My Annual Dose of Dirt


I’ve got dirt under my fingernails. There’s a blister the size of Delaware on my thumb. My face is sunburned in a distinctive raccoon pattern around my sunglasses. I’m walking with slight limp, thanks to the pain in my knee from too much squatting.

This happens to me every spring. As the bees begin to buzz, I get the bug to plant things in my garden. The grocery stores display flats of pansies outside the entrances and the hardware stores offer specials on grass seed, and I find myself heaping my cart with annuals, perennials, shrubs, vegetables and herbs.

We moved into base housing at Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island last July, too late to plant. So this spring, as soon as winter gave up its death grip on the soil, I was ready. I dropped a pretty penny at the local Garden Center, and informed my husband that we had to dig out the overgrown shrubs running along the driveway of our base house.

We found our shovels that hadn’t been unpacked since our last move, and went to work. We thought we’d leaver the root ball of each shrub out with a few scoops of the shovel, but of course, the overgrown plants wouldn’t budge. One inch under the topsoil was a complex tangle of woody roots and random rocky deposits, the removal of which could have warranted the use of combat grade explosives.

For an hour, we chopped, hacked, tugged, and pulled, but still hadn’t uprooted the first shrub, despite spewing every expletive in the book. We guzzled water between breathless attempts, as sweat soaked through our shirts. My husband began grunting and groaning with every heave of the shovel, like a middle-aged male version of Monica Seles. Finally, the last stubborn root broke free, and we triumphantly hurled the severed bush away.

One down, only five more to go.

Needless to day, the next day after we removed all six shrubs and two diseased rhododendrons, my husband and I could barely walk. It took me a week to recover enough energy to plant the new perennials I’d purchased at the Garden Center, and my knee still feels like it’s going to buckle like some kind of hyperextended Barbie Doll leg.

This week, I finally managed to get everything in the ground, the pots, and the window boxes, and although it doesn’t exactly look like the recreation of Epcot that I’d imagined, I’ve satisfied my annual spring gardening fix.

Thankfully, my horticultural urgings are more about the process than the end result.

Every spring, I crave the catharsis of digging in the dirt, and long to revive my hibernating muscles with the rigors of yard work. I can smell the aroma of freshly mulched borders, see the hues of artistically arranged beds, and taste the refreshment of a cold beer after a long day outdoors. I envision myself, in a flowered sundress and straw hat, walking through my abundant garden barefoot on a hot midsummer day, placing my own freshly cut flowers, aromatic herbs, and plump vegetables into a basket.

Come summer, it never quite turns out the way I’d hoped, and I usually find myself totally dumbfounded when my tomatoes suffer from bottom rot and my azaleas have blight. My thumb might be blistered, but unfortunately, it isn’t green. But let’s face it, I can buy whatever I want at a grocery store. And besides, when it comes to the fulfillment of gardening, I’ve been paid back in spades.

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Comments: 8

  1. Maz June 11, 2014 at 10:45 pm Reply

    Gardening is like therapy. It puts you in touch with your roots!

  2. John Coleman June 7, 2014 at 11:25 am Reply

    “Middle-aged version of Monica Seles”: nice post and great line. Peace and best, John

  3. Melody T. June 5, 2014 at 9:25 am Reply

    I love digging in the dirt also. It’s something that I almost crave! My mother has the greenest thumb you could imagine and mine is sort of in-between green and black! Every year I convince myself that my thumb wants to be green and so I also load up on gardening supplies and plan big projects. What did you plant in place of the bushes you dug out? I hope your yard looks lovely all summer long.

  4. Melissa June 5, 2014 at 9:21 am Reply

    Lisa, when are you and your hub free to bring your enthusiasm and muscles to my garden? That would keep you busy for a while, I’m thinking. I’ll be there in my flowing sundress and straw hat to assist, of course.

  5. Susan Young June 5, 2014 at 8:59 am Reply

    I envy the soil you must have up north. We have so much sand, critters, mold, mildew, ugh. But you must have experienced that in Jacksonville!

  6. Sharon June 5, 2014 at 8:59 am Reply

    Sorry, didn’t intend to leave such a long reply. I should have written a blog instead.

  7. Sharon June 5, 2014 at 8:56 am Reply

    Lisa, I can so-o-o-o relate. I had to move two old azalea plants two years ago. They almost gave me and my large male friend heart attacks. Doing fine now.

    I have to restrain myself at the garden shop. Luckily, my budget is a big help there. Tomato cages will help the bottom blight. I use them every year. My problem is quantity and size of actual tomatoes.Fertilizer and some soil added to this clay/sand yard will help.

    My big project this year is repainting my deck and porch. HOA nasty-gram. Every time it rains I have to wait four days to get back on the job. Arrrgh!! Also need to dig tall grass that has over taken my illysium (sp?). I wish the grass would grow on the lawn instead.

    Beautiful photo of your hand in the dirt. Soil looks rick and productive. Sit in the shade, drink a tall glass of sweet tea and relax.

  8. lauriebest June 5, 2014 at 8:27 am Reply

    My aching back feels your pain! If it’s any consolation, you’re ahead of me. I have a few flowers and a tomato plant still sitting in plastic containers, withering as I forget to water them daily. My motto this time of year is: “I’ll get to it…eventually’.

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