Friday, May 16, 2014

May Days: The Garden in May

In May we are gardening gods. This is the month where the fullness of spring meets the opening of summer, creating a moment in time where the garden in our heads matches reality. May is the month for horticultural hubris. For a few weeks, we are the masters of our plots. Like Midas, all we touch turns to flower.

Of course, May’s glory has nothing to do with us. Even the abandoned lot down the street looks like a field of Arcadia. The florets of the unmown bluegrass hold and toss the morning light like water, and drifts of dandelions emerge from of islands of lilac ground ivy. For a few blessed weeks, the cool nights and warm days grant us the perfect gardening climate. I know what it’s like to live in coastal California or Britain, or one of those places that the glossy garden magazines obsessively feature.

But that’s no matter. My plot is a result of my gardening genius. It has nothing to do with the fact that all of the plants have freshly leafed out, coating even the dowdy foundation shrubs with the glow and firmness of adolescence. Or that all of the perennials have recently emerged low and tight, as if the ancient gardeners of Kyoto had spent decades clipping them. It doesn’t even matter what you planted next to each other. The swelling border makes my impetuous April shopping spree at the nursery look wise and carefully composed. I look over my plot like a champion chess player, confident of my strategy. Gardening mistakes won’t show themselves this month.

May is the month for plants whose glory is short lived. The late spring geophytes—the tulips and the scilla—overlap with the early summer ephemerals like trilliums, bluebells, and trout lilies. These plants emerge from nowhere between the gaps and crannies of plants, bloom for a week or two of glory, then vanish as the heat of summer comes. Why can’t all plants behave this way? They do their thing, and then poof, they’re gone, making room for the other fat hens to swell during June. Gardeners know these are cheap tricks. Stick a few alliums in the ground in the fall, and voila!: nodding purple baseballs declare to your neighbors that you are, indeed, a plant whisperer.

It’s May, and gardeners everywhere should enjoy their mastery. For August is coming and will judge us all.

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