Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Garden Awakes, Slowly

Vinca flower and leaves
I ventured out into the garden this past weekend to do more than just (a) throw a ball for the dog, (b) throw a green plastic dinosaur for the dog, (c) throw an orange plastic fish for the dog, or (d) clean up after the dog. Saturday was sunny and warm, Sunday was gray but fairly dry--a good weekend to start poking at the garden to see if it was ready to get up.

Of course, the garden was both way ahead of me and on its own schedule. Things were stirring and had been for weeks. Vinca flowers have blinked on like purple stars in a galaxy seen only by day. Snails are skating across wet leaves and paving stones. The yellow pompoms of kerria have bloomed on the topmost branches. The branches themselves are still without leaves, so the shrub looks a bit like it's marching off to clean some floors, with mops tossed over its shoulder.

Spirea leaves unfolding
My main task was to shift one of the two raised planting beds west by three feet. This may sound rather pointless, and certainly if you are a farmer with acres and acres to till it probably sounds silly, like something you'd accomplish while the coffee brews.

But for this city slicker it was a Morning's Work because it involved a shovel. And digging. And tossing the dirt into a pile. And levering the wooden box up and out of the soil and shifting it.

The two boxes were separated by three feet in the first place as an accommodation to the resident teen, who at the time of their building was still the resident elementary-school-aged child. She protested the building of planting beds in the garden because how, then, could she possibly continue to build jumps and hold gymkhanas in which she was both horse and rider?

She resisted our arguments that, now that we had a dog whose claws tore up the so-called lawn (which had always been a fragile and temporary thing) and churned the yard to mud, we needed to cover up the space with something other than grass. So we accommodated the horse shows by leaving an avenue between the beds and around them, which actually contributed to the setup of cavaletti, oxers, brush fences, and in-and-outs.

Nowadays, as you might guess, the resident teen no longer canters around the garden crying "Tally-ho." And the shrubs to the east of the raised beds have encroached on the sunlight falling on the bed being moved. Hence the digging and shifting.

"Go away and let us sleep."
As I hefted paving stones and dirt, I came across lots of critters who were still snug in their winter beds and none too pleased to be disturbed.

Worms managed to radiate great irritation despite being extremely simple creatures who have ganglia but no brain. (According to one science education site, "They have no brain...so worms do not ponder their lowly lot in life.")

Presumably these worms had some more non-pondering to do before getting busy with springtime chores such as Tilling the Soil, so I made sure to bury them again if I dug them up or place dirt over them if I'd removed their paving-stone roof.

There was also a grumpy millipede living in a miniature cave just below the edge of the wooden frame. It sorted out its legs, scuffling around for its many bedroom slippers, before trudging out of sight into a tunnel. Just down the block from the millipede, a centipede was startled out of hiding. The carnivorous centipede didn't seem as lethargic as its vegetarian neighbor, but it still acted as if it were looking for a ringing alarm clock in a panic, desperate to shut it off.

It tried to climb out of the hole I'd dug for the corner leg of the raised bed. I helped it out (with a stick, as centipedes bite) and set it in a safe place, only to see it run around like crazy and fall back into the hole.

When I lifted up a paving stone that had been leaning against a stone, I found a snail deep in slumber as well as a tiny, round orange insect that appears to be the nymph of a plant-eating true bug of some sort.
Unfortunately, moving the stone had scraped off a portion of a puffy white egg sac attached to the underside. It was filled with small yellow eggs.  


A spider rushed across the stone, lingering long enough for me to take a fuzzy picture, but not long enough for me to see if it had anything to do with the egg sac.

Not being an arachnologist, I can't determine what kind of spider it is, but looking online, it seems as if it might be a Tegenaria species, one of the funnel-web weavers (related to the dreaded hobo spider). But I could be, and probably am, wrong.


The sleepy minibeasts' inactivity was more than offset by the busyness of ants, those "little creatures who run the world" in the words of E.O. Wilson. 

They didn't seem to be much upset by all the earth-moving; they acted more like curious onlookers who were pleased to see other living things moving dirt as they did and possibly commenting on the digger's methods and strategy.

The one below posed most obligingly on a pebble. (A pebble, in my world; a boulder in the ant's.)


Lovable Labrador Luna liked the digging action, too, and especially liked standing in the garden bed, from which she is usually shooed. I looked up at her at one point and wondered why she was standing with her head all tucked in and brow furrowed.


Upon closer inspection, I saw that she was nose to nose with an ant. I was surprised that she could even see the little insect and even more surprised that she didn't slurp it up. As for the ant, I can only imagine what it must be like to suddenly have the equivalent twin horrors of the Lincoln Tunnel and Hurricane Sandy appear before you.