May 2 in the Garden: What I Did When I Should Have Been Reading Student Papers

When we drive up the dirt road to the cottage at noon this Saturday, we can see how taking down the three tall black locust trees at the very front of our property has opened up the sky. The underperforming rugosa that stood just next to the tallest locust can now get the sunlight it needs to grow, instead of sitting there year after year, a four-foot tall stick of a thing, with leaves but never blossoms. Its hairy stems already look more robust. I consider dosing it with rose food, even though I’ve been warned—rugosa are invasive around here.

Spading up earth that is more sand than anything else, excavating a large hole for the pink spirea I’ve dug up from my garden at home, carrying the sand back into the woods and dumping it—I can’t wait to tear open the bag of lobster compost. I mix a generous bucketful of it with dirt I’ve brought from home, and prepare the spirea’s new home. Then I run out of dirt—I always do when I garden on the Cape. So it’s back to the fenced- in vegetable garden to steal some loam for the spirea. “Promise I’ll return it,” I say to –to whom? To what—the spinach and arugula seedlings peeking up through the rich soil ? The garlic I planted in the cold rain last October? The dirt itself, sand, compost– and that expensive loam I bought last spring?

By four o’clock, I’ve raked and re-raked the bumpy terrain that our tree-cutter left when he and his Bobcat left the scene two weeks ago, and have installed the spirea and a small white azalea near the edge of the yard. I scatter some of the wood chips from the enormous pile the tree cutter left after he pruned branches of our neighbor’s large oaks that hung high over the fence, but dangerously near our little cottage.

Mary, our neighbor from up the hill, drives up the lane in her silver convertible. It’s too cold to have the top down today. She stops and calls out, “Looks lovely!”

“Work in progress,” I call back, and pull a trug full of roots and clods of junk grass back towards our woods, where a little valley forms the dumping ground for garden detritus– a huge, open compost pile.

By five, it’s time to put away the rake and shovel, leave my sneakers on the kitchen porch, and stumble inside for two Advil and a big glass of water. Soon the grill will be fired up, and the swordfish we bought earlier will be competing for space with corn on the cob, the first in from Florida this season, and a green pepper we’ll char for the salad.

The temperature falls to 40— a spring night on Cape Cod.

2 thoughts on “May 2 in the Garden: What I Did When I Should Have Been Reading Student Papers

  1. Not for the first time, I heartily agree with Kathy L. Coogan. I’d like to add that your responses to gardening are some of the best of your work, Lynne.
    I love the detail and I envy the way you can connect to the earth — even apologizing to the soil. I think about your winter and all the comments about the storing of compost when you couldn’t even walk out the back door. Well, it’s time to spread those painstakingly stored scraps.


  2. I’m impressed that you had the energy to write this after your day of gardening – such a ladylike, delicate word for what you were actually doing: digging, raking, hauling.


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