Notes on Spring Clean Up
Just because there are patches of snow on the ground does not mean it is too early for spring clean up. Quite the contrary, since the ground in early spring tends to be either 1) frozen; or 2) a muddy mire. Of the two, frozen is better.
Where possible I like to pull the dead stalks by hand. This can be easier than using a cutting tool. Sure, it looks a bit ragged, but I don’t mind that so much. And as the plants grow in that raggedy look gets covered in green.
My favorite plant for spring clean up is the Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum). The stalks are up to 10 feet tall, and they make a very satisfying CRACK when you pull them from the crown. When they make that noise I want to shout “TIMBER!” Either that, or: “AND ANOTHER HOME RUN BY ERNIE BANKS!” But I don’t, because the neighbors might not understand.
Milkweeds (Asclepias), on the other hand, tend to have softer stems that won’t break cleanly and need a cutting tool. Nepeta stems also do not pull out easily. I grab them by the handful and cut them with a secatur. I have a lot of Nepeta, and when I cut them back in the spring it feels like I’m giving a haircut to a mastodon.
Spring clean up in the garden is a time of agony (ouch!) and ecstasy. Ecstasy because, as was the case this past weekend, I am OUTSIDE, enjoying SUNSHINE and MILD TEMPERATURES! It makes me feel like I have just been brought back from a semi-comatose state and have returned again to the Land of the Living.
The agony, on the other hand, comes from the intensive use of joints and muscles (mainly those involved in bending and kneeling) that have been taking it easy for the past few months. The worst of it, for me, is in the knees and thighs. And so in the early weeks of spring I can often be seen staggering around on stiff legs like a television zombie. Also, getting in and out of chairs can involve a lot of groaning. Certain persons (who lack a basic sense of compassion) have criticized this groaning as excessively noisy.
I will say that I have a gardening bench and kneeler that does help to reduce the overall amount of agony.
Spring clean up provides a reintroduction to the neighborhood. There are a lot of people I only see when they pass by as I’m working in the front garden. This is particularly true of people with dogs and/or small children. Just this past weekend I met a young couple with two little girls, ages six and four. They have lived down the street for three years and yet this is the first time I’ve met them.
The younger girl was riding a tricycle with a little basket holding a doll. I asked if she was giving her doll a ride and she pointed out to me that it wasn’t a doll but a baby. What’s more, she explained that she was carrying other important cargo in her basket, including a stick and a key chain.
How do you feel about spring clean up – is it a pleasure or just a chore?