Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

Springtime Days With the Family

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: seasons, summer, spring, outdoors,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgWhich of the following is correct?

1.) Equinox: the two times each year (approximately March 21 and September 23) when the sun crosses the equator and day and night are of equal length.
2.) Equinox: a rare breed of farm animal which is a cross between a horse and ox; from the archaic term equine-ox.  

Yeah, that was ridiculously and silly of me, and childish too. The equinox has nothing to do with equines or oxen, or even spring chickens for that matter. The vernal equinox was Friday, and it signaled that spring had come to the Northern Hemisphere! Spring is my least favorite of the seasons, and I wasn’t giddy-up until now about its arrival. Ok, I swear I’ll quit horsing around now with the bad puns. But who doesn’t feel at least a little bit silly and giddy at the beginning of spring? I think more people anticipate the start of spring more than any other season; it’s the season of rebirth, and brings a renewed respect for the green earth around us. Doesn’t that make you want to jump for joy, (preferably in a mud puddle), and act like a child again?  

You wouldn’t know it’s spring by looking at my thermometer; it read 21 degrees Friday morning! We enjoyed some warm temperatures leading up to today though, and signs that spring had arrived were present everywhere. Like Punxsutawney Phil did last month, the crocus, glory-in-snow and daffodils stuck their noses out of the ground recently and sniffed the air – but unlike Phil, shadow or not - they found it to their liking, and decided to stay awhile.

Daffodils have arrived

The maples are budding, and will soon release a storm of pollen that’ll color everything yellow.  

The milder weather has brought the birds back to my feeder....and the squirrels too. Keith usually keeps the pole that the feeder sits on greased because those pesky squirrels have torn apart numerous feeders in the past. The grease must have worn off over the winter because they had no problem climbing the pole. They were fun to watch, actually; little acrobats that go through all kinds of antics to get at the food. But, sigh ... Later, I noticed they'd chewed through the plastic part of the feeder … again. The new replacement feeder I bought the following day, is supposed to be squirrel-proof. We'll see.

Pavement clear of winter’s snow and ice is a fresh canvas for sidewalk chalk graffiti. Shelby’s message on our back porch is a reminder that even during these tough economic times, you just have to take a break, and enjoy the day.

Shelby's message for the day

And that we did. Now, if only I can get that irritating song out of my head that’s been stuck there since she wrote the message.

Keith tended the firepit, burning the branches that blew down over the winter, saving a few choice ones so Quetta can still play "Stick". He also cleaned and prepared his grill, readying it for the first steaks of the season. Mmmmm ... the smell of steaks cooking outside ... another sign warmer weather has arrived.  

And while there was a fire burning, steaks marinating, graffiti drawn, and sticks being chased, I ... well ... I played in the mud. Go ahead and laugh. Keith did.  Staring at the pile of concrete cinder blocks, I had a vision. The blocks were from retaining wall we buried last fall in our “Saving Grace” effort. While the majority of the wall was buried, the top layers were removed to allow for a gentle slope down to the ravine. I decided they’d make a good, basic framework for a set of steps leading down the hill.

Framework for our steps

I thought this would be the perfect time to start; because it’s mostly clay, I wanted to get the digging done before it dried to an impenetrable consistency. It wasn’t just soft though; the snow-melt and rain turned it to mucky mess. Up and down the hill I lugged those blocks, and set them in place. It had to be a quick process – if I stood in one place too long, I’d be stuck there. My aptly named Muck Boots made smucking sounds with each step I took.  

“You should see yourself," laughed Keith. I looked down. My boots were covered in mud nearly up to my knees; my jeans and shirt only were only a little less splattered. My gloves ... what gloves? You couldn’t even tell I had them on; it looked as if I’d dipped my hands in chocolate cake batter. I couldn’t see my face or hair, but I imagine they were streaked with mud, too.

Our new neighbors two houses down decided it was a good time to introduce themselves. First impressions are lasting impressions, but I’m sure they’ll see me looking much worse as the gardening season progresses. Spring is also the time to get reacquainted – and acquainted – with neighbors. The warmer weather brings everyone outside and they’ll stand, chatting while you work, offering suggestions. Sometimes they’ll even help implement those suggestions.

Sometimes I have too much help.

Our pup, Quetta (Key-tah), was no less muddy than I. She stuck her nose into everything I did, even helping dig the holes ... mostly in places were I did not want holes dug. She inspected the wooden handles on the shovel and rake – and they met with her taste-tested approval.

I got some help from our pup, Quetta

While I was covered in mud, I decided to play some more. I moved two Michigan holly – in other parts of the country known as winterberry (Ilex verticillata), and starts from a yellow-twig dogwood from the creek bank onto the hill. The yellow-twig will root anywhere a branch meets with soil, and I had enough starts to make a good-sized bush. I did the same with Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) – it spreads by runners; four shrubs were made from the fifty or so starts I got from one main bush. All should do well in the heavy soil and partial shade on the hill. If they don’t, or if the steps don’t compare with my vision once they’re complete – if my dream of rustic stairs leading down a woodland slope turns into a nightmare – I’ll just rip it out and start again.  

That is part of the beauty of a garden; it is ever-changing. Plants grow ... or they don’t. Sometimes they grow more than we anticipate. They can always be moved to a more suitable site. “Permanent” features are never permanent; walkways can be redirected, potting sheds reconstructed to make them bigger, and cinderblock stairways can be dug out ... providing the muck they were set in didn’t harden to a concrete-like consistency.  

But when all is said and done; when the day’s work is finished – nothing feels as good as resting in the warm spring sun.

Summer is indeed upon us.

cindy murphy
4/7/2009 6:54:53 AM

Hiya, Dave. It sounds as if our weather here is similar to yours in Nebraska right now. Though we haven't reached 65 yet, there were a couple of days near sixty; there's been plenty more filled with rain, sleet, and snow. Yesterday, it was so cold and windy, I got chilled to the bone early in the day, and never warmed up...even wearing two pairs of woolly socks, Mary Janes (what my friend calls women's long johns), jeans, turtleneck, sweater, cover-alls, winter coat, and hat. Am I forgetting anything? Oh, and my fingers were numb in my double-layer of gloves. This kind of weather doesn't make for many customers at the nursery, except for the die-hards. It'll pick up soon enough when it warms up a bit and things start showing some color. Right now, everything is still pretty much bare - some of the bulbs are blooming, and the forsythia are showing hints of yellow. It doesn't mean we aren't busy at the nursery, though...there's lots and lots to do before those customers start piling in, and the parking lots are full. Come Mother's Day, it's typical for both lots to be over-flowing, and cars lined up, parked on either side of the road. Crazy times, and I burst out laughing at your comment that you "discovered that seasonal work is not the same as part time work." So true!!! Welcome to the garden center job, Dave!!! Best of luck to you too. And stay warm!

nebraska dave
4/6/2009 9:30:02 AM

Cindy, Springtime? The plants here in Nebraska don’t know what to do. One day there’s 65 degree temperatures the next snow, wind, and hail with the threat of tornadoes. I expect by now your nursery business is busting big time. I decided to take a seasonal job to help out a friend by delivering plants to store garden centers for a company out of Kansas. I soon discovered that seasonal work is not the same as part time work. This seasonal job works 10 to 14 hours a day until the season is over the end of June. Wouldn’t you know the first day of delivery, it rained, snowed, hailed with wind upward to 30 MPH. It was about a three aspirin day for sure. This week we begin building the wooden timber corrals for the parking lot garden centers. I didn’t know that was part of the delivery driver’s job description. All that should be over by the end of this week. You are so funny with your question about the Equinox. Cross between a horse and an ox? That sounds like something I would come up with. I’m still chuckling about that one. Your step project looks like a lot of my projects. I love to build things with blocks and bricks. I’m not sure if I always build it the correct way, but it looks good when I’m done. That’s all that counts. Right? I reckon I better get to fixing my lawn mower. I set the blade down low to clean up the winter foliage –cause I didn’t do it last fall - and well I kind of hit a sold rock object and well sort a bent the blade. So today is a good day to go shopping at Lowe’s and maybe visit the Borders store for a coffee while reading magazines I’m too cheap to buy. Best of luck with the Springtime nursery business.

cindy murphy
3/28/2009 6:26:42 PM

No sorries, Iggy. It seems I spend most of my time in spring, covered in mud at the nursery. Some people pay big bucks at spas for mud baths; I, on the other hand, get paid while getting muddy.

michelle house
3/28/2009 5:17:01 PM

I laughed at the image I got, you covered in mud, sorry :) Wonderful article, and hope to see more pictures of your garden during the spring and summer Iggy:)

cindy murphy
3/26/2009 9:05:23 AM

Thanks, Lori! I finally got that song out of my head and replaced it with one I like, only to have you put it back in my head again! The step project is coming along; I've got some flagstone laid and rocks gathered. It's going to be a long process though - I'm gathering the rocks from beach combing excursions. Hauling them in buckets up the beach, and back to my car is back-breaking, arm-aching work. I think I might be a stooped old woman, with monkey-arms dragging the ground by the time I'm done. I grew heliotrope one year in my flower boxes, but haven't since. I might have to give it a try again this year - you're right, it looks great even when not in bloom. I love rudbeckia - it's one of my favorites. I planted a couple bi-colored burgandy and gold ones late, late last fall; I'm interested to see if they'll come up soon - I barely got them in the ground before winter hit.

3/25/2009 6:30:26 PM

Here's a little song I might want to sing it note for note..Don't Worry...Be Happy.....Oh boy, you started something! Now I've got that song stuck in my head! Wow, I can't wait to see your steps project when it is completed! It already looks great in the ruff! I love this time of year! I have been busy filling my greenhouse with flat after flat of started seeds. Every day I impatiently check to see if any seedlings have popped their little heads through the ground to smile at me! I have Asters and snapdragons that have germinated so far. I am anxiously awaiting a seed order to get here. I ordered Heliotrope, Jacob's Ladder, and a burgundy colored Rudbeckia to try! I love every part of the Heliotrope. The foliage is just as pretty as the flowers, and they smell heavenly! I also love the smell of the grill. You can always tell when someone is grilling when driving through the neighborhood. That marvelous smell wafts into the car and to the nose making the mouth water! YUM!