Round Robin: Dirt Cologne, Rue Herbs, and More

Notes from Regional Herb Gardeners

| April/May 1998

Lost in the garden

Denver, Colorado—I have no social life during planting season. I turn down dinner and party invitations. There’s no time for movies or the theater, even if I had the energy to make myself look presentable in public.

With no time for newspapers or television, world events pass me by. Mao Tse-tung must have died during April or May because I somehow missed it. I didn’t learn of his demise until years later. I learned the truth while playing a home version of Jeopardy with friends. “What do you mean he’s not the leader of China? It’s not like he’s dead!” I challenged. I kissed several thousand mythical dollars and the lead in the game good-bye.

But I don’t care if I lose at board games or am unable to discuss current events at the parties I don’t attend anyway. This is my most important time in the garden. Gardening—planting, weeding, and transplanting—tops my list of priorities.

My first step is damage control. Even in the mildest of winters, something dies. This past dry winter, it was sages, lavenders, and upright thymes (the ground-hugging thymes seem better able to cope with desiccation by winter winds). These shrubby herbs become more vulnerable to winterkill the older and woodier they get. Most last about five years unless a wet winter further reduces their survival rate. If lavender plants were toasters, we’d call their departure “planned obsolescence.”

Some people take plant deaths much too hard, as if a pet canary had died. I don’t get too upset when I lose a plant. I view it as an opportunity to experiment. I’m slightly irate if the dead plant was an expensive purchase, and I grieve a bit if it was a plant I grew from seed, pampered through its first season, and held high expectations for its future. I can’t count how many perennials I’ve started but never seen flower.

If every plant in my garden grew without a hitch, it would deprive me of one of my most basic needs: the urge to dig dirt. Replacing a dead plant is an annual act of renewal for both my garden and my soul. I love the feel of fresh spring earth, moist and crumbly, so I don’t usually wear gardening gloves. Men can get away with callused hands and dirty nails more easily than women can, and I’m not planning to go anywhere elegant at the moment.

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