On Friday night, the clouds were already rolling in. After a week of stunningly harsh 100 degree + temps, we were going to have a cool weekend. Well, Saturday at least. As breezes built up, I began moving the garden tools downstairs under the deck. The big compost bag. Hand tools. Gloves.
Like prepping for a life-saving operation, if you will.
Which is precisely what this was going to be.
After planting my pricey new forsythia in unfriendly, sandy soil on the sunny side of the house, whereupon it promptly began to die with unsettling swiftness, I had to conduct a major operation. Not willing to let my investment die off, first thing in the morning I was going to open up a chunk in my still-shady back yard where the ground is far more moist, the soil dark. There may yet be time.
A transfusion if you will.
As soon as dawn broke yesterday morning I grabbed my bow rake and opened up the still-humpy spot. This is where my tree folks had removed the enormous root ball of the walnut which had succumbed to a disease three years ago. The ground was blessedly soft and pliant. Clods of grass went flying. I dumped rich compost in, mixed it all up.
Then, as the sun snuck over the horizon in the fifty-degree and almost too-cool morning weather, I began the transfer.
Getting the forsythia out of the sandy soil was supremely easy. The root ball was dried out and unhappy. I lifted her gently, and she came along willingly, like a dog that knows it has to see the vet but isn’t very pleased about it. Leaves fell all along the pathway and across the law as I hauled her gently to her new, very shady location.
She settled in nicely. I roughened up the root ball (I finally got the message that you have to do this) and patted the rich, damp soil all around to invite those brain-tipped roots (didja know they had elementary brains? They do in their own plant way. Please see https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-01-09/new-research-plant-intelligence-may-forever-change-how-you-think-about-plants) to wander. Go find nourishment. Hold hands with your neighbors. Come on in, the soil’s fine.
Then she got a serious shower. I covered the parchment-dry leaves and the upturned soil, spoke to her encouragingly, and left her to bask for a while in the cool morning air and her new surroundings.
Like any good doctor, I hoped the patient would survive. What the hell do I know? Not a lot, but I’m learning.
Meanwhile I planted stone crop and a bunch of other hardy folk in their own new spots all over the yard. Those perennials and succulents in the front step barrels are as happy and blooming as they can be. Like our kids, you gotta wonder. I treat ’em all the same. Now why do they turn out so differently???
Probably precisely the same way we are all as unique as any snowflake, any fingerprint, any star. Our plants have preferences and personalities and periodic temper tantrums when they don’t get treated with love and respect- just like us. A forsythia in one part of my yard will thrive. The same plant three feet over will wilt. It’s up to me to figure out why. Just like a first-time parent, there is no manual that will really, truly help me sort this out. There are going to be big mistakes along with some casualties.
Like in any other family.
Today it’s going to be in the upper eighties again. Our brief respite is over. I took a quick trip to visit the patient.
From a distance, things didn’t look so good. Below her branches, a good many leaves littered the dark soil.
However, when I handled the leaves, they were pliant. Water had been transferred to them again and they no longer disintegrated like dry lettuce between my fingers. It’s a start.
Now that’s a happy thing indeed. My forsythia is recovering. Now sheltered by a few fast-growing ash trees for much of the morning and early afternoon, placed in much richer soil (okay, I’m beginning to tell the difference) she has a far better chance of survival. Even thrival.
In spite of me, that is.
The real acid test will be if she rewards me with new growth. At that point all will have been forgiven. If I’m very, very fortunate, after a rough start, Ms. Forsythia will grow to her eight feet, and then it will be her turn to shade the yard. One hopes. One most certainly does.
Another brand-new, expensive, non-kinking (but it does) hose has been added to the back yard so that I can spot-water those kids who need special attention through the hot summer, in the hopes that with encouragement and love they will send their roots to engage with all their neighbors and become part of the family. Lots of those roots surrounded my forsythia as I planted her.
The Life I Steward
I periodically apologize to the grass which has migrated into the garden, where I wish it wouldn’t show up. It has to be removed. I recognize the life that I steward. I’d prefer that grass grow in the middle of the yard where bald spots are showing, the result of too much sun, too little shade, and the loss of a senior, protective family member: my walnut. Next year I hope to be able to afford to plant another tree right in the middle of that spot, where, over time, it will provide precious shade and protection for the teeming life below.
Plants are no different in many ways from the animals I massage. They live life in the slow lane, don’t lick my hand or lean against me when I rub their ears. They are just as eloquent, just as responsive, and just as joyous when treated with great love. As all life deserves, as it is ever so brief for us all.
I may be reluctant, but that doesn’t mean I’m not willing. I feel the fish hook solidly lodged in my left cheek. Before I do much of anything else in the morning I wander outside to see how my kids are doing. Everyone getting along? You guys playing nice? Anyone need a snack? Some water?
Something bugging you?
I sound like my mother.
However when I start using spit to fix absolutely everything in the garden, I will go seek psychiatric guidance. It’s bad enough that I scare the poo out of my plants when I walk by with a pair of garden shears. I can see them leaping right out of the ground when if I wet my bandanna with spit to remove this or that blemish off a leaf.