Archive for Sunday, May 11, 2008

Empty nest syndrome manifests strongest pull in garden

May 11, 2008


Boomer girl

Bless me, readers, for I have sinned. My last confession was : uh, well, let's just make that the first sin on my list, shall we?

I am ashamed to say I have broken the first commandment of gardening: Thou shalt not plant flowers before the second Sunday in May. (I know, I just bought a one-way ticket to horticulture hell.) But before you pass judgment, please understand my motives were pure.

It has been a long-standing tradition in our household for my kids to plant all the flowers in our yard on Mother's Day. This started 10 years ago when my son - short on cash and long on time, as shiftless teenagers tend to be - offered himself up as my personal slave for the day. It was a gift I happily accepted, considering I had two flats of impatiens and assorted herbs to get in the ground before dinner with his grandmother.

He was a stunningly slow and unenthusiastic worker, and I relished watching him from the porch as he toiled in the soil, sweating and muttering under his breath, "Man, I never thought she'd take me up on it. This sucks!"

Over the years, the "Mother's Day Dig" became one of those rare family-bonding rituals that everyone genuinely enjoyed. The boy proudly perfected his border planting technique. The girl happily helped Mom with the window boxes. Dad cheerfully clipped hedges and mowed the lush, green grass. We were a Norman Rockwell painting, if only for the afternoon.

But time moves on and, this year, my daughter has her own yard to tend. My son is traveling abroad, sowing nothing but wild oats. I wasn't digging the idea of a "Mother's Day Dig" without my dear little slaves, er, I mean helpers.

So, despite everything I've ever read, heard or gleaned from HGTV, I broke the commandment. My husband I would plant everything - every geranium, begonia and new variety whose name I can't pronounce - a full week early.

The penance began immediately.

First, there was punishing self-doubt. "OK," I rationalized, "I've checked the long-range forecast 15 times. Nothing colder than 45 degrees all week. We'll just put 'em in the ground. They may not thrive for a while, but they won't croak either. Unless the predicted hail and tornadoes get 'em. Or, oh dear, what if it frosts? Those long-rangers are such crapshoots!"

Next came the hurried planning, inevitable memory failure and subsequent second-guessing (who says gardening is a relaxing pastime?). "So, we'll do the same thing in the window boxes as last year," I thought. "Which was what? Geraniums, sweet potato vine and petunias? No, that was the year before when that crazy vine took off like the "Little Shop of Horrors" plant.Too scary. Maybe we ought to go back to petunias? Ah, but the constant dead-heading. Geraniums! They're safe. And some of that stuff that was so pretty before I forgot to water it - Protruba? Proprophylactica? Oh, yeah - Portulaca!"

Complicating matters, we tightened our belts this year and vowed to spend less money on plants AND the water required to keep them alive. The plan had to include low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, neglect-proof specimens. Something like cacti. Or plastic zinnias. (They are SO underrated, you know.)

Finally, shopping list in hand, I ventured to the garden center last Sunday, filled up my wagon, returned home and discovered - like I do every year - that I CAN'T COUNT!

We needed nine geraniums, not eight. There were five window boxes, not four. Why did I think we needed a full flat of ornamental peppers for one short border? And - drat! - I forgot the potting soil!

Three return trips later, I realized that the idyllic vignette in my mind was not a true representation of past "Mother's Day Digs." The REAL portrait is of a dirt-covered family, rolling their eyes and waving to Mom as she races to the garden center "one more time." More "Family Circus" than Norman Rockwell.

This Mother's Day, my husband and I will take his 91-year-old mom to lunch at the American Legion. Returning home, I'll relax on the porch and survey our flower-dotted landscape with satisfaction and a touch of melancholy.

Because while breaking the first commandment of gardening probably won't doom me to horticulture hell, watching my kids digging in the dirt - mocking me mercilessly under their breath - would be sheer heaven.

Cathy Hamilton is editor of and a 52-year-old empty-nester. Events recounted here may be embellished, exaggerated or completely made up because she can't remember squat anymore.


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