It’s been a typical April here in Minnesota. Last week I awoke to find a dusting of snow on the tulips but by late that same day, the sun had warmed the sidewalk, greened the grass and forced a purple crocus from its hiding spot. Spring in Minnesota is my favorite season, despite its indecisiveness, because for a gardener, spring is filled with expectations and preparation. Everything we have planned over the winter months begins to come to fruition. Lawns are raked, beds are uncovered, and tools are sharpened. It is during these early moments of Spring, before the real work begins, that we sharpen one of our most important tools: our power of observation.
For any gardener, no matter her years of experience, the most important activity we can partake in for the health of our gardens is the simple act of “checking our crops”. Growing up a farmer’s daughter, I learned this important lesson from watching my father spend the last fading hours of his workday walking his land. On the occasions I accompanied him, I watched him pull the silk on the corn to inspect for corn bores, walk the rows of soybeans with a hoe to chop sunflowers or run his hands over the feathery, golden tops of the ripening wheat to gauge harvest time. It was through this daily ritual that he learned to recognize pest and weed problems before they became catastrophic and to understand the ecosystem of his land in order to develop the health and output of his produce.
Sharpening your observation skills is easy, relaxing and imperative. All that is required of you is to explore and inspect. You don’t even have to pull weeds (although most of us can’t resist). A ten-minute stroll through your gardens and your only goal is to interact with your land. In early spring, I don my gloves and gently root around in the leaf litter for signs that my perennials are ready to emerge. As the season progresses, your stroll will be a daily exercise in exploration. You’ll make a mental note of those holes in your hostas—are they from pests or is it hail damage? Or, you’ll bend down for a closer look at your nasturtiums--aphids flock to them but ladybugs love aphids, so look for ladybug larvae too. The classic battle between predator and prey may be underway in your backyard!
And really, don’t many of us become gardeners so we can connect with the natural world? When we garden, we get to feel the luxurious dirt in our hands, smell the grape jelly scent of a bearded iris or have a chance close-encounter with a busy hummingbird, buzzing just within arms reach of you and your Canna lilies. You work hard to bring abundance and bounty to your gardens and your daily stroll is your time to relax your mind and enjoy the fruits of your labor, so to speak. Just a word of gentle caution: when your mind is relaxed you’ll get some of your best ideas --and probably a little more work!
Constance Carlson is married to her teacher husband Eric and is very busy raising Madeline, Ingrid & Leif (more commonly known as Camp Carlson). Constance, Eric, and the campers live in Buffalo, Minnesota.