… on gardening in and out of a pandemic

May in Maine finds the gardens still at their beginnings. The forsythia still have not quite gone from sunny yellows to greens and the lilacs have only just bloomed. Most everything else – from the Siberian Irises, to the old world roses, to lavenders and lupine and viburnum and … and … and – are just showing signs of the opening up to the light.

This is the time I find myself the busiest I am all year, garden-wise. Not only is/was there clean-up, spreading of compost and mulch, and the weeding that… somehow… starts wayyyyyy too early, but there is also the manifesting of all that was planned over the winter.

And, in this case, over the Winter of Covid.

Also, since there was the Spring and Summer and Fall of Covid that preceded the Winter of Covid, my planning for this year began long before it usually does. I usually wait until January to start to imagine the coming spring’s projects. This time, I didn’t make it past the previous October.

Garden design is such a creative endeavor, with so many considerations – more than I ever knew when I dipped my big toe into it in 2008ish.

Over the years, I have learned (translation: ‘killed a heap of stuff’) about climates and microclimates and soils, moisture preferences of different plants and the difference between part-shade and part-sun (subtle, but sometimes very important). But I now also pay attention to form and texture, hue and saturation, and how different trees and shrubs and plants move with the wind, or play in the light. Scent has become a necessary consideration, as is hosting birds and bees and butterflies (and critters) – not just in spring and summer, but year-round.

When Covid showed up it became apparent, after months of intending to clean and organize nearly everything, that certain types of ‘busy’ weren’t going to do a thing to deflate the ‘when will this end’ anxiety blob that was growing in the corner of my office, threatening to annex me.

I opened one of my books on gardens.

Then I watched a movie about gardens.

Over days and months, Piet Oudolf, Mary Reynolds, Monty Don, Bill Nobel, Beatrix Farrand, and many others (including fictional characters) became teachers and muses.

Pages upon pages of notes and sketches happened. I rolled out the original plan from 2008 and began erasing, moving, adding…

Themes emerged…

Goals and dreams of shared beauty became beacons of light.

As spring approached and daylight began to stretch itself out, filling up more time in our days, drawings and plant lists were finalized for several new garden areas, each contributing to the imagined all.

In early May, we were able to plant, and/or transplant, fourteen trees. Many were replacements for huge conifers that had either blown over in storms or succumbed to disease. Other, younger trees had either made it clear they were not very happy where we initially planted them (wHoops), or were coaxed into a new role in a different part of the garden. I ought to note that the spaces I inhabit are a lot like unfinished paintings – ones that the artist will never proclaim ‘done’ and must continue to fiddle with, obsess over. I have no choice in the matter and, hence, neither do these spaces. Poor house. Poor gardens. Poor JoHn!

With Memorial Day – the Maine gardener’s signal that killer frosts are behind us – on the horizon, plants with names like Veronica virginicum (Culver’s root) and Epatorium maculatum (spotted Joe Pye weed) have been sourced and tagged by a local greenhouse, awaiting the arrival of Aruncus (goatsbeard) and Thalictrum rochebruntanum (giant meadow rue) before they are delivered to me for the “Oudolf garden” (my ode to Piet’s talent that will be hard to plant with my fingers crossed so tightly for its success). Specific Allium (ornamental onion), Thymus (Thyme), and Sedums are also staged, soon to live as a driveway entry garden in purples and greens. Two gates have been designed and will stand as features within some of the plantings. Old granite posts will hopefully add to the mood.

My overall goal has become the creation of spaces we can walk into vs. onto. This may seem like a strange description, but it is the one in my head. The concept of walking into and around various spaces requires me to think in many directions at once – up, down, side to side – when I’m imagining. It’s not so much a series of garden ‘rooms’ in my head, but a feeling of being a part of something wonderful and a bit wild. Add to that stuff like bloom times and sunlight and climate/microclimate zone and I’m smitten by the complexity of the challenge. Because, if I get it right…. magic.

Before I head outside (‘I love weeding!’ is my mantra this time of year (sometimes chanted through grit teeth)), I wanted to spotlight the little chippy at the top of this post. He has become a frequent visitor, and is an absolute riot. He either has an essential tremor or is a fabulous musician… or both.

He holds whatever snack he happens to be noshing on in one hand, and then slaps it with the other. A little drum and/or bass beat can actually be heard if one is close enough and the wind is feeling lazy.

The critters are such an integral part of the gardens, with all their hustling and bustling about. From where I am sitting, right now, I can see another little chipmunk looking for random seeds among the mulch under the … wait.

Is he digging a…


I gotta go.

Thanks for readin’.

Comments and shares are always appreciated, and you can do that right here (well, not, like, RIGHT here… down there. See?). You can also join fellow ponderers over on the Just Ponderin’ Facebook page (there’s a bit of extra stuff too – from photos to observations to conversations. C’mon over any time!)