Two huge raccoons raced in front of me last night when I was calling the cats. The cats were sitting three yards away and refused to look at me, the person who feeds them. They were like people at a sports event waiting for a moment they had anticipated and fantasized about all season. The Running of the Raccoons. For the next six months at ten o’clock at night, my cats will be in their lawn chairs with their Mojitos, waiting for the show. They will ignore my calls for them to come in so I, the person who feeds them, can go to sleep.
It’s spring, the great turning of the earth. The earth’s rotation to be sure, but there’s also been a great turning of the earth in my garden. New beds have been dug and old ones expanded. Seeds and starts are in the ground. Bare-root trees are showing signs of life. I have done all I can to discourage scab, codling moths, and maggots to my Spartan apples.
I don’t remember when I have been this ahead of the game. It’s because for the first time since arthritis ruined me for ten hour days in the garden I have help. A friend of mine whom I will call Tim (his name is Tim) recently moved into downsized digs six blocks away from me and for the first time in his life is without a garden. One day last year he e-mailed out of the blue to say he can’t go another year without the earth and did I have any large gardening projects he could embark on. You might well ask how did I get so lucky but I have no answer for that.
Last spring and summer was a process of exhuming a garden that had been neglected for several years and putting in a few new things. I am not a great planner so except for a few plants, every day in the garden is like Christmas morning to me. I tend to plant things and think, “OK, now that I’ll remember,” and neglect to set a marker.
I have showpieces: a tree peony, some magnificent lilacs, the Himalayan honeysuckle that I grew from a slip, the designer dahlias called “Wheels,” and the Peruvian Scilla. When I found the Scilla several years ago, they were clogging up a small patch of garden in a sea of lawn. Ever since I freed their great clumps of bulbs and planted them all over my property, they have rewarded me with great royal blue starbursts in sun, in shade, in pots, and with or without water. They reward themselves with sexual orgies all winter long.
Every February I get a purple carpet of early croci in pretty much every bit of yard that hasn’t been mowed. And finally there’s the Clerodendron (Glory Bower) that I grew from a sucker of my neighbor across the street. I gave a sucker to Gwen, my neighbor who knows something about just about everything. Thanks to this triumvirate, our section of Crown Hill smells like the perfume counter at Nordstroms on warm summer nights.
These are the highlights of what was there, if neglected, when Tim came in the gate, so to speak. Since we’ve been collaborating, Tim has made a serious dent in the dandelion population, done a great deal of judicious transplanting and fertilizing. (The yard smells like a fish market.) He’s attended to details that I don’t realize until weeks later, if at all. However it did not escape my notice that he built a rock wall, which I call The Grotto, using hunks of concrete we have scavenged from the neighborhood and the great hunks of cement that once housed fence posts.
The story of those fence posts is this: I paid a former student a smallish amount of money to learn to build a fence. He wanted the experience, I wanted the fence. It worked out beautifully until two years after the fact and he had moved to California, the fence came down in a windstorm and crashed on my raspberries.
When I paid a great deal of money to have a proper fence built, the builder said he would try to leave the hunks of cement in the ground. When it proved impossible to work around them they got a new life as an unsightly heap in the southwest corner of the yard and began collecting moss. Tim worked them, moss and all, into a garden wall, gradually building up raised beds, which we are filling in first of all with sub-soil from the cemetery next door, then topsoil from another part of the yard and finally compost.
Besides Tim whose organic gardening creds go back years and around the world, I have Matt, the yard guy who Gwen and I employ one day a week between us to do some of the hard and admittedly tedious work of the garden. The most recent addition to the Team Garden has been Little Miss Scarecrow with plastic bags stuffed into her waterproofed gear. What’s so nice about having help is that then I feel able to do what I can. When I think I have to do it all, it’s so overwhelming that I don’t do anything, which pretty much describes the situation in the last several years. Now I can do the things I most enjoy: weeding, and holding the hose in one hand and a Scotch in the other.
Expect to hear more. Like how Tim almost murdered my kerria japonica and how I am spraying tender starts with a mixture of Neem oil, cayenne, and Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap. And double feature night: The Running of the Raccoons and the Dancing of the Opossums.