be my middle name. I know in the end things will shift. They always do. The weather will turn hot and dry and it will be too much of a pain to water things. Or I’ll forget for a day or two, then three. The weeds will begin their death march, and the dreaded tomato worm will somehow strip my prized tomato plant bare in one night.
But in April, all of that bad stuff is too far away. This is the clean-slate season. I am hopeful.