Saturday, February 13, 2010

Gathering Leaves

Robert Frost wrote:

Spades take up leaves

No better than spoons,

And bags full of leaves

Are light as balloons.

While it's poetic, it doesn't apply to raking leaves in springtime. My little rake is a rough toothed comb on the tender earth. The leaves are sodden and sullen. They have to be pried loose from the branches of the lavender bushes and coaxed ever so patiently away from the emerging lime-coloured spears of hyacinths and the bulbous pink and white tips of the Helleborus niger. Unless it turns cold there will be blossoms before long.

The Helleborus comes up in inch-thick spears, pink as a blunt thumb fresh from a long session of dishwashing. The blossoms will come on white and darken through a long season to end up green as leaves, before falling off to reveal a handsome clutch of seed pods. The splayed leathery leaves are prehistoric looking. Touch them, they could be plastic or stiffly starched polyester on an umbrella frame.

The scent of sage and thyme envelope me as I rake the leafy cover from the green stems. Later in the year the heady fragrance will be most noticeable across the road, 40 feet away, but for now it follows me like the smoke of a campfire. Furry catnip is up and growing, as are violets and some completely unspectacular heather.

The knotted silver and green stems of dead nettle pop up as soon as the leaves are removed. No doubt looking for new territory. Dead nettle is the Vasco da Gama of my garden, always setting out for new shores, and frequently arriving there.

The bearberry is there, but the hostas are no where to be seen. After agonizing last year over whether the one survived the long, bitter winter I am not even concerned over their temporary absence now. They will be back, once the willows begin to leaf out. There will be one and then two and then an explosion of rolled cigar-like green shoots. Lovely things hosta plants.

The toad lilies are missing too, but they too should emerge in time. The mums are coming up beneath and around the old growth. (I should cut the old growth back, and will, soon.) Some of those mum shoots have buds on them, though there won't be more than handful of burgundy blossoms in May. They reserve their energy for a spectacular fall show.

I turn the rake over and use it to shovel the piles of wet, moldy leaves into bags. I'll seal them up and add them to the garden once they are turned entirely to leaf mold. A worthy harvest for an afternoon in sunny garden.

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