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Rooting for a pretty pastime

By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: May 15, 2020

I’ve got dirt packed under my fingernails. There’s a blister the size of Delaware on my thumb. My face is sunburned in a distinctive raccoon pattern around my sunglasses. I’m walking with a slight limp, thanks to the pain in my knee from too much squatting.

This happens to me every spring. As soon as winter gives up its death grip on the soil and the bees begin to buzz, I get the bug to plant things in my garden.

And now that we have been confined to our houses in coronavirus purgatory for months on end, we are all looking for something — anything, for criminy’s sake — to interrupt our ceaseless monotony. People everywhere are knitting, puzzling, bird-watching, cooking, ping-pong playing, Netflix bingeing, bread baking, book reading, sewing, sketching, instrument playing, yoga-ing and biking with newfound vigor. Hobbies have become so popular, good luck ordering your favorite board game online these days, and beware that you may not find flour at the grocery store this week.

Gardening has become a top coronavirus pastime, and supplies are flying off the shelves almost as fast as toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Last week, when the grocery store displayed flats of annuals outside the entrance, and the hardware store offered specials on grass seed, I found myself in a half-panic, heaping my cart with flowers, shrubs, vegetables, seeds, pots and mulch. I even grabbed four bags of manure just because it was there. Needless to say, the drive home in my SUV was not exactly fragrant.

Back at home, I informed my husband, Francis, that we had to pull out the overgrown shrubs, weeds and swamp maples running along the back fence to make room for the new plants.

We found our shovels, which hadn’t been used since last fall, and went to work. We thought we’d have the root ball of each shrub out with a few scoops of the spade, but of course, the overgrown plants wouldn’t budge. One inch under the topsoil was a complex tangle of woody roots and random rocky deposits, the removal of which would have warranted the use of combat-grade explosives.

For an hour, we chopped, hacked, tugged and pulled, but still hadn’t uprooted anything, despite spewing every expletive in the book. We guzzled water between breathless attempts as sweat soaked through our shirts. As if he were a middle-aged male version of Monica Seles, Francis grunted and groaned with every heave of the shovel. Finally, the last stubborn root broke free, and we triumphantly hurled a severed bush away.

One down, only nine more to go.

Needless to say, the day after we removed all four shrubs, two diseased rhododendrons and a few swamp maples, Francis and I could barely walk. It took me a week to recover enough energy to plant the items I’d purchased, and my knee still feels like it’s going to buckle like some kind of hyperextended rubber Barbie doll leg.

This week, I finally managed to get those new plants into the garden beds and pots. Although it doesn’t exactly look like the re-creation of Epcot that I’d imagined, I satisfied my spring gardening fix.

I crave the release of digging in the dirt every spring. Pandemic or no pandemic, I long to revive my hibernating muscles with the rigors of yardwork. I smell the aroma of freshly mulched borders, see the hues of artistically arranged beds and taste the refreshment of a cold beer after a long day outdoors. I envision myself, in a flowered sundress and straw hat, walking through my abundant garden barefoot on a future hot midsummer day, placing my own freshly cut flowers, aromatic herbs and plump vegetables into a basket.

In reality, it never quite turns out that way.

I’m always dumbfounded when the tomatoes suffer from bottom rot and the azaleas have blight. Thankfully, my horticultural urgings are more about the therapeutic process than the end result. My blistered thumb might not be green, but this spring as I seek catharsis, our garden has already paid me back in spades.

Read more of Lisa Smith Molinari’s columns at: themeatandpotatoesoflife.com
Email: meatandpotatoesoflife@googlemail.com

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