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Choose gardens over cleaning to celebrate spring equinox

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Lisa Suhay

(Read caption) In this image, flower seeds and a solar powered plant toy are placed out as a celebration of the spring equinox on March 20.

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On the spring equinox, the gap between child and adulthood is at its widest, with kids trying to run out the door to school in celebratory beach attire, even as visions of cleaning, gardening, and muddy prints on the wood floor dance in the heads of parents.

In my experience, the best memories of childhood are inherently messy.

Rare is the child who saw this morning’s Google Doodle celebrating the the spring equinox or heard the words, “first day of spring” and thought “Yay! I get to go through all my old clothes to see what still fits and do spring cleaning!”

In my experience, the best memories of childhood are inherently messy.

As I look outside at the chilly, glum, damp morning I can’t help but think of how differently kids and parents view this change of season.

Personally, I’m still with the kids, as far as getting elbow-deep in dirt while wrecking the knees of jeans is concerned.

I have always thought it best to find common ground with kids, and spring is my favorite time to do that because I’m a gardener who takes the term ‘common ground’ literally.

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt,” wrote Canadian poet Margaret Atwood, and I completely agree.

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It often seems that kids and house pets take Ms. Atwood’s sentiment a few steps further by transferring much of the dirt into the house just as parents click into a kind of possessed spring cleaning mode.

I have never been a great cleaner. While I admire those who are, we don’t take our shoes off and leave them at the door, as I have seen many local moms demand.

To me, if a spring post-gardening adventure is done right, the result is both parent and child needing to be hosed down – shoes and all.

My fixation with spring planting comes from being a New York City ninth-floor apartment kid, whose first meaningful experience with dirt came in the form of a Styrofoam cup with a bean seed in it at P.S. 40 in Manhattan.

Having a mother who was a fashion designer for Macy’s means never having to say, “I played in the dirt.”

There were no mud pies, only manicures, white tights, carefully pressed skirts, and Mary Janes in which you could see your reflection.

In our house, the greatest Mother’s Day story of all time comes as the result of my husband – after years of gifts that were too awful for words (a faux leopard hat springs to mind), he decided to have the boys ask me what I wanted.

“Dirt,” I told them. “I want potting soil and feel too guilty to spend money on it for myself.”

That year, I got bags of “dirt” for Mother’s Day, this forever scandalizing my dear friend Margaret Pidgeon, who asked me what I got from my hubby and has called him every year since to tell him to “buy flowers too!”

My love of spring dirt was passed down to me by my Grandma Annie, who lived in Passaic, N.J.

She and Grandpa Frank were natural-born gardeners. She tended the vegetables and he the prize roses and other flowers.

Spring was when we drove from New York to New Jersey and I discovered the joys of planting, the heady smell of wet earth, and the feel of plunging my hands into the deep, rich, carefully turned soil.

There was also the annual spring hose fight between Grandma and Grandpa, during which I would make sure I was made thoroughly drenched and muddy.

Gardening has very different meanings to my husband.

When Robert says “gardening” what he means is raking, clearing the gutters, and bagging leaves until everyone drops.

To me, gardening means drawing up new crazy garden plans with my sons, using a book my mother-in-law gave me when I first became a mom some 19 years ago, “Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children” by Sharon Lovejoy. 

Thanks to that book, we have grown a circular-shaped pizza-themed garden of herbs and veggies to use on pizza.

We have created a sunflower and morning glory tent.

However, our perennial favorite is to plant moonflowers, which bloom at night and are as big as plates as they spiral up the pillars in front of the house. On summer nights, the blooms attract lime-green lunar moths.

For us, spring starts in January, when the first nursery catalogs arrive.

This year, the seeds, in their envelopes on the kitchen counter, have been calling to us like a siren singing to a sailor near the rocks.

“Plant us now,” the seeds called to my son Quin a few weeks back, when temperatures in Norfolk, Va. reached 70 degrees F.

That was when I got to teach him about the “The Old Farmer’s Almanac,” weather patterns, and how to avoid being fooled into planting too soon and having everything die of cold.

I read a Mark Twain quote to Quin this morning when he came to me, seeds in hand, asking if we could plant today.

“In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours,” said the author. We will hold off a bit longer.

Planting with kids is one of the great wonders of parenthood because you get to experience so many things through Mother Nature’s rose-colored glasses.

Together in the garden we learn to sow, nurture, and reap.

It’s an opportunity to see past the mess and clothing stains to all the memories and possibilities that a handful of earth contains.


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