Deborah Needleman

Deborah Needleman

A weeklong electronic journal.
April 12 1999 10:00 PM

Deborah Needleman

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Although spring officially started a few weeks ago, for me it began on Saturday, my first day in my garden. It marked the return of certain little quirks in my life that will endure for the months to come. For one, I am dirty. I have a thin crescent of dirt under my nails that will not be totally gone until fall. My clothes are muddy. Actually, it's my husband's clothes that are soiled, because at seven months' pregnant I can no longer dirty my own clothes. (Before coming in for lunch, I had to strip down in the kitchen, removing all but a T-shirt and panties in order to dine at the table.) I would forget to eat if I weren't fed. I would not come in if it did not become dark and cold. I no longer want to see friends, or even to have any. I am sporadically crabby and uptight about all the gardening chores I will never get to, and about everything I ought to be doing while I am gardening.

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I recognize that this hardly seems an endorsement of the pleasures of gardening. When I consider how agitated I get in the pursuit of some time-consuming (and, in the grand sense, entirely superfluous) task like planting more plants, at the expense of reading, sleeping, or being engaged in human affairs, I think perhaps I really hate gardening and insist on it only as a form of masochism. But that the act itself is ultimately pointless, or at least entirely unnecessary, is what I love about it. Once I am outside, I feel all proud and worthy.

Sadly, the gardening got off to a slow start, as I had to be at the local library by 8 a.m. on Saturday to take part in the garden club's semiannual litter pick-up along the highway. Even though I am too bulky to bend, I agreed to participate out of fear of being booted out of the club for failing to be a good citizen. (This year, the gardening ladies were joined by women from the local home for unwed mothers, whose participation furthered one's sense of the home as a 19th-century holdover with notions of self-improvement by way of fresh air and physical labor.) Last year, I stooped a lot to pick up cigarette butts, beer bottles, and an impressive number of used condoms. But that was a festival compared with this year. As an assistant to a driver, I was on the lookout as we patrolled our 1.5-mile territory, making sure all was well with the trash pickers, and that they didn't need an additional trash bag. During what I gather was merely a break before getting back on the road, I snuck off and drove away, making a quick beeline for the new nursery, unfortunately named Garden of Dreams, probably in optimistic deference to weekenders like myself.

In the few quick hours between my escape and a lunch appointment, I surveyed the new growth--the still tightly pleated leaves of ladies mantle and the bulletlike shoots of peonies--and assessed the winter death toll. About 20 newly planted bearded irises in somber, delectable tones of burgundy, brown, and black were rotted out, casualties of having been planted too late in the fall. I inspected with satisfaction the fat little buds on the lilac trees that had been dug up and moved in the fall and had survived the winter sitting in a pile of loose dirt. I paid a visit to my compost pile, which was mysteriously sprouting tulips, and I set about cleaning the beds, cutting back dead stems, removing debris, and loosening up the compacted soil, so that it could freely take in water.

As far as I can tell, the only difference about gardening while pregnant--aside from some dizziness and unbuttoned trousers--is a reprieve from heavy lifting. In silent agony, my husband dragged bags of manure and mulch, dumped large buckets of rocks, made trips to the compost with heavy bags of garden waste, and jammed a pitchfork deep into the matted compost pile as I cheerfully instructed him from the sidelines.

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On Sunday, after more clipping and raking, I planted the lettuce. I was so tired afterward that even if I had bothered to turn on the outside water that was still shut off for winter, I doubt I would have used it. Just as I was finishing up, it started to hail, which pleased me, as I figured that would count as watering in the new plants.