unearth-the-trowel date, maybe, if…

by bam

according to the number people, according to those who scribble little lines on charts, make dots, connect them, study the rise and fall of inclines, project into the future, anchor their living, breathing, to what the numbers tell them, today is the day you might think about lifting your trowel from its wintry slumber, shaking off the cobwebs and giving it a little aerobic workout.
today, people, is the official last frost date, the date the gardeners circle on their calendars, the date they know as surely as they know the 25th of december, the 15th of april, and, well, the very day they blow out the candles on their cake.
what it means, though, is all rather iffy.
it means that the middle day of may, a.k.a. today, is, if you dug through centuries of archives, if you played statistician, if you studied air masses and cold fronts, if, if, if, this would be the day on which the scales tip in your favor, and you stand a winning chance, should you grab the trowel and fling some dirt today, that you’ll not wake up some morning hence to find your geraniums shivering in their pity pots, decked out in winter white.
unless of course you bring up the subject at your nearby nursery, where the crusty folk who spend their days slinging 4-inch annuals, packing dirt under their nails, slugging back cans of Coke to keep up with the crush at the cash registers, have a decidedly guarded take on the matter.
“ahh, it might be the last day you’ll get a freeze. but the last frost date, i don’t care what they say, is memorial day. unless you live near the lake where it could go either way. i know plenty o’ years we lost plants memorial day,” barked bob, whose neck, from slinging all day long, was red as the aforementioned geraniums, the ones he was loading off a lopsided red wagon onto the plywood counter, tallying up yet another three-digit tab.
indeed, the date is highly amended. modifiers modifying modifiers.
and, yes, if you gathered all the gardeners in a circle, asked each to tell a tale of the latest date a garden ever froze, you would get as many dates as there are stories.
but statistically speaking, people, today’s the date to lift the trowel. if you live in zone 5 b. if you live close enough to the lake, but not so close that chill winds are likely to blow through your backyard. if your last name starts with the letters a-m.
which points, people, to the folly of all these means and medians, averages and statistical best-hopes.
you can garden by the numbers. or you can garden by heart.
i, being a mamby-pamby girl, i do a little bit of both. i keep an eye, at least, on the numbers, but i go with where the warm winds blow. i often jump the gun.
just yesterday, loading up at the ramshackle little nursery that i think i’ll call my own (i’m fickle, floating from nursery to nursery, deciding which one’s got the best characters, the most color–and i don’t mean in the pots), i heard tell that it was way too soon to have my herbs outside.
well, don’t tell the thyme and basil. they’ve been getting along just fine. added just the right touch to the red sauce i made the other night.
as always, the lesson here extends beyond the garden. you can play it by the numbers. live your life the actuarial way. or you can hunker down in your own personal micro-climate, make the most of the way the rays hit you on your cheek. grab for sweaters when the chill winds blow.
’cause you know, when you’ve been replaying this record for a while, that soon as you pin your dreams on some digits on a gridded page, a storm’ll blow in, knock you flat, and you’ll be left scratchin’ your head.
won’t do the window boxes any good to point to the calendar, claim a penalty on the field.
like all life, you plant with all your heart, you take your chances. you add freeze-dried basil to your salad, if you have to.


truth be told, i was at the nursery back in april. trucks weren’t even unloaded. but i was there, at the ready. i know we’ve got folks here who fling dirt far as california, fair london even, and i do believe you’ve been safe for weeks now. months, in the case of sunny southern california. you probably don’t even have a frost date. but you do have earthquakes. which get in the way of a garden. any oops-i-jumped-the-gun stories to be told? in the garden, or beyond? always we keep an eye to the beyond…..