Deborah Needleman,

Deborah Needleman,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Nov. 3 1997 3:30 AM

Deborah Needleman,

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       I came to the country this weekend eager to put my garden to bed for the season--clean it off, wrap it up, give it a pat on the butt, and send it off to winter on its own. It didn't happen.
       It rained. It rained all the rain it should have rained all summer when it didn't rain at all. I wanted it to rain so badly this summer, it was like a hunger. I don't deny that I am at times a little too strongly identified with my plants. When it finally rained, I was so happy I went outside and just stood in it. When I heard a car pulling into the drive, I panicked and scrambled to pretend I was in the middle of doing something. It was my friend Grace, a gardener, bringing me some seedlings she had grown, and to her it didn't seem odd at all.
       The rain did not have my participation this weekend. I scarcely left the house at all. Today I spread a big blue tarp over the floor, set out all my spring bulbs, a lot of terra-cotta pots, a few bags of potting soil, some plastic baggies, plastic tags, and a marker, and sat down to work. For a few hours I potted the bulbs so they could be forced to bloom inside over the next few months. I was determined to garden, but as always, when it turns out to be impossible, I was secretly relieved. The decisions that one needs to make indoors are much simpler than the ones one must make outdoors. Potting bulbs, one needs only to choose whether a particular daffodil would look better in the distressed pot or in the little, hand-thrown French one. With planting, I must decide whether to turn the lawn into a medieval-style flowering meadow by scattering spring bulbs all through it, or whether to start a separate enclosed spring garden, or whether to just throw all the bulbs under the lilac trees like I always do. I tried to be neat and organized in my potting and labeling, but I never quite worked out the perfect method, and soon was covered in dirt.
       My husband was also in the room, doing watercolors with a set of paints he had bought on Friday. He was doing rather good imitations of Paul Klee and Adolph Gottlieb, as well as some local landscape scenes. He kept holding up one of the Gottliebs--red moon rising over a black AIDS ribbon, it looked like to me--and asking how I liked it. Sitting around on the floor in our rubber boots on a lazy, rainy Sunday was all very nice and cozy. It felt like Mom had decided it would be a good day for some arts and crafts, and that she had just left us there with the art supplies, and would be back any minute to see if we were still playing nicely. We were.
       About four o'clock the weather lifted and a clear light broke from the sky. It wasn't the gentle glow that sometimes sweeps across the trees late in the afternoon, but a piercing, angular light that separated the trees from the gray sky, as if with a chisel. For about 20 minutes the Hudson Valley looked the way it looks in paintings, then disappeared under the night sky.

Deborah Needleman is Slate's gardening columnist and an editor at large at House & Garden. She lives in New York City and Garrison, N.Y.