The Seeds of Spring BLOG

Lessons From the Garden

This Blog Is Moving February 28, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 4:53 pm

The Seeds of Spring blog is moving to a new site, You’ll be able to get to it from my main business site, Thanks for reading! Steve


Exclusive! Congress Investigates Santa Claus December 18, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 1:17 pm

This reporter gained exclusive access to the first-ever appearance of Santa Claus before the joint Congressional Committee on Investigations. Here is how this historic event unfolded:

“The committee will come to order,” said the chairman, Sen. Gerry Mander, slamming his gavel. “Today we are pleased to have Santa Claus here to answer some very serious allegations. As you know, Mr. Claus, the atmosphere in Washington is not particularly good these days. People don’t tend to trust one another in Congress, in the administration, even in the judiciary,” said the senator.

“We have investigated each other, fat cat political contributors, bankers, oil tycoons, even the Boy Scouts—just about everyone we can possibly investigate. And, frankly, we’re running out of people to blame of our mistakes. So you’re next.”

Members of Congress prepare to grill Santa.

Members of Congress prepare to grill Santa.

Mr. Claus conferred with his legal representative but made no comment.

“Point of order, Mr. Chairman,” said Rep. I.M. Rich. “I’m concerned that this might not actually be Santa Claus. I’m informed by staff that he goes by several aliases, which as we all know can be the hallmark of a criminal mastermind or terrorist. At some times he is also known as Kris Kringle, or Father Christmas, even Pere Noel.”

“That may be,” stated Sen. Philip Buster. “But I have a much bigger concern. Whatever his name is, there is the serious issue of illegal electronic surveillance.”

A buzz filled the room.

“I’m particularly concerned,” the senator continued, about the claims that he ‘knows when you are sleeping’ and ‘he knows when you’re awake.’ That is evidence of warrantless wiretapping or video surveillance or some other illegal breach of personal privacy.”

“Mr. Chairman, I—” Mr. Claus started to respond.

“You think that’s bad,” said Sen. Rigo Mortis. “This character is rumored to run a sweatshop up there in the North Pole, exploiting child labor, no less. My staff tells me that dozens of small children wearing pointed hats labor seven days a week for months on end producing cheap knockoffs of the cheap Chinese knockoffs of whatever we used to make in the U.S.”

Mr. Claus didn’t even try to respond.

"And I bet I get a ticket for double-parking my sleigh."

“And I bet I get a ticket for double-parking my sleigh.”

“Let’s refer the elves issue to the Department of Labor. Surely there’s a wage-and-hour problem here,” said the chairman, adding: “Is the North Pole a right-to-work state?”

“I don’t think the North Pole is a state—yet,” said Sen. Mortis. “But it’s probably a terrific tax haven.”

“Mr. Chairman,” Rep. Rich jumped in. “We have not explored the national security and immigration threats that Mr. Claus presents. I mean, he comes into our country and leaves without clearing customs or having to be frisked by the TSA, like the rest of us. And he claims to reach every home in the world during a single evening. Even accounting for time zone changes, that would require some sort of faster-than-light travel. This man clearly controls technology that poses a significant danger if it falls into the hands of our enemies.”

“Any comment, Mr. Claus?” the chairman asked.

After consulting with his representative, he responded: “I’ll plead the fifth, senator.”

“That’s unfortunate, Mr. Claus,” Sen. Mander stated. “You know, the thing that bothers me the most about your shady operation is this whole ‘who’s been bad and who’s been good’ thing. I mean, what criteria do you use to decide? How do you avoid discriminating on the basis of protected classes?”

Mr. Claus just stared at the chairman.

“Okay, I can tell we are not going to get any useful information out of this man. I guess there’s nothing left for this committee to do but—”

“Wait a minute,” said a familiar voice. None other than President Barack Obama entered the hearing room. “Can I have a minute alone with Mr. Claus?

“This highly unusual,” said the chairman. “But proceed.”

After the room cleared, the president spoke directly to Santa.

“I want to apologize for the way you have been treated here,” he began.

Santa Claus seemed to perk up.

“But I’ve got to tell you, we’re really in a fix here in Washington. Any chance you can help us out with a few trillion dollars to get us through this fiscal cliff problem?”

Mr. Claus offered one brief comment on his way out the door:

“Ho ho ho!”



Salad Days December 16, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 2:50 pm

Some days, I have to check the calendar twice to make sure I’m not out of synch with what month it is.

Yes, it’s December. And I’m still harvesting fall salad greens.

Some lettuce, mostly slowed to a halt by cool weather and short days. The leaf spinach, though, seems like it still has some growing to do.

I planted the first fall batch of greens from seed in late August. The second sowing occurred two weeks later.

I’m still picking a little from the first batch; a few of the red leaf lettuce plants have yet to get tough and bitter, despite being overgrown. The second planting was less voluminous but it’s still kicking.

So, do I attribute this toFall_ltc luck? To global climate change? Some combination?

I’m not sure. But I know that temperatures have been higher than “usual” for some time now. Heck, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has revised its climate zones to reflect the fact that the temperature readings have been changed for the warmer all across the country for some years now.

I’m torn. I like the fact that I can extend my fall garden late into the year. I look forward to planting earlier in the coming year. I certainly hope I don’t have to shovel as much snow as a couple of years ago, when we had nearly five feet total for the winter season.

But I hate to see what could be a damaging trend that melts the ice caps, inundates coastal cities such as New York, and generally puts humanity on a dangerous course.

I guess it all comes back to the principle that we all have a stake in the environment and that we all must do at least something positive and proactive to forestall the worst that climate change can bring.

That means recycling, taking re-usable bags to the store, using energy-efficient lights and appliances, and generally being conscious of our carbon footprint. Oh yes, and voting for people who say they mean business about addressing climate change.

As an aside, I feel compelled to comment on the big news stories of the fall: Superstorm Sandy, and Sandy Hook Elementary School. Aside from the fact that both involve the name Sandy, and people with that name must feel rather cursed right now, I think we all have been moved by the suffering that has occurred as a result of the storm and the shooting.

As a journalist, I will not comment in public on any issue in the public discussion, such as gun laws, because I must maintain my objectivity and credibility as a reporter.

As a journalist and a person, though, I feel compelled to object to the degree and length of the news media coverage—television, primarily—of the school shooting.

The more time and emphasis the networks place on the person who killed these innocent children, the more it becomes apparent to other unstable people that if you want to be famous, or infamous, for decades beyond your demise, shooting a lot of people is one way to meet your goal.

It’s time to just say “no” to excessive media coverage of such events.

Have a great holiday season, one and all.



Straw Man (Part 1) December 4, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 9:54 pm

Here’s a little something different. This is the first scene of a gardening-themed short story I’m working on. I’d love to hear constructive feedback. Cheers, Steve

Straw Man

By Steve Bates

The familiar shadow traced curled lines over Bonnie Clark’s handsome garden. It slid over the smooth, pale green surfaces of plump cabbages, eased across the wide brown rows where Bonnie pushed her wooden cart, and toyed with the gnarled limbs of apple and pear trees toward the rear of the property. The hawk danced, weaved and spiraled as the thermals propelled it through its timeless searching above the ancient land. It cruised out of Bonnie’s field of view, returning now and then as the slightest ripple among the grasses suggested the scurrying of a field mouse in what would be its last desperate moments.

Having finished propping up her sunflowers, whose heavy heads soared eight feet above the red soil, Bonnie stretched her stiffening back, arched her shoulders and turned her gaze to the tree line, where the morning sun was just clearing the top of the woods. Another fine autumn day, she thought. Cool enough to keep the late-season crops from bolting to seed, but mild enough to prevent the last fruit from spoiling on the trees.

Bonnie turned to a garden bed filled with tender young lettuce seedlings, deep green and turning brownish red toward the tips of the succulent leaves. Dropping to her knees, she studied the plants with a satisfied smile. “Aren’t we proud of ourselves,” Bonnie spoke to them. “Growing up fast afore the winter winds descend.” With practiced efficiency, she pulled up every other lettuce plant, taking care to shake each particle of precious soil from the roots. Most of the harvested plants she arranged in a homespun straw basket; the smallest plants she tossed into a pile next to the basket. Suddenly, she halted, her normally jovial face tightening into a grimace, as she spied a weed that had managed to reach four inches in height by hiding among the lettuce plants.

Reaching into her gardening apron, she removed a long, smooth knife. Eyes widening with intense focus, she plunged the blade into the earth almost an inch from the weed’s stem, then repeated the motion in a circle around the offender, the knife angled slightly so that she carved a funnel out of the garden bed, allowing her to remove the weed and its entire root ball. Bonnie turned it over in her hand and checked the gap left in the earth to assure herself that every last cell of the offending organism had been exorcised. Then, laying the flaccid weed on a board she kept near at hand, Bonnie employed a strong, firm stroke to slice the weed lengthwise, tip to last root filament. Next, she turned the board and began to carve the weed crosswise at close intervals, dicing it into tiny fragments. Satisfied that the weed was beyond salvation, she squeezed the pieces and carried them to the edge of the woods, tossing them as deep into the undergrowth as her right arm would allow.

“Away with you,” she whispered. As she ambled back to her garden, Bonnie was flooded with memories of working this land at her mother’s side for many a year. Mother repeated two lessons, and two lessons only, but they were laid down repeatedly and forcefully as if delivered direct from God’s hand atop the mountain.

“Do not satisfy yourself with pulling a weed with your hands. Nor may you cut it at the soil line with the sharpest blade.” A weed—like any evil that roams the world—will come back. It will come back stronger and more disruptive. “Remove it head, body and feet,” she would tell Bonnie, occasionally shaking the child to ensure that the lesson was absorbed by every fiber of her being. “Leave no trace of it upon this world.”

The second admonition: “Waste nothing that you grow. What you cannot eat or sell at market or turn into clothing, you must return to ashes and dust.” That meant the compost pile. When Bonnie finished thinning out her lettuce bed, she carried the pile of small, unmarketable seedlings to a corner of her property where she maintained her compost heap. Gently, she laid the lettuce leaves atop the pile, where in a few days they would be turned and mingled with leaves, grass, other garden debris and the remains of Bonnie’s modest meals. Bonnie did not understand the scientific principles behind the alchemy that created the compost that made her garden the envy of the county. She just knew that it worked.

She was about done pruning her fruit trees when the hawk’s shadow loomed large and quite close to her. With a faint ruffle of feathers, the proud bird announced its arrival on the shoulder of Bonnie’s scarecrow. The snowy breasted-predator looked familiar. It probably kept its nest in the nearby woods and chose this land—on the edge of human settlement–as its primary hunting grounds. It’s rare for a hawk to come close to people; this likely was the same bird that alighted on her scarecrow a time or two last year, Bonnie surmised.

“Now, it has been a long spell since you have come a-visiting, my gal,” Bonnie spoke as if addressing a cousin or friend. The hawk tilted its head repeatedly in short, jerky motions, assessing and reassessing threats and opportunities by the millisecond. Bonnie knew these birds: hunting machines all. Operating with ruthless precision, and not the faintest hint of guilt at killing and killing again. Then again, probably not finding the slightest taste of joy in it, either.

“Take care now,” Bonnie continued. “My straw man here be not a sturdy one.” The bird showed no sign of comprehension. It continued to scan its environment. Bonnie tried to guess its thoughts, to see herself through this predator’s eyes. She’s a big one, Bonnie observed. Probably a female. Maybe protecting offspring as well as hunting for rodents. Bonnie joined it in scanning the garden, admiring the rich smell of recently tilled soil and the sight of the compact beds of fall vegetables, the rows of larger vegetables and flowers, and the still beauty of the unspoiled acreage around her property.

“We are not all that different,” the gardener said at length. “Like you, I live a lonely existence. And, so often, I cannot say where my next meal will come from.”

Turning to face it the hawk once more, Bonnie added: “We do what we must to survive, don’t we now?”

As suddenly as the hawk had arrived, it leapt into the sky, executed two graceful turns, and vanished. Fragments of straw fell from the scarecrow’s sleeve. Despite the ache burning in her back and in her knees, Bonnie knelt to gather the pieces. “That won’t do, now, will it?” she said to the figure.

So often, people build scarecrows to terrify children—and adults, too, Bonnie knew. More often than not, scarecrows were stretched out on a cross like the Jesus man in the Bible stories, with some silly pumpkin head or ghoulish face. But this scarecrow was designed and crafted with great care to fulfill its true mission: to frighten the ungodly soul out of crows, rooks, robins, bluebirds and every other winged creature that fancied her crops.

This was no typical straw man. His right arm was bent at the elbow, reaching up at about a seventy degree angle. His left arm was almost straight but slightly below horizontal. His clothes resembled a real man’s—were a real man’s, though tattered and weakened by age and weather. On close inspection, one could guess that his topcoat was once black, and the buttons had long ago abandoned their posts. A ragged brown and tan vest covered a fading red, long-sleeved shirt. Beneath a rope belt, once-blue trousers stained with dark green and black splotches ran down to animal skins that resembled boots only because of “laces” that had been painted on them at the start of the growing season. Gardening gloves provided lifelike hands. A military style hat added a touch of severity. But the face was what set this scarecrow apart from its ubiquitous brethren. No crude yellow pumpkin or burlap sack would do for Bonnie Clark’s scarecrow. A pale pink gourd, grown specially for the purpose of giving the straw man a credible head, was fixed atop its broad shoulders. Bonnie had been painted it with loving care. Steely eyes, narrow eyebrows, a tight, determined grin and a small goatee—supplemented by a young pig’s nose and ears—made for a convincing head and effective straw man.

Bonnie pushed and prodded the straw and other stuffing that had emerged from the scarecrow’s clothing. Returning to her cottage, she emerged quickly with needle and thread, passing uncounted minutes restoring the straw man to its prior appearance. Still, she wasn’t fully satisfied.

“Maybe the rag man will have something else for you come market day,” Bonnie said as she stepped back and assessed her work. “You have earned a little something special, you have, working every day without a complaint.”

A rumbling of wheels upon the lane announced Sylvia Thompson’s arrival. Sylvia steered her mule and cart into a grassy area on the near side of Bonnie’s cottage and dismounted.

“I be grateful for your generosity,” exclaimed Bonnie. Though the two women been neighbors for going on 25 years, they could not be more different. Whereas Bonnie was fair-haired, round-faced and stout, with a weather-lined face and large gray eyes, Sylvia was tall, thin almost to the point of being gaunt, and dark featured. A long, narrow nose and small brown eyes did her no favors. A light scarf protected Bonnie’s head from the worst of the sun and wind, but Sylvia, a seamstress who disliked the outdoors, remained wrapped in winter coats and heavy wool hats from the last day of summer to the late days of spring.

What did that man see in you, Bonnie wondered, and far from the first time, as she greeted Sylvia, who was kind enough to lend her the animal and cart so that Bonnie could get her produce to market in the town, a full six miles down the road. Tomorrow might be the last market day of the year if the winds turned cold before another month was out, both women knew.

“Get everything to town,” advised Sylvia. “Everything you can sell,” she added, casting her left arm in a sweeping motion about the property. “The tax man is coming, and coming soon. And we both know you have no money.”

Bonnie stared past Sylvia. “Perhaps I have money enough. Or will have, come sundown tomorrow. And you know, Mr. Johnson, he was kind of sweet on me back when we both were young’uns in grade school. I think I can persuade him to give me some more time.” She offered a quick chuckle and a wink. “Or maybe I will charm him into some other form of … payment.”

“Be serious!” rejoined Sylvia. “Besides, Mr. Johnson has retired, and there is a new tax collector. Some younger man I’ve never met. They say he’s meaner than a snake and he won’t take excuses. Already, three families in town have been sent away for not paying their taxes, I hear.”

Bonnie began to harvest cabbages for sale, stacking them in the cart next to her scarecrow. “That may be, or not be,” said Bonnie. “I be not worried. Look at these lovely cabbages. Have you ever seen such fat, juicy cabbages of a fall? And the pears are just coming in fine and sweet. I reckon I’ll come back rich tomorrow night–rich enough to buy my own mule and cart. And maybe hire me a handsome young man to drive it.”

Sylvia, following Bonnie through the paths of her garden, shook her head. “This is no joke, Bonnie. Prices are not good in town. Not good at all. You will have trouble selling your crops; mark my word. And then they will take your home from you. Your cottage and your lovely garden. And then where will you be?”

Bonnie fell silent. She scanned her property, the only thing that her parents had left her. The only thing she would ever need, they claimed. She had believed them. It was hers, hers forever, they swore.

She turned to the scarecrow, began adjusting his clothes absentmindedly. Sylvia’s eyebrows narrowed. She approached the straw man.

“This vest, it looks very much like my dear husband’s,” she said, her voice almost quaking.

“No, it’s—it’s very common. A very common item of men’s clothing,” Bonnie managed to blurt out. “At a market day last spring, I found it in a pile of rags. It be nothing.”

Sylvia’s expression was unchanged. But she stopped short of the scarecrow, appeared hesitant to touch it.

In a softer tone, Bonnie continued. “I know that you have been through a terrible bad time, dear Sylvia. You have been a great friend too me as well as a great neighbor.” She took Sylvia’s hand. “But we have to face the possibility that Robert will not be coming back. That he has moved on.”

“I don’t believe the rumors,” said Sylvia, anger building in her voice. “He would never run off with the butcher’s daughter—that fat cow—or anyone else,” she stated. “He loved me—loves me. Something happened to him. Something terrible. I just know it. I know it in my bones.”

“Maybe he found some work in another county,” offered Bonnie, trying to calm her neighbor. “Perhaps his letters got lost or delayed.”

Sylvia turned slowly and, without another word, began to walk back to her house, nearly a mile away.

Bonnie stood in place until she was certain that Sylvia was gone. “That was a close one, wasn’t it?” she said to the scarecrow. Bonnie reached into its vest pocket and pulled out a watch and chain. She studied it for a moment, recalling the last time she saw Sylvia’s husband, and sighed deeply. Then she hid the watch in her gardening apron and stepped back from the straw man.

“Ah, I know what you need,” she proclaimed. “A name.”

It took but a moment.

“Mister. I shall call you Mister.”



The Last Good Day November 13, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 5:44 pm

Yesterday was the last good day. The last good day of the fall. The last good day of the year, probably. The temperature was in the sixties. The wind was moderate. I was able to finish my yard work—except for the last batch of pesky leaves, which will hang around on the trees in my front and back yards for several more weeks. And I did a solid 90 minutes of garden weeding, almost all of it on my knees. How often will I be able to do any of that once the weather locks into the cold, dark days of winter?

Yep, it’s all downhill from here. This morning dawned cold, wet and raw. The forecast hints of no more days reaching the mid-50s in my part of Virginia, let alone the 60s or 70s.

Then there’s the low end of the temperature scale. The frosts and freezes that have wiped almost all of my vegetables and every cell of every flowering plant. Nothing left but mush.

No question about it. The weather, the gardening season, the year: It has all gone to hell.

Sycolin Creek looked great in October. Alas, it’s November.

Well, let me amend that assessment just one tiny bit. The sun did come out today. In fact, it’s a rather gorgeous shade of blue. Driving home from the gym, I noticed some maple trees full of orange glory still displaying most of their leaves despite the worst that Superstorm Sandy could manage.

And, speaking of Sandy, my community sure did dodge a bullet. My sump pump died a heroic death while working almost non-stop at the height of the storm. (Clarification: My house’s sump pump died. My own is just fine, thank you.) A few shingles tore off the roof. I suppose those can be replaced without taking out a third mortgage.

But things really are terrible, horrible, beyond belief. I mean, the gardening season is over. Over, except, of course, for not just one but two fall plantings of lettuce and spinach. Some of the red leaf lettuce I planted in late August is still edible, and the September planting of fall salad greens is just about peaking. The best fall crops I have ever had, without question.

Still, I have to say, there’s nothing good to look forward to this fall and winter. Nothing but dark, cold days and nights. Sure, there’s that trip South coming up over the Thanksgiving weekend to see a football game and some good folks. And then the holiday shopping crunch; thank goodness I already have a partial gift list and I buy Everything online. Black Thursday? Only if I cook the turkey.

On balance, though, I have to say: Things just stink. Crummy weather, definitely. Of course, I work from home now, so that routine of struggling to and from the office through rain, sleet, snow and the threat of fiscal cliffs just isn’t part of my days anymore.

Ah, where was I? Right: Bad. Everything’s bad now that the gardening season is over. Yesterday was the last good day.

Except for today. And maybe tomorrow. And a lot of days later this week, and next. And the next month. And, before you know it, the next year and the next spring.

Yes, there are a lot of legitimate, undeniable reasons to hate this time of year, to think that all the good days are gone. There really are.

Uh, let me get back to you on this….



The Good, the Bad and the Ugly September 27, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 6:51 pm

Why do we always insist on judging everything and everyone? We hear that this presidential candidate has all the momentum and that one is desperate. Jennifer Lopez and various Kardashians are hot; Jennifer Aniston and Tom Cruise are not, the so-called experts tell us. But who really decides, and what are their qualifications to make these (occasionally) important decisions?

With the possible exception of the guys who filled in for several weeks as NFL referees, small dogs that nip at your heels, and street mimes, everyone deserves a chance to be accepted for who and what they are. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

Our gardens, which can be such sources of delight, ought to be above criticism and judgment, too. Yet here I am, taking stock of what the rapidly waning gardening year has been like—and judging what was good and what was bad.

Kelvin Floodlight dahlias light up any house.

I suppose that this inclination is natural. After all, we spend so much time, and invest so much hope, in our gardens that we need to feel that it’s all justified, that we have been rewarded properly, that any shortcomings can be blamed on weather and pests and the fill-in refs. All the good things, of course, can be attributed to our spectacular talent at growing things.

Yeah, right.

The year got off to a slow start as early heat doomed spring crops like lettuce, spinach and snap peas, and my asparagus crop was kind of listless. Then I was chased out of my garden by a massive swarm of bees. So by late spring I basically abandoned any hope of growing summer crops on my plot—located on a friend’s horse farm—in favor of four improvised raised beds in the side and back yards of my house. Those beds get five hours of sun on a good day right around the solstice. Other days, maybe four hours of sun.

That’s not a formula for success; most main-season annual vegetables and flowers need at least six hours of full sun, all the books and magazines remind us constantly. Add in the fact that the beds had only about six inches of soil on top of lawn, and that the soil was of limited quality, having been provided by a local garden center. The odds that things would flourish were particularly bad.

So how in the world did my garden do so incredibly well?

I’m amazed and embarrassed to say that I don’t really know.

The beans and peppers took a little longer to produce than usual. The tomatoes, fueled no doubt by the high temperatures in June and July, were more or less on time. The lone basil plant produced like its hair was on fire. The zinnias were slow to get going and kept leaning and twisting in search of sun. But the dahlias: Dozens of flowers from four plants, and some blooms nearly dinner plate size. They’re still coming in at a rate of a couple a day, especially the big yellow ones—a cultivar known as Kelvin Floodlight. They light up the house.

They’ve been so grand that neighbors begged repeatedly for cut flowers, rang the doorbell at odd hours to ask my gardening secrets, snuck into the yard in the dead of night to dig up the tubers, nominated me to state officials for gardener of the year, sought a congressional citation to recognize my gardening prowess and secured promises from both presidential candidates that they would be photographed with me and my prized dahlias by the end of the week. I’ve been offered my own network gardening show, and several foreign billionaires have offered me huge contracts to consult with their national horticultural experts.

Okay, I got a little carried away there. But the dahlias were, and are, quite nice this year.

After my friend John moved most of his bee hives to another corner of his farm, I started returning more frequently to that plot to do triage weeding. I’m still catching up, but the garden is starting to look almost respectable again. The raspberry plants had a second consecutive year of basically no berries, with blight being the culprit. But I had a couple dozen fat blackberries from four new bushes.

And a funny thing happened in a remote corner: Two “volunteer” tomato plants—offspring of fruits that rotted last year—have produced dozens of full-size heirloom tomatoes. They show no sign of stopping.

In a gamble, I planted fall lettuce and spinach twice: Once about the third week of August, and again in early September. I knew that the success for the first planting was dependent on unusually cool temperatures in late August and early September. That did not happen. But the first seeds have done fabulously anyway. The plants are approaching their peak now, and they are sweet and tender—at least as good as the best spring plantings. I’ve never had good fall salad greens beforfe. Never.

Now, one thing that might be considered tangential to gardening needs mentioning: At home, my lawn has been devoured by crabgrass. I mean swallowed whole.

I have never seen anything like it. My efforts to control the crabgrass have been as determined as ever, but the lawn has been a colossal mess all summer. The neighbors on both sides—and, for the record, I love them dearly—don’t treat their lawns for dandelions, crabgrass or anything else. And the bad stuff keeps invading. (Did you know that a single crabgrass plant can produce 15,000 seeds? I believe it.)

As I tally up the scorecard on the 2012 gardening season, I see lots of the good (tomatoes and dahlias and fall crops), the bad (peas and zinnias), and the ugly (losing my summer crops to a vicious cloud of bees). I’d like to hear how you rate your efforts this year. What worked? What didn’t?

Tomatoes love hot, wet summers.

But the process of evaluating what was good and what was not so good this year still troubles me. Who am I to judge what was good and what was bad? Who is anyone to judge?

Better yet: Why can’t we just accept what is?

Our gardens are among our most valued possessions, are among our favorite places. Sure, some things will stun us with their “success.” Others will sadden or even anger us with their “failure.” In the long run, and maybe even in the short run, however, these things tend to even out. It’s always good year for something and a bad year for something. Karma rules.
Perhaps the best reason to review what was good and what was not good in the garden is to learn—to learn what to do differently in the future, and to learn how not to apply labels such as good and bad.

So I hereby resolve to try to stop judging. To accept the good, the bad and—yes—even the ugly. In gardening, and in life. It will be an uphill struggle at times, I’m sure. Maybe a hopeless one. But I’m going to try.

Anybody with me?



The 33rd of August September 13, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Seeds of Spring @ 3:54 pm

Is the summer really over?

Technically, no. The autumnal equinox won’t occur until 10:49 a.m. Eastern time on Sept. 22, 2012. But it certainly feels like summer has left the building and slammed the door.

The kids are back at school and brining home strep throat. Football has resumed. There’s a chill in the morning air. Dew collects on the lawn and weeds more thickly. It seems like the angle of the sunlight is noticeably different. Maybe that’s just lower humidity or reduced pollen or something my brain has manufactured, but if seems like there has been a dramatic shift in the world.

Why is it so hard to let go of summer? Songwriter Mickey Newberry captured that feeling in his much-recorded song, The Thirty-Third of August:

It’s the 33rd of August
And I’m finally touching down.
Eight days from Sunday
Finds me Saturday bound.

When you start counting August days past the 31st, you’re really high, or really in denial, or both. But the spirit of that desire—to keep summer with us—is undeniably strong for me. And grounded in reality.

When summer yields to fall, some very bad things happen. Gardens grow old and die. Frost comes. Ice comes. Snow comes—or at least, the rumors of it haunt our nights.

Those of you who have read “The Seeds of Spring” or have followed this blog have observed how viscerally I love summer and hate fall. Perhaps you have commiserated as I lament the death of this sprawling tomato vine or that six-foot dahlia. And no doubt you are expecting me to launch into one of my predictable rants about how crappy this time of year is for gardeners.

Bright dewdrops and cool mornings usher in the fall.

Sorry, folks. Been there. Done that. Time to move on.

Am I ill, you might ask. Or too muddled by age and stress to dare to speak the truth burning in what’s left of my heart? Have I really turned traitor to the concept that, when it comes to the end of a gardening season, one should not go gently into that good night?

Maybe so. Or maybe my career and life have changed so much in the past year that I really am beginning to see the glass 10 percent full rather than 90 percent empty.

Yes, I am much happier these days. There’s no denying it. Instead of being stuck on the toll road with a complaining bladder and then waiting and waiting for that Blue Line train to show up, I’m spending that 90 minutes most mornings walking on the Washington & Old Dominion trail, dodging emaciated cyclists and wildlife. In the past month I have witnessed a bald eagle, a fox and uncounted deer.

The most recent deer encounter was particularly interesting. First, the mother sprinted across the trail. Right behind came two young ones. But rather than diving into the woods, the mother stopped and turned to look at me from a distance of about 50 feet.

At first, I just assumed that she was assessing the danger I posed to her and her two offspring. While I’m not normally a violent person, I have been known to launch into tirades when my satellite carrier drops AMC or my favorite team drops an easy popup.

But after moment, it seemed like the connection between Mom and myself had more to it than your typical “deer in the headlights” scenario. With her two youngsters already under cover of foliage, she continued to stare me down from a spot near the edge of the underbrush. No “grunts,” as some deer will do when they are frightened. Not the usual tension, as if she was ready to run full speed all the way to Toledo the first time I blinked.

Aging tomato vines struggle to remain upright, and productive, as fall arrives.

No, she seemed to be checking me out. I began to imagine the line of thought that consumed her for those seconds as we stood still, eyes locked. Several possibilities came to mind:

Option 1: “Wow. Maybe it’s the season, but I’m seeing a lot more humans these days than usual during my morning walks. I suppose they are over-populating.”

Option 2:  “I think I’ve seen this one before. Looks like he’s really putting on weight and losing hair. Maybe it’s a fall thing for his species.”

Option 3: “Sure wish I had a gun.”

I broke the spell by moving on. She turned to her children and resumed the business of survival.

Encounters like this, and having very few meetings to attend, definitely make fall a little less miserable.

Of course, not everyone is sad to see the summer leave. And there are parts of fall that are really lovely.

But real gardeners always shed a silent tear when frost savages what’s left of their summer plants. I know I will, this year and every year.

The trick is to look ahead. As long as you don’t wake up dead, there’s always another gardening season out there to look forward to—eventually.

Enjoy the season!