author: George Smith illustrator: Lee Rapp
AAAAH SPRING – THE MOST DELICIOUSLY ANTICIPATED SEASON OF THE YEAR. Most people I know start to lose patience with snow and frigid temperatures around mid-February. The onset of my discontent with winter usually occurs around Christmas, but that’s so embarrassingly unCanadian I normally only divulge that information to my nearest and dearest.
A few contrarians of my acquaintance claim to adore a huge dumping of snow and temperatures cold enough to send the most resilient brass monkey scurrying for the warmth of an open fireplace. Well, I think they’re blowing smoke – attempting to colour me treasonous for not embracing weather that must have had Jacques Cartier ruing his decision to spend that frosty winter on the frozen banks of the St. Lawrence. I’m with Jacques on that. As the French say, “Chacun à son goût,” and freezing temperatures are definitely not “à mon goût”.
All that said, winter does have an upside. When the thermometer drops and the grass that has grown like an East German Olympian on steroids slips into dormancy; when the flowerbeds that have been a labour of love for months shrivel and die; when my oversized backyard maple sheds its leaves gifting the entire neighbourhood with enough raw mulch to satisfy the needs of half the town, I, like my furry, four-footed neighbours, enter a months-long state of torpidity broken only by the occasional need to vacate the La-Z-Boy to shovel out the driveway. It’s a guilt-free opportunity to indulge my lazy streak that takes much of the sting out of winter. That’s a plus.
Inevitably, though, as February morphs into March and Daylight Savings kicks in, the craving for a bit of garden action resurfaces. Predictably, I suppose, the annual rebirth of my urge to merge with Mother Earth has assumed a different form since we moved to town. It was painful to abandon rural Northumberland’s rolling hills, but as the Good Book says, “To everything there is a season,” and my Green Acres season was past its best-before date.
Back in the day, February saw the arrival of the seed catalogues. I’d spend hours deciding what edibles to grow in a garden bigger than the entire patch of terra firma I currently occupy. And I’d start preparing for the arrival of the critters we’d lovingly care for before serving them up for dinner. You’re right, no one made me do all the extra work. After all, I already had a full-time job, but why surround yourself with acreage and live a 17th-storey condo lifestyle?
We eventually reached the phase of our lives and started entertaining thoughts of a smaller place in town. A place large enough to putter, but with no more marathon sessions atop the lawn tractor and no garden large enough to feed a legion of starving vegans. It was time to move on – time for the dusty old wannabe hobby farmer to re-invent himself as an urban sophisticate.
Is there less work? Maybe. But living so close to other people brings an added obligation to keep things looking good. Just one slovenly home owner on an otherwise well-kept street can bring things down for everyone.
In the country, we were so isolated that my lawn was of interest to no one else. Sure, I kept it up, but I didn’t smite every interloping dandelion and bit of crabgrass like the vanguard of an invading horde. If it was green, it remained a welcome part of my landscape. That’s what is called a country lawn.
In town, it’s different. I recoil at the appearance of each tiny yellow flower defiling my little bit of grass. Usually, I just dig them out, but when overwhelmed, I occasionally resort to a tiny squirt from my little green bottle. Mea culpa. There’s no neighbourhood rule book, but, as I survey the pristine lawns that line my street, I know that if I were to let all those fluffy little white parachutes loose on nearby properties, I’d soon become persona non grata.
In the final analysis, the time I save mowing is all but cancelled out by the added labour required to maintain the socially acceptable verdant carpet surrounding my house.
And the potted flowers and bedding plants we install each spring don’t just magically thrive. They require ongoing TLC from May until the first hard frost gets them in October. We always had flowers at the old place, but there’s an added dimension in town – a subtle form of competition. Not really keeping up with the Joneses – more a matter of respecting the fact that the neighbors are doing their bit to maintain an attractive streetscape.
It’ll feel good to get out there and muck around in the soil, but am I really working less than during my Green Acres years? However, with advancing age and dwindling energy reserves, it sometimes seems like more.