May 11, 2009

May, the Favored One

As a gardener, it is probably the better part of wisdom not to play favorites among the plants, lest it occasion hurt feelings, jealousy, sulking, and a case of the vapours in the less favored. Plants certainly sense and respond to vibrations in the air, energy and electrical impulses, and emotional currents around them. As with children, harboring or exhibiting anger and frustration with lackadaisical performance is not the best technique for inspiring them to step up their game and realize their full potential.

If the prolific lilac bushes are being treated to a nice helping of compost fertilization, therefore, the wise gardener will bestow a like beneficent treatment upon the layabout forsythia, or the hydrangea that's dragging its heels at flowering, or the untidy, perpetually disorganized rosebushes. Treated equitably, encouraged and praised rather than frowned upon, scolded or ignored, even the recalcitrant garden minions are more likely to achieve or exceed the expectations and fond hopes of their keepers.

The gardener's private preferences could never enjoy sufficient potency, however, to determine or alter the course of the seasons. Superstitions notwithstanding, the gardener's feelings do not change by one iota the earth's rotation through the weather courses of a year, so no harm befalls declaring and reveling in the fact that spring is the gardener's number one season of choice, or even going so far as to name May as the personal best month of the 12 contestants. The mornings dawn to the return of the purl and trilling whistles of birdsong, rather than rain and hail assaulting the windowpanes. The air currents are cool and invigorating, warming to comfortable shirt-sleeves' ranges in the afternoons, the furiously aggressive March and April winds subside into breezes that caress rather than pummel the skin. Glorious, delicate, newly-minted green comes back to town and country from its prolonged winter absence, sidling tantalizingly across fields and hillsides, up the branches of willow and maple, blushing its shy way to the tips of reeds, shrubs and sedges.

In the last ten days, all the spring flowers in the garden have progressed from the idea of climbing out of bed to eyes-wide-open bloom. Now there is a nature's jewel box of color spilled across the garden, from front to back. In bloom are sugar-almond colored hyacinths, daffodils and jonquils in shades of lemon, apricot, peach, ivory and orange, denim-blue grape hyacinths, primroses, forsythia, windflowers, snowdrops and tulips. The river birch is covered in dangling catkins and tiny lime leaf buds. The Cleveland pear is bedecked in buds as well, as are the Fuji apple tree, the sweet cherry sapling, the lilacs and rosebushes.

The garden will remain awash in the spring-flowering bulbs for the first half of the month, but May has even more plenty in store, currently powdering its nose in the wings for an entrance from mid-month on. The creeping phlox in magenta, dusty pink and periwinkle, the wizened little faces of violas, the lilacs with their delectable rich nectar scent, and the penultimate flower that will grace the final days of May, the luxuriant peonies. No flower that grows anywhere in the world smells more heavenly to me, none possesses looks of more perfect beauty.

Springtime, the merry, burgeoning month of May, and the fresh, delicious flowers it comes bearing win the affections easily after the long scent and color drought of winter. Because they are first on the scene after the months of drear and grey, May flowers have an inside track for the position of favorite. Then too, the spring bulbs require nothing of the gardener once they've been snuggled into the earth, holding everything within their dark core that is necessary to bursting into bloom, given a couple daily hours of incremental sunlight and some April showers. No pinching back, fertilizing, pruning, weeding, de-bugging, not one chore must be undertaken for the flowers of May to launch their splendor. For this month only, in the seasons of the garden, the gardener can mostly relax, gaze in awe at Nature's opening show of many-colored handiwork, and savor the pleasure, the gifts of the garden.

“Earth is so kind,” the English writer Douglas Jerrold says, “just tickle her with a hoe and she laughs with a harvest.” While that may not be a totally accurate description of earth's horticultural behavior in the perishing hot, dry spells of summer, or the alternating frosts and Indian-summer heat of autumn, it portrays the insouciance and largesse of the May garden to a nicety.

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