The snow is off the snow drops and robins outnumber juncos and sparrows. Two weeks away, spring is a prolonged tease. Fern fronds of green rise from last year’s brown leftovers. Buds redden the big-leaf maple. Grasses and mosses are their greenest in six months, and the front lawn is spongy to walk across, like a bog. Crocuses and daffodils spike the flower beds. The sky’s blue-to-gray ratio shifts hourly. We pull off socks before going to bed. In his entry for March in Kalendarium Hortense: or the Gard’ners Almanac; directing what he is to do Monethly throughout the Year; And what Fruits and Flowers are in Prime (1664), John Evelyn writes:
“Stake and bind up your weakest Plants and Flowers against the Winds, before they come too fiercely and in a moment prostrate a whole years labour.”
In defiance of the proverb, the winds of March have been docile. We won’t tend a plot in the community garden this year. Instead, I’ll till new plots in the backyard and put in tomatoes, beans, basil and flowers. Gardens mingle artifice and nature, the best maintaining an uncertain balance. I don’t mind weeds among my herbs. Thinking about what to plant and where, I remember the Yvor Winters line: “The future gathers in vine, bush, and tree.” Here is “Time and the Garden”:
“The spring has darkened with activity.
The future gathers in vine, bush, and tree:
Persimmon, walnut, loquat, fig, and grape,
Degrees and kinds of color, taste, and shape.
These will advance in their due series, space
The season like a tranquil dwelling-place.
And yet excitement swells me, vein by vein:
I long to crowd the little garden, gain
Its sweetness in my hand and crush it small
And taste it in a moment, time and all!
These trees, whose slow growth measures off my years,
I would expand to greatness. No one hears,
And I am still retarded in duress!
And this is like that other restlessness
To seize the greatness not yet fairly earned,
One which the tougher poets have discerned—
Gascoigne, Ben Jonson, Greville, Raleigh, Donne,
Poets who wrote great poems, one by one,
And spaced by many years, each line an act
Through which few labor, which no men retract.
This passion is the scholar’s heritage,
The imposition of a busy age,
The passion to condense from book to book
Unbroken wisdom in a single look,
Though we know well that when this fix the head,
The mind’s immortal, but the man is dead.”
Like fishermen and poets, gardeners must understand time, accept its unseen constraints, wince at its indifference, grieve the losses it carries, harvest the wealth it brings.