The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said “Bother!” and “O blow!” and also “Hang spring cleaning!” and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously . . . So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, “Up we go! Up we go!” ’till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.           

I love this iconic opening to Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows. Every spring when I start feeling restless to get into my garden I think of it. “Divine discontent.” I’d like to think that is what takes hold of me.

Not long ago I sent off my manuscript to the publisher after a process that didn’t call for ladders or brushes or pails of whitewash, but was just as tiring—weary eyes, jangled nerves, and headache. Now I am more than ready to go outside, but I still identify with Mole. I’m in a “Bother!”, “O blow!” mood. I want to be digging and planting.

The problem is that it’s mid-April—the Bother, O blow! stage of spring gardening when I can be outside but not really doing what I want. The display of bedding plants at the farmer’s market and the even bigger spread at the garden center tempt me to buy plants too early. I’ve lost more than one plant that way. Either they sit for weeks waiting until the frost date has passed, or I plant them and they freeze. So I reluctantly wait. I wish the arboretum sale were starting today. At least I could plant perennials, but I have to wait for that as well. Bother!

I did make a few exceptions—pansies and alyssum that can stand a bit of cold and a few perennial herbs to replace ones I had that didn’t make it through this winder. I bought one perennial from the native plant stand at the market. Otherwise, I wait. O, blow!

I wander out to our “woods,” my hyperbolic name for the small stand of trees between our back yard and our neighbors. At least I can pull up the English ivy that keeps encroaching on the edges of our land. After a marathon of digging up ivy and periwinkle three years ago, accompanied by an unforgettable case of poison ivy, I try to keep those alien invasives away, alien invasive being the strongest swear word I know. Unfortunately, my neighbors are not concerned, and those pesky plants have no respect for boundaries. I don’t want the ivy killing more trees than it already has, nor do I want them crowding out my woodland plants.

The woods is a work in progress (as are all gardens), so on this sunny April morning, I wander, noting what is coming back and what didn’t make it through the winter. I marvel at the annual miracle of

white blood root flowers that have appeared, pushing through the layer of last year’s crumbling leaves,
and tiny green fiddle heads, still barely visible.
The wild ginger that has really settled in.
The Virginia blue bells seem comfortably established as well, although they aren’t yet blooming. And the Herb Robert that surrounds it is clearly here to stay. It sneaked in with transplants from my Manassas gardens and I know enough about it to know it will never leave. Its tiny pink flowers will come later.

But the woods is a work in progress (as are all gardens), so on this sunny April morning, after observing what is doing well, I continue to wander, making a list for the arboretum sale next week. That is next best to planting.

I want a second bleeding heart to replace the one that didn’t make it,  
and another foam flower or two so this one isn’t lonely.
Perhaps we can get an understory tree to take the place of this flowering quince and a nearby forsythia that must have been planted before trees created so much shade. Now they are gangly and misshapen, reaching for the sun and not getting enough.
The columbine seem scarce. Whatever happened to them? Another thing for my list.
One can never have too many ferns, so I’ll keep my eye out for new ones to add.

I have circled the woods and am back where I started, at the sign my former work colleagues gave me when I retired. They had envisioned a different kind of stone, a less tomb-stone-looking one, but since the words had been cut into it, they couldn’t trade it in for another. I rather like seeing it here in this place, reminding me that no matter what thrives or falters, what lives or dies, this place is almost breathless with energy, held fast in the mystery of everything. While I like to believe I contribute to its beauty, in reality I have little power to cause anything to happen. I can only make space, both in myself and in the woods, and bear witness to all that is.

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  1. WenLo Maust on April 19, 2021 at 5:21 pm

    What a wonderful way with words, Kathy!! SO great! I also can’t wait to plant some plants/flowers! That’ll be much better than currently digging out weeds! ;<(

    • kathiekurtz on April 19, 2021 at 11:04 pm

      Yes, I too have spent days on weeds, but now I’m ready to plant and the weather isn’t. At least there are fewer weeds!

  2. Diane Puckett on April 19, 2021 at 7:05 pm

    Oh, I wish you lived next door so our gardens could become one. I snuck a tiny sprout of the Herb Robert you gave me in a pot of something else when we moved, and I know we will have it forever. Larry calls it “Stinky Bob”, but I still love it. I am grateful gardening season has returned, as it keeps me grounded and reasonably sane.

  3. kathiekurtz on April 19, 2021 at 11:06 pm

    That would be fun. I’d not need to worry about you letting ivy spread everywhere and I’m sure we’d figure out how to naturalize our shared space. Plus it would be fun to work together. We might even create some ceramic sculptures to add!

  4. Eunice Wenger on April 20, 2021 at 6:33 am

    Kathie, good morning. I’m afraid I haven’t been as patient as you with planting things. We will have freezing temps tonight and tomorrow night. I will be busy covering plants. I also wonder our woods looking for what has made it though the winter. Such a lovely time of anticipation.

  5. Eunice Wenger on April 20, 2021 at 6:35 am

    Wander instead of wonder.

  6. kathiekurtz on April 20, 2021 at 9:43 am

    Maybe it is both wander and wonder–it is for me. How these “fragile” shoots know to push up through the ground as the days grow longer and the temperature rises, it sounds cliched but only because we thoughtlessly brush over the wonder of it all and move into counting and measuring and making pragmatic lists, as if we were in charge.

  7. Donna Burkhart on April 20, 2021 at 10:16 am

    ………I lived my whole life as if I was in charge and then……… I love you, my friend, and can’t wait for you to come and wander with me the uncultivated wildness of who I am…….

  8. kathiekurtz on April 20, 2021 at 11:28 am

    I love you too and am eager to wander our jointly uncultivated wildernesses, the places that make life rich and bigger than we can ever begin to understand.

  9. willowoak520 on April 23, 2021 at 4:53 pm

    Wow! I just now found this long and deliciously descriptive dip into your gardening fever and photos! I have taken photos on walks, but they are still dormant. I wish I could stick with what I start… but indoor duties also call. I’m itching to get my flowers out, but perhaps tomorrow morning…. Thank you sharing!

  10. kathiekurtz on April 23, 2021 at 7:36 pm

    Thanks, Esther. I did go to the arboretum sale this morning, but wasn’t able to get a lot of what I wanted. After lunch I planted things and that always raises my spirits. I’ll start thinking of perennials next week.

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