When spring unlocks the flowers ...

Friday, May 17, 2002

When spring unlocks the flowers to paint the laughing soil;

when summer's balmy showers refresh the mower's toil;

when winter binds in frosty chains the fallow and the flood;

in God the earth rejoiceth still and owns his Maker good. -- Reginald Heber

Let's just say that this column is either about gardening or something else.

If I sound a little vague, it's because my age-advantaged memory loss has been kicking up this week.

I like to tend the flowers and the lawn and the shrubs at our house. I am not a master gardener. I am a putterer.

Because we have large trees in our yard, there isn't a lot of sunshine. A few years ago, I turned the one corner that gets a pretty good dose of morning sunlight into a flower bed. Since then, my wife and I have planted countless varieties of blooming plants hoping to find those that like clay, partial sun and benign neglect.

By accident, we learned that snapdragons and coneflowers find this bed tolerable, as do calla lilies, columbine, daisies, iris and this other stuff.

Here's the deal about this other stuff.

We've planted so many things as experiments that we've forgotten what a lot of it is. And we've been surprised -- pleasantly -- by some things we thought had given up the ghost but magically reappeared a year or two later.

So after checking the flower bed earlier this week, I triumphantly reported to my wife that a mysterious plant was doing well and putting out blooms that are deep blue, almost purple.

Then a day or two ago I was able to report that another of these hardy plants was starting to bloom on the other side of the flower bed.

My wife, whose allergies prevent her from voluntarily spending much time in the yard during pollen season -- which lasts 12 months a year in these parts, checks on the flower bed from her car while driving to or from work. Yesterday she managed to get a good look at the mystery plants.

When I got home, she said I ought to know what those blue-flowered plants are.


Because you planted them.


Two weeks ago.

She could tell by my perplexed expression that I had no memory whatsoever of planting two blue-flowered plants just two weeks ago. But if she says I did, then I did.

All of which in no way explains the pansies.

Every year, my wife sees pansies blooming brightly at the garden store and takes some of the cheery plants home. Every year the rabbits eat the pansies as if they are a special treat. The bunnies love my wife.

A year or two ago, she heard that human hair keeps rabbits away. She got her hairdresser to save some hair. She put some hair around the pansies. The rabbits stayed away. The pansies wilted and died.

But this year's pansies, planted in urns outside our back door, not only survived the rabbits, they thrived and kept blooming even when we were gone on vacation.

When we purchased bedding plants (and, apparently, those mystery plants) two weeks ago, my wife bought plants for the urns. She had to decide whether to leave the pansies or replant the urns. She chose to replant. The uprooted pansies went into the mulching area under the magnolia tree.

Where they bloomed. And bloomed. And bloomed.

This week I couldn't stand it any more. I took the blooming, potless pansies and installed them in a new planter.

The next day the pansies were on their last legs.

At least I think they're pansies. What do I know? I can't even remember planting blue flowers two weeks ago.

The flowers of spring may wither, the hope of summer fade,

the autumn droop in winter, the birds forsake the shade;

the winds be lulled, the sun and moon forget their old decree;

but we, in nature's latest hour, O Lord, will cling to thee!

[ Click here for the rest of the lyrics and music to this hymn ]

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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