Today it rained. Normally that would not be good news, or news of any sort, in our part of the country at this time of the year. April rain is usually cold, damp, unpleasant and inconvenient, to the extent that I have to keep repeating to myself the childhood mantra, "April showers bring May flowers," when what keeps running through my head is "April is the cruellest month."
But this year, the weather is about two weeks ahead of itself. In Minnesota in the spring, that is nearly the equivalent of saying "The weather skipped a full grade." The star magnolia and the tulips are now petals on the ground. Lilacs are budding, the sweet woodruff and forget-me-nots are displaying their tiny flowers, and I have an abundance of invasive plants that need to be divided and moved. Now, before they take over the planet.
So today is moving day in my yard. It is also planting day. The perennials I ordered from Gurney's have been arriving piecemeal over the last week, and I have got to get them in the ground. I do not want to see two hundred dollars' worth of greenery disappear down the storm sewer. I put on my hooded denim jacket, my red rain boots and a pair of jeans that drag in the mud, and pull on a pair of wet gloves. I get out my hand tools, my shovel, my watering can and the liquid starter fertilizer that smells like a freshly opened bottle of multivitamins. I am so intent on finishing my project today that I do not care if the rain soaks my clothes, dragging me to the ground. I just want to get this done.
I begin by spending two hours straightening a row of hosta. These are shade plants, because I have a yard with only a few square yards that receive full sun every day. The rest is part sun, partial shade, or deep shade, and I have to evaluate every planting in terms of how much sunlight will find its way through the bottom canopy to my humble plot of earth. I take risks, and some have paid off. The workhorse of my garden is hosta. Hosta is a plant that radiates outward from a center, draping or spreading like extended fingers. Each plant sends out tall stalks of bloom in late summer. I must have about seventeen varieties, each with a different kind of leaf: plain shiny green, or variegated in shades of white, green, yellow, cream, blue.
This particular row is a hedge I planted to delineate our yard from our neighbor's, not in an unkind way. The two boys living next door needed a line in the dirt to separate their Matchbox cars from our lawnmower, and this is what I came up with. Unfortunately, I cannot draw a straight line to save my soul, and the hosta have been in need of fixing ever since. With a great deal of measuring with the eye, I fix them. It is like threading a needle with leaves, but I fix them.
Next, I dig up bishop's weed, ferns, lily of the valley, snow-on-the-mountain, more hosta. I bring them out to the space between the sidewalk and the street, and plant them under the enormous maple that has increased in size by a factor of - well, not only can I not draw, I can't do math either. So let's just say it has gotten huge. It is as big as a semitrailer. It has gotten so big that grass will not grow beneath it or for the length of our yard in either direction. But that has not stopped us from throwing grass seed and fertilizer on that boulevard stretch every year, for years, hoping that this year would be different, that the wisps of grass that came up would not die and leave behind even more dirt than was there in the first place. Our unanswered prayers finally convinced us of the need to do what I am doing today, digging in the rain.
"I don't like pennyroyal tea," I sing under my breath, embedding shovelfuls of that inherit-the-earth herb in the ground. I think of Kurt Cobain's raw voice, the voice that foreshadowed his untimely death. Could pennyroyal have made him manic? It is certainly doing that to me, as I plant fistfuls of it. The rain runs down my face.
I have bought a couple of dozen hardy gladiolus bulbs, the kind that do not need to be dug up every fall. You just leave them in place. That is the kind of gladiolus I like. I'm not a squirrel, moving bulbs around. I have my eye on a particular spot for them, behind the raspberries, facing the alley. A spot in the sun.
Unfortunately, my husband does not find my idea at all charming. He's already planted daylilies there, the common kind, the kind I hate. They have drapy leaves and ugly orange flowers that shrivel up and look hideous. They came with the yard and I hate them irrationally.
We argue quietly. The rain drips off of the horse chestnut as we stand in the alley.
"We could move these," I say. In my head, I add "to the compost heap."
"Why? This is a great spot for them," he says. His eyebrow twitches. He is not happy.
"But I need a place for the glads," I say.
We go back and forth. The snowplow in winter; the salt. And who sees them there?
The neighbors. And us. And there's sun.
Finally he says, "But it took me a whole day to move them there," and turns away. Suddenly I remember a day like this, last spring, when he moved the daylilies in the rain. And I see a small boy, separated by a hedge of common hosta from his favorite toys.
And I say, "All right. I have another place for the glads."