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Gardens are supposed to be fun

Garden Muse

Recently I took a workshop on writing thrillers. The one piece of advice that sticks in my mind was a key question posed by the instructor.

'Are you having fun?' he asked. 'If you're not enjoying it, don't do it.'

I thought a lot about how many situations that applies to. Friendships. Work. Gardening! If we're not having fun, it's time to reconsider how we'd rather spend our time.

It's easy to turn gardening into a series of chores and call it 'yard work.' Sounds like prison, doesn't it? Recently on a day when I was getting sidetracked, picking off dandelion flowers and weeding instead of planting, I heard a little voice in my head complaining, I'm not getting any where! I had to laugh - where was there to go? I was having fun, doing whatever was calling to me!

When I remember that the garden is mine to enjoy, mine to fall in love with, mine to putter in, or to work to exhaustion, I have a blast. The unexpected surprises make gardening the most fun for me. Digging down into the damp soil under the apple tree where apples and leaves have composted for years, and coming upon with big fat earthworms wriggling around, their pink shiny bodies full of life. They tell me the soil is alive and well. So much is going on underground.

While I'm weeding around the rosemary and inhaling the minty smell, a hummingbird rockets over for a taste of pulmonaria nectar, its red iridescent head sparkling in the sunlight.

On an especially wet day I look out the window and see two mallard ducks swimming in the little bog, bobbing up and down for their breakfast. With binoculars I revel in their beautiful colors.

When the rain gets to be just too much, I head for the garden center and stock up on big bags of planting compost to enrich the soil in a bed I'm renovating, as well as bagged potting soil for the containers. I consider various trellises and arbors, daydreaming about whether they might look good in the garden.

One morning there's a knock on the door, and it's a tree service with free wood chips for my paths. Yes! They unload the truck onto the shoulder of my front yard, leaving a mound as big as a car. I'm thrilled to have these wood chips smelling of spruce to wheelbarrow onto the paths. Another excuse to avoid the gym - I'll get plenty of aerobic exercise moving those loads.

I anxiously watch for the first signs of life on hardy fuchsias growing in big containers at the edges of a bed. Finally, small green shoots appear at the base of the woody stems. They're alive! Similarly, it's a relief to see the first hosta noses poking out of the ground, pushing through the damp soil for another season. The clumps are wider than last year, promising a bigger more flamboyant show of golden and blue-green leaves. Time to get out the slug bait to protect the newly emerging foliage from chew holes.

I notice the King apple tree is blooming once more, despite the cavity in one of the big limbs. Some seven years ago, a friend pruning the tree pointed out that the tree was going downhill, and I expected it to decline immediately. But no, it continues to produce plentiful apples, maybe the same way we learn to make the most of life, despite various weaknesses.

Another pleasure is watching the first dahlia shoots emerge in their containers in the greenhouse. I always worry that they may have rotted or frozen over the winter - I don't keep the greenhouse very warm, and the pots look totally barren until those first green shoots sprout. In summer when those yellow, pink and coral dahlias bloom, the effort of hauling those heavy pots in and out of the greenhouse pays off.

This time of year, I love to watch fern croziers do their dance, rising up from the bundle of knots at their center. Unfurling each day just a little more, the fronds spread wide like lacy green wings. As the ferns expand, the daffodils decline. Everything is in motion, coming and going, life flowing in constant change.

A big part of enjoying my garden is making up my own mind about what I like. Maybe pink and yellow are OK together, in spite of what the books say. If I want to plant just one of a kind and enjoy a mishmash, instead of an organized massed effect, that's my business. It's my garden, and I'm gonna have fun.


Coming events

• Leach Botanical Garden Children's Nature Fair, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., May 14, 6704 S.E. 122nd Ave., Portland 97236. 

Children are invited to spend a fun day exploring Leach Botanical Garden and learning about Northwest plants and animals. Meet the critters that tidy up the forest floor and keep streams healthy. Watch banana slug races, dance to the music of the Marion Street Ramblers and the Organic Green Beings, and enjoy a variety of crafts.

Free admission.

For more information visit www.leachgarden.org or call Gay Greger, 503-823-1671.