In 1971, before Master Gardeners were even a gleam in anyone’s eye, Washington State University assigned two extension agents to the Seattle and Tacoma metro areas. Their job: to help the public with their urban and commercial horticulture questions. And did they get questions! The overworked agents put on radio and TV gardening shows, but that only drew more people to the Extension offices. The agents brainstormed how to handle the crowds. How about recruiting and training volunteers to help backyard gardeners?
Undefined, blurred, softened – that’s how the gardens look under snow. We call it harsh winter, but, in fact, it’s a soft season in many ways. We cannot garden outdoors during snow, nor trample the beds afterward while the soil is all soft and damp and sheltering the turmoil of life under the surface. So we ourselves get a little soft, physically, in terms of outdoor labor.
Gardening strikes me as the perfect metaphor for life. Everything goes swimmingly well for a while, then adversity strikes and we need to plod through it until we’ve solved the problem or survived the crisis or found a new pathway.
Not all gardeners have big plots. So sometimes we just exploit what’s nearby. It’s a bit iffy, but taking a little risk and adding a dollop of luck and patience, some digging and weeding and a mix of bought and donated plants can pay off. Witness the former parking lot island near my town house. It used to be a dog- and sun-seared plot of weedy grass that never looked good after the first green flush of spring.
We’ve edged into May, smack in the middle of spring. The delight we gardeners take in the arrival of the season has been tested this year. After the long cold winter, spring finally arrived about mid-April. And then it had second thoughts and retreated, only to turn the heat up to almost 80 for a day or two and then retreat again. Rain has fallen pretty regularly. So while we can’t quite trust the season (what’s new about that? “April is the cruelest month,” said the poet in 1922) and we struggle with its fickleness, still we rejoice. And then we take stock of what winter meant to our particular plots: What died, what lived, how is the seasonal progression going this year?