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Digging into spring

Wrapped in morning sunshine, I am sitting at the computer, and just noticed my dirty fingernails. Eww. I guess I didn’t do a thorough job of nail clean-up along with kitchen clean-up last night. That routine scrub usually takes care of grubby garden hands, but yesterday I was so excited to be in the garden that I never gave a thought to wearing garden gloves. I should have known better.

It was supposed to be just my annual garden walkabout … the first day out to see what winter hath wrought. For some reason, I try to plan it for a warm Sunday afternoon and yesterday cooperated. The morning began with frost but the sun pushed, temperatures to high 60s by 3 o’clock. Oh, I do love it when a plan comes together.

On went the garden clogs and I headed out, eager to resume my yearly conversation with my earthbound friends, the flowers who populate my summer. I began under the Norway maple, kicking over the dead leaves that had wintered under the tree. Looking for my beloved little primroses, I finally bent over, pushing away swaths of dried leaves where the cheery little flowers should be. Ta-da! THERE you are, sweeties. No purple, yellow or red buds yet, but clusters of healthy rippled leaves staring back at me. Oh, it won’t be long now.

The daffodils are up and budded, so I dug out all the leaves and weeds around them. Next thing I knew, I was squatting and clawing at the infestation of young weeds trailing everywhere. They seemed to pull out easier – I guess because they hadn’t been awake long enough to dig in. I managed to fill a few buckets with them while checking out the lady’s mantle, ferns and Jack in the Pulpit, all early risers. I heard Jack speak, telling me to get going – April is just around the corner and all the gang is getting together again. Or, maybe I just thought it was his voice I heard … was weeding making me crazy? Nope it was Jack. I never forget a voice.

Why is it that February’s 28 days seem like 50, while late March and all of April prove that six weeks can vanish while you’re dreaming about a new birdbath? These garden preparation weeks will fly by, delivering me smack into the planting month of May. I never allow May into my garden without the leaves cleared, the cultivating done and the gardens edged. But this year, in addition to being another year older, I have one more challenge.

Yesterday’s foray was fun, but the events of this morning added more work to the usual garden prep load. Today, the stump man came to remove the large remains of our ancient cherry trees that came down a few weeks ago. The remaining stumps were at least three feet across.

I had never seen a stump grinder. In my mind, I pictured something the size of a jackhammer that would bore into the remains of our trees. So I was ill-prepared for the hot-colored, yellow and black Godzilla that “Matt, the Stump Guy” unloaded from his box trailer. I never thought it would be a remote-controlled machine the size of a squared up VW beetle. That mechanical beast, which ate wood for breakfast, looked like a cross between a bull dozer and a large Xerox machine. The gas-fired grinder obeyed Matt’s remote as he positioned it over each stump.

The grinder made short work of the tree remains, running its whirling blades back and forth, back and forth. Woodchips and dirt spewed everywhere in the wake of the moving, chewing blade.

The grinding completed, Matt directed his roaring sidekick to drop its plow blade and push all the new mixture – cherry chips, sawdust and soil – into three large piles. Minutes later, the vehicle rumbled alone across the yard, back to its home in Matt’s trailer. Mission accomplished.

And now the fun begins with this substantial addition to the season’s garden prep: moving those three woodchip mountains, storing some, and working the rest into my heavy soil. Dense clay beds choke the flowers on their way back to the spring light. I want all my little buddies to have an easy journey back to full flower and our daily small talk. I’m waiting for them and they all know I’m here.

Yup, there goes the rest of March. I’ll be chatting with the newly arrived coral bells and hostas before I get this soil worked in. And gloves or no gloves, I can probably count on having dirty fingernails until October. I think we just might have enough hand sanitizer around to handle it.

Marcy O’Brien lives in Warren with her husband, Richard, and Finian, their schizophrenic Maine Coon cat. Marcy can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com

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