RENOVATING A PERENNIAL BED

by Jnana Hodson

Gardeners in New England – especially in its northern realms of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont – soon discover the month of May can be a frantic stretch. (Or, for those of us with short memories, the word should be rediscover. I keep hoping for something more orderly than what feels dropped upon us each year.) For much of April, even apart from the threat of killer-frost nights or piles of lingering snow, the ground can be too cold or too wet for planting, and that’s if rain’s not falling. With our clay-based soil, I’ve learned not to turn it when wet, lest it form brick-like clumps. For that matter, in a typical year our large compost bin can still be frozen at heart, posing another obstacle to preparing the garden beds themselves.

When it comes to these projects, I often find myself in a bind. We simply don’t have enough room to “park” something while waiting for something else to open up or be moved to another spot. Compost is a case in point, though hardly the only one.

So when May hits, we’re rushing to get as much in the ground as soon as possible to maximize a relatively short growing season and, frankly, to try to beat the weeds to a solid start.

And that’s where we are at the moment.

I feel pretty good about a lot of the pace. Two of our raised beds have received new wooden frames, the compost bin’s been emptied and refilled with a new round of leaves and garbage, black plastic and a soaker hose are in place on what will be this year’s nightshade bed (tomatoes and peppers), the pea frames are up as are the seedlings below them, the bean tripods are in place … and we’re dining on what I think’s the best asparagus ever.

Let me add that my wife’s scheduling here means a few other outdoor projects I thought I’d be addressing are put off for a few weeks, and that’s frustrating. I hope they don’t get pushed back for months, because, well, that would affect other projects in the pipeline – and that touches on yet another issue she raised today. What if we just moved to a condo with a deck and a small garden bed about the size of our dining room table?

I could see that if we did square-foot gardening as intensely as we once envisioned, we might raise enough to keep us smiling at dinner. But my beloved asparagus bed’s larger than that. Ahem.

~*~

So we finished our first round of morning coffee and headed outside for the day’s task, the fourth of the raised beds in what we call the Kitchen Garden, the one on the far side of the driveway. The one we’re tackling is a perennial bed of bee balm (which attracts hummingbirds as well as bees), sorrel (which makes for an excellent sauce on fish), and chives, all of which we’d hoped to salvage. Unfortunately, a bout of lemon balm’s gone invasive, along with grass, plus our ubiquitous ground ivy, dandelions, vetch, and several familiar weeds I have yet to identify.

In short, this has meant uprooting most of the bed, attempting to save what we could, including some hyacinth bulbs, and admitting we’d have to start from scratch with much of the rest, including new bee balm.

So here we are, ripping out, grubbing, turning, cursing, adding compost, wondering how this got away from us, anticipating, what?

I have to admit I’m not the gardener, the one who plans the arrangement using page after page of grid paper or reads up on the options or orders the seeds or starts the flats indoors under the grow lights I set up or waters them daily while envisioning the results or anticipates the way they’ll wind up in tasty dishes or fill the freezer for dinners next winter. (I admire the one who does all this, in more ways than one. After all, I married her.) At the moment, though, I’m more concerned with what goes into the wheelbarrow, shovel by shovel or handful by handful, and where it goes from there.

And then, there will be one more thing checked off my to-do list … while adding to hers.

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