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The Newcomer

Gardening is a mystery

BY FRANCES POTTS

Watching a garden come to life in the spring is like unwrapping Christmas presents. My own little patch of ground has started sprouting surprises.

Some of them are ones I was expecting because I had tucked bulbs into the soil last fall, but others are the work of whoever rented this apartment before me. These are my "Christmas gifts'.

Looking for the unexpected has become a morning ritual for me.

This week I discovered a rather fragile stem that I recognize as a bleeding heart. When I moved in last October, there was no sign of this plant, which happens to be a favorite of mine. So where it came from I have no idea.

While I welcomed it, I also had to laugh at it because it is so tiny and frail compared to the bleeding hearts in my neighbor's garden, which is only a few steps away from mine. When it was still too cold to be planting, I thought, my neighbor turned over the earth and poked in four sprouts no bigger than her finger. Those little sprouts are already full, lush bushes bursting with bleeding hearts in bud and full bloom.

I spend as much time looking at her bleeding hearts as I do the tulips that are beginning to color my garden. The growth of her plants in such a short time and without benefit of really warm days is-to me-a minor miracle.

But gardening itself is a mystery to me.

My mother was an avid gardener, always planting great patches of vegetables fringed around with marigolds and asters in astounding colors

She spent almost all of every summer day working outside, dressed in baggy jeans, a flannel shirt and brown cotton gloves. She accessorized this outfit by tying a bandana around her hair and knotting it in front in Rosy the Riveter fashion (which is a World War II style, for those who are too young to know).

I remember the first time my pre-school son saw his grandma in gardening garb.

I had just pulled the car up to the curb in front of her house when my son jumped from his seat and began shouting excitedly, "Look, look, a bum, a bum, there's a bum!"

He was so disappointed when I had to tell him, "That's not a bum; that's your grandma."

She may not have been a fashion plate, but she sure could grow flowers.

I don't have her knack with dirt, seeds and plants, but I'm trying.

Almost every day I find myself wanting to ask her some question about my garden-how to get rid of a persistent weed that even winter couldn't kill, how and when to prune my roses, lots of things-but grass is growing on her grave so the questions go unanswered.

Frances Potts is a retired journalist who spent her career working for several newspapers in Washington state.

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