Tuesday, September 04, 2007


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (9/4/07)

Aunt Emily was an elderly, pale, downy-faced myopic Fundamentalist with killer halitosis and a bristling mustache. For seventeen years during my childhood and adolescence she repeatedly announced that the end of the world was “just around the corner” and that I had best get ready for the coming apocalypse. The last time I heard her end-of-the-world sermon was the day I left home for shipment overseas. I feared that the end of my world was just around the corner. Like James Thurber’s “The Get Ready Man,” she was a community curiosity along with the man who kept himself from falling down by hanging on to strap around his shoulder.

Aunt Emily urged me “to set my house in order.” I never understood what she had in mind. However, now I do. The end of the summer is upon us, and the first freeze, une petite apocalypse, is statistically scheduled to arrive September 21. It’s time to set our gardens in order. There is always some unpleasantness on the horizon for which we must get ready, April 15, final exams, I-17 to Phoenix, and September 21. For the skier, it might be the harbinger of glories to come. What’s one person’s meat is another person’s poison.

What the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. We’re on the threshold of taketh away time in the garden. After the good times rolled during summer’s garden party, it’s time to clean up and put away. Even well-tended gardens accumulate debris, and debris is often a haven for creepy crawly, clandestine horticultural terrorists. Get rid of the debris and their cover is blown. It’s CIA outing time in the garden.

Once while I was taking a respite from picking weeds, Aunt Emily found me sleeping behind a huge eucalyptus tree. Poking me with her cane, she screeched in a thin crackle, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways.” Aunt Emily favored the Book of Proverbs. As a ten year old dawdler, I was a sluggard at picking weeds. Alas, now that I’m well past Aunt Emily’s age, I realize that autumn is not a time for sluggards or dawdlers. It is pruning time, a time to get ready for the death, desiccation, destruction, and decay of autumn and a time of gloriously beautiful trees.

The first to feel the knife are those spent, dried-up shoots, vines, and stalks, the likes of corn, hollyhocks, and sun flowers, those annuals and perennials who’ve lost their bloom or been blighted with powdery mildew. It’s sans merci. If pruning and pulling times are put off, then l’apocalypse grande will overwhelm a garden with piles of debris.

In addition to cut, pull, and trim, it’s save time, as in gladiolus corms and dahlia tubers. After the autumnal blitz has struck, they have to be saved because they cannot inherit the winter’s freeze. In short, like high maintenance beauties, they must needs be dusted and saved in a peat moss comforter.

After cut, pull, trim, and save, it’s time to get ready for spring, as in pruning trees and bushes to get rid of dead, diseased, and non-productive branches and stems so they’ll perform better next year. Pruning requires an artist’s touch to groom aesthetically.

It’s also a time to plant the rhizomes and bulbs of such beauties as irides, tulips, and daffodils. If there is one constant in gardening, it’s that there is always some pleasantness on the horizon. The trick is to plant now for glory in six months. Along with planting, nearly everything in the garden needs to be covered with some kind of mulch for the coming winter.

Finally, it’s time to prepare the soil in the vegetable and flower beds for spring, as in spading, digging in new compost and manure, and raking. After the get ready time of autumn, winter gardeners, like sluggards can lie down for a snooze. As they nap and nod with their seed catalogues and gardening magazines, they can dream of spring when, as the Cajuns would say, “Laissez les bons temps rouler” (Let the good times roll).

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

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