Sing Along to the Spring Siren Song!
by Kathy Warnes
Sing along to the spring siren gardening song
But watch out for the gardening ghosts!
Compelled by twitching green thumbs, the gardener spreads seed catalogs, potting soil, and clay pots on the kitchen table, ignoring the sleet beating against the windows.
There is a spring siren song that always sets the gardener’s green thumb twitching. The gardener knows that algae and mold are green too. The gardener knows aching muscles don’t stay in the garden. The gardener resolves that every year of gardening will be the last. Compelled by twitching green thumbs, the gardener spreads seed catalogs, seed packets, potting soil and clay pots on the kitchen table just as the ancient Romans spread rose petals through the gardens in their marble villas.
Babylonian Kings Liked to Gardens
Compelled by ghostly voices singing siren songs from the garden, the gardener slips outside and kneels in the flower beds next to the house. The gardener scowls at the winter bushes, dreaming of humus and fertilizer. Others kneel beside the gardener on this still frozen ground. The gardener is in distinguished company. The ancient Babylonians were gardeners. One king in Babylon planted hanging gardens in tiers to ease the homesickness of his wife who sighed for the hills of her native land.
The gardener sighs too and mentally marks off the rows that will be transformed into sunflowers, zinnias, and rows of unpredictable vegetables. The Babylonian king’s garden became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This garden will be a wonder of the modern world if it survives the flower picking fingers of a five-year-old and the daily worm digging excavations of a ten-year-old for another year.
Ancient Greek Gardeners Were Neat
The Old Testament in the Bible has instructions for planting and caring for fig and olive trees, the gardener muses, fastening pliers around the grape vines that look like the wrath of Jehovah and deciding for the umpteenth time to cut them out of the garden. The grapes they offer in exchange for all of pruning are shriveled and sour and not good for much but making a gallon of home made wine. Ah, but the wine! No fine wine served by Abraham in golden flagons in his tent can match the taste and aroma of that wine fermented from homemade autumn perfumed grapes.
The gardener puts the pliers back in the garage and moves on to the ancient Greeks. They shake their curly heads in dismay at the crazy quilt disorder of this garden. They patterned their gardens, alternated small and large beds, and installed fountains and planted arbors for variety. To them gardening was an art to be practiced with consummate skill and dedication. “You left out one pertinent fact!” the gardener yells at them as they retreat, horrified at modern gardening. “You ancient Greeks had slave labor to work in your gardens!”
Rabbits Prefer Local Lettuce
Taking refuge in the square of land by the fence where the vegetable garden hibernates, the gardener thinks positive vegetable garden thoughts. The neighborhood rabbits prefer home grown untidy lettuce to any other, which is a form of natural selection and horticultural flattery. The gardener is annually grateful when even one of the lettuce plants survives. The gardener ignores the Babylonian king lurking in the experimental basil patch. The king deserves praise for planting an herb garden containing over 50 different kinds of herbs the gardener concedes, but then challenges the king out loud, “Show me your rabbits before you tell me that I can grow herbs too!”
Lonely Vegetable Garden
The gardener walks on to the melon patch and makes a mental note to thank the Commodore when planting melons and cantaloupes this year. Commodore James Barron brought melon and cantaloupe seeds to Germantown, Pennsylvania from Tripoli in 1818. The seeds appreciated Germantown soil and they grew, multiplied and the gardener is still planting their progeny every year.
Studying the snow sprinkled soil, it is hard for the gardener to believe that this is the same vegetable garden that encourages every occupant to hang, slither, and creep in the summer. This is probably because the gardener is usually the only witness to the vegetable garden’s summer activity. Everyone else is off performing mysterious missions that keep them from the chore of weeding the vegetable garden.
Even now, the gardener is the only inhabitant of the vegetable garden in waiting until the sparrow eyeing the bird feeder hanging on the fence swoops down to investigate the dining facilities. Some bird seed is still there, so the gardener can retreat into the planting seed catalogs with good conscience and eager fingers. The voices of the gardening ghosts plead with the gardener to stay, but there is still a little more time before their voices combine to sing a gardening siren song. They will practice singing and sending soft spring breezes. They will whisper reminders of how the warm earth feels in the gardener’s fingers.
The Anthem is Irresistible but Bring Slave Labor!
The gardener knows the anthem will be irresistible as soon as spring smiles her first warm smile and seeds stir to life for another season of growing. Then the gardener will hurry outside entranced in a gardening spell, despite the best resolutions to abstain from gardening and take up jogging or the gym.
“I’ll be back soon,” the gardener promises the gardening ghosts, slamming the door firmly in their faces. Then the gardener opens the door a crack. “Ancient Greeks, make sure you bring some of your slave labor with you this year!”
All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!, Mel Bartholomew, Cool Spring Press, 2006
Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, Michael Pollan, Grove Press, 2003