Meandering gardener syndrome is a sure sign of spring

By 
Erin Schanen

Casual observers may witness unusual behavior in local gardens beginning this week. It may look as though there are a lot of people just wandering around in yards, usually slowly, perhaps as if they are looking for a ring they’ve lost. But rest assured, all is well.

What you are seeing is a time-honored gardening ritual known to gardeners as “What’s growing?” Garden meandering begins quietly and innocently, probably more focused on a few deep breaths of fresh air, but it builds like a crescendo in frequency and intensity. There can be an almost zombielike quality to the behavior until the sedate gardener spots the tiniest bit of green under crunchy leaves and dives for it, brushing away the detritus to unearth the treasure they’ve been seeking — plant life.

It’s brought on by increasingly sunnier days, rapidly melting snow and leave-your-jacket-unzipped temperatures, and it can strike a gardener at any moment. Walking out to get the mail may become an hour-long errand when a glance at the garden yields the flash of emerging daffodil leaves. Before you know it, meandering gardeners may have spotted signs of life in several places, gone through a mental index of what is planted in that spot and started planning new perennials to add to the garden, but they will not have collected that day’s stack of plant catalogs.

I found myself doing a bit of garden wandering over the weekend. This sort of aimless discovery is aided by years of gardening in the same place. I have a much better idea of what I’m looking for. When I spotted the tattered old leaves of a hellebore, I knew to gently expose the center to unearth the flower buds that will be among the first blooms in the garden.

I also swung by the newly planted Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) and was happy to see that it was covered in perfect pea-sized flower buds that should explode in tiny, vibrant yellow flowers next month.

Some of the earliest daffodils are popping up nearly as soon as the snow melts, although I couldn’t tell you the name of any of them because I long ago gave up trying to keep track of bulb names.

And perhaps the most bittersweet find was some rather healthy weeds, primarily dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis), frequently mistaken for native wild phlox, although one look at how readily it spreads is a good hint that’s a bad, if pretty, actor.

I bent over, grasped a weed tightly and pulled gently. If it broke off, it would be a sign that the top layer of ground was still frozen. Urging its root upward as much with my hand as my will, it pulled out in one piece. Success.

This revelation means that the wandering gardener phenomenon will soon progress to the next phase, known as the perpetually bent-over gardener stage.

But fear not, gardener neighbors. This strange behavior is as much a sign of spring as spotting your first robin.

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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