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" … we've made another successful passage through the barren months."

Somewhere South of Mother's Day, PlantingSeason arrives. Sure, I'd been poking around the yard since March, but the containers which comprise most of our garden (thanks to the deer and elk, who seem to eat anything) have remained in garage storage until we could become reasonably certain the snow's finished with us for the season. The chokecherry tree's in glorious bloom, scenting the front yard with an aroma far sweeter than its fruit will ever become, or so I suppose since we've yet to see fruit on those trees. A killing frost or thunderous hail storm has managed to strike each year just as the trees reach full bloom, withering or bludgeoning the blossoms before fruit could set. This year might be different.

The bulk of our garden lives in containers on the back deck
. We'll have five or six big rail-straddling numbers, typically filled with petunias, a largish set of metal shelves which usually hold begonias and geraniums, as well as assorted separate pots, large and small, which have held everything from herbs to hibiscus. By the time we're done planting, the deck will have become a serene space with a small fountain dribbling. We'll leave the sliding glass door open most of the time to let the softly scented breeze waft through the house.

Planting time here starts with a day spent visiting nurseries. Both of us love to visit nurseries. We walk the aisles as if we were visiting some sacred museum, pointing out both the especially unusual as well as the old familiars. Whether we lived in a small apartment or the big place in Walla Walla, we'd dutifully make our rounds. Beyond a list of essential condiments, fertilizers and such, we prepare no grand master plan, insisting that inspiration and synchronicity contribute most to the ultimate design. The Muse always finds a few new houseplants, typically additions to her burgeoning African Violet collection. I'm always looking for a tarragon plant because, well, I always seem to want a tarragon plant.

Three years ago, our first Spring here, we had no idea where to go so we just set out driving around hoping to stumble upon a decent nursery. This year, we hold a mental map of the ones we consider best topped by one we "discovered" last year. The first place we visit more for inspiration than to purchase anything. The Muse says that they think too much of their stuff. While doubtless artfully displayed, we'd pay two or three times there what we'd pay anywhere else. We still spend a solid hour wandering around, The Muse predictably snagging two African Violets. I find some high mountain grass seed. The second place is an older family-owned operation that makes most of their money growing hydroponic basil and lettuce for sale by the large grocery store chain here. The whole back half of their large greenhouse looks like a science experiment and is blocked off from customer foot traffic, but this doesn't prevent me from sticking my head over the barricade and gawking. That first year, this place seemed like a godsend. I found a rosemary plant the owner called a "mother" because it was such a vigorous producer, he harvested its stems to sprout into separate plants, but had decided to let her go. She followed us around in a pot through two seasons before I transplanted it in the backyard. The deer never touched it but the winter killed it this year. We find nothing but a promising sage plant there this year.

Next we visit my personal favorite, a small urban nursery that smells of ripe Earth when we enter. Here we finally find a few plants destined for the railing planters, who knows or cares what they're called. We also round out our herb garden, save the tarragon, which seems impossible to find this year, just like every year before. Finally, we visit the place with by far the best selection. It's like a street fair there with a crowd strolling long muddy aisles beneath shade cloth ceilings. It's mostly open air there with birds happily chirping and foot-sogging puddles. I find some valerian to replace plants which didn't survive the winter, also a mountain current and a gooseberry bush. The Muse finds a couple of house plants but admits that she's about done plant shopping. It's been a long weekend and she's just back from a longer week in DC where the humidity sucked much of the vitality out of her. We stop by a BIG box store to score some fresh potting soil. I'll use the stuff I over-wintered in contractor bags beneath the deck to cover the grass seed in our deer meadow back yard.

Home again, I set the last few screws into my wine box planters while The Muse slices open the first of the new potting soil bags to repot her three fresh clutches of basil. She will keep the place in basil until October. I plant some deer-resistant flowers in front of the clematis bed, harvesting a potfall of rocks in the process, which I toss onto the rock pile across the road. We already have plenty of rocks on this side of the street. We move the patio table up onto the deck. I schlep the chairs up. I connect the hose we use to water the containers to the spigot below the deck and check for leaks before setting up the little bowl fountain, filling it, then circling it with the pots we'd already planted. Then, with distant thunder rumbling, rain started falling so I retreated to the garage, where I sat in a camp chair looking out at the building storm. Dog walkers indifferent to the lightening waved as they strolled by. I sat amazed at the beauty before me. What was beige brown three weeks ago has turned lush green, signaling that we've made another successful passage through the barren months. We face a scant four forward months of plenty and dare not distract ourselves from the precious experience. We'll fill the remaining planters over upcoming days, but our planting season's well and properly begun.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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