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March: Spring, the Verb ...


March 14, 9:37 PM March 15, 9:43 PM


I love my garden all year long, but this is my very favorite time. Between the plants outside and the seedlings in the greenhouse, there is not a day that I am not stopped in my tracks with wonder and joy. Actually, a day is too long a marker – every time I walk by the plants outside or go in the greenhouse I smile, I say hello, I have a little gasp of surprise at something. If another person who is interested is around, I could sit and point and go no, but look at this, or can you believe this, smell this, look at the little fuzz, look at the spears … for quite some time. Even teeny tiny, there is so much variation, so much personality. The smallest true leaf of lavender, smaller than the tip of my pinky, has a strong bold aroma. This marveling at the springing growth is one of my favorite things. It seems as if magic is all around. Life literally springs up and out. The little dahlia sprout above tripled in a day. There is no messing about this time of year.


Plants are magic to me all year long, but, now, they are especially so. The outside perennials seem to appear out of nowhere. Yesterday I could have gazed out and seen little patches of melting snow and brown leaf litter, but today I could look down or move some litter aside and see a tiny rosette of leaves at the base of last year’s growth or the tiny spear of a bulb breaking the surface. And every day after I notice the first bit of green, I start seeing it everywhere. And every day it is noticeably bigger, fuller. That’s how things work, right, you can be oblivious to something but then once you tune in, so much suddenly appears in your awareness. I tend to start tuning in once I, by accident, see a more noticeable bit of green, but if I stopped a bit earlier and moved some cover and looked closely, I could see that the plants wake up and get going before I really wake back up to them. And, thus, the magic, they take me by surprise because I was distracted by “winter,” when they were springing.


Every year in the fall, I dig up some valerian root to tincture. Two years ago, I cleaned off the plant I dug up and cut the top back, but I was busy and put the whole thing in a Ziploc bag and put it in the refrigerator to finish later. And then I forgot about it for about 3 or 4 months. I was going through the refrigerator, found the bag, and it had started growing, it was springing, shoots coming out all over. In the dark, damp, cold, even without soil, the plant had been triggered to stop its rest and push forward again. This past winter, I again put roots in the fridge, but this time, broke it into smaller bare root clumps. Again, after several months and many weeks ago, it sprang back into action. I imagine most of the perennials outside have a similar start. In the damp cold while I am waiting, they are not. The action is just happening on a plane beyond my perception. And so, when the ground clears enough or I tune in more, it seems like new growth has magically occurred. I love little accidents that help me see things a bit differently. The valerian gives me something on which my imagination can stew.


The great thing about starting seeds in a greenhouse is that such imagination is not as necessary, and often not necessary at all. You can see the spring in action up close. I use seed starting trays and mini blocks so germination is concentrated. Sometimes it is kind of like outside, last night there was dirt, but in the morning, there are green leaves, but sometimes the detail is so much more! Sweet pea seeds are quite large, and some end up on or near the surface and then shift up as they start growing. Because of this, you can see clearly how they sprout: a strong root going down, and a shoot going up. It’s so easy to get focused on the up and out but working with the seedlings it’s easy to see that the plants are springing down and out as much or more than up and out. I bottom water and, as I lift a seed start tray, it is not unusual to see long roots trailing down even when the green sprouts are small. Nourishing the plant is tending to both parts of the growth. And there is no one size fits all.


One thing I think is great about the seedlings (compared to the established perennials) is that they are at once both so vigorous and vital and at the same time so delicate. They can be wiped out so easily. So, this time of the year, as they are springing, I give myself to them. I’m at their service. I check in with them regularly. I see if they seem happy and try to figure out what they need. I worry about them, I’m surprised by them, I’m joyed by them. I learn from them. There is little room to work around what may be ideal for me, I commit to them. And because of this, before I know it, I have a relationship with them, and a compost pile never ends up seeming like where the strong seedlings want to be. As a result, I no doubt will end up with many more plants than intended. And so here begins my journey that will end in a few months on a mission to find them good homes where hopefully they can bring nourishment and joy to others . . .