Kate Flora: We are all seeing it, aren’t we, the way the natural world changes every day now. One gray and gloomy day, it will seem like the buds on trees that line the highway will never become leaves and a few days later, the landscape has exploded into a zillion shades of green interspersed with bits of red. It is the gardening season. It is the bug season. It is the season when the days are suddenly long and we still cannot get enough done.
I am a hereditary gardener. My paternal grandmother had three long swaths of perennial beds in her lawn, with a white garden seat in the center whose lattice supported climbing roses. My father had a degree from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture. He along with my little sister Sara, had the kind of gardening touch where it seemed as though they could stretch out their hands and the plants would leap to them like animals wanting to be petted.
My parents were very competitive about gardening. For years, she kept her yearning to garden under wraps so as not to threaten him. Eventually, though, she couldn’t keep her desire for a garden of her own in check and established a garden outside the back door. He grew more traditional things in a more conventional way—though I do remember the truck being filled with softball-sized watermelons one year, and an abundance of cantaloupe. She practiced raised beds with heavily mulched paths and the beds were encircled with marigolds to deter pests. She grew bright purple beans that, disappointingly, turned green when they were cooked. The purple made them easy to harvest.
In the hilltop farm, spring meant all the counters, desktops, windowsills, and part of the floor would be covered with plants being raised from seed. Summer meant long evenings spent at the table after dinner, processing produce for canning and freezing, an activity that connected us to earlier times, when processing food was the only way people ate in the winter. Fall meant that pails of squash, potatoes, and onions were stored in the cement or dirt-floored cellar for the winter. The floor of the summer kitchen would hold squash and any tomatoes that could be rescued from the frost. Come January it would all begin again.
I inherited their passion though not, alas, their ability. I like to joke that I have a brown thumb and a credit card. It doesn’t mean that I don’t try, though. Right now, although I have a lot of writing and organizing on my plate, I cannot stay inside at the computer. In my earlier, more disciplined (or compulsive) years, I used to make a bargain with myself: an hour of gardening in the cool of early morning, and then back to work. Lately, I’ve been allowing myself more time in the garden. Partly, because I’m slower now. Partly because I want to be out there in the midst of the plant explosion.
This week, we were away for a few days and it seems like everything doubled in size. Those “empty” spaces in the garden I was wondering how to fill? They’re gone. The Japanese maple has grown huge. The golden spirea is a bold splash of yellow. The ligularia are threatening to take over the world. My painter’s palette persicaria are jumping out from the sea of green. I know I should be inside doing my homework, but as I embrace my 74th spring, the voice in my head asks: What Matters? What are you waiting for? And What will you regret? These messages say: Be outside now, when the world is impossibly alive. And I listen.