MARTHA SEZ: ‘People love to watch other people work’

What’s the weather supposed to do today? Are we getting frost tonight?

I’ve been consulting my handy reference book “The Exuberant Garden” by Nick Woodin, beautifully and exuberantly illustrated by Alee Corballis, as I do every spring, and it says here that new growth on a bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) plant will die back in a frost.

“… Careful gardeners,” Woodin writes, “drape a sheet over them (bleeding heart plants) when a frost is predicted.”

As we all know, asking what the weather is going to do is a joke here in the Adirondacks. We do it anyway. We just can’t help it. We really want to know. We wait for the weather report on the local television station, we go to weather.com on our cell phones and ipads and we watch the storms, displayed in graduated color bands indicating type and intensity of precip, as they proceed across the USA from the West to the East. If it’s accuracy we want, though, we might as well look out the window.

According to another source I refer to in spring, “Adirondack Rhythms,” by Allison W. Bell, this is the time of year for red fox kits and black bear cubs to emerge from dens. Loons are arriving at breeding lakes and building their nests. Toads and frogs are already laying eggs, and trillium, yellow violets and fiddlehead ferns are coming up in the woods.

Spring is a great time for outdoor work. Up and down the block, people are weeding, raking and hanging out laundry. To some it’s hard labor and to others it’s child’s play.

As I was gardening yesterday, passersby kept lingering to chat. People love to watch other people work.

“When summer comes, I’ll be gardening all the time,” a school teacher told me.

“I see Biff slapped a coat of paint on his deck,” a neighbor remarked a while later.

Have you ever noticed it’s always someone else who slaps on a coat of paint? Never oneself. If I were doing it, it would be edging, trim, finish work, or simply painting. There would be no mention of slapping it on.

Years ago, my younger brother, Al, had rather complicated ecological reasons for not raking. He would like to rake the leaves, he explained to our parents, but felt it was sounder practice to allow them to decompose in a more natural manner.

I would have raked the leaves myself, but unfortunately I was generally unavailable on Saturday mornings, as I made it a rule to hide when chores were dispensed. My sister, Molly, probably did rake. She also actually did her homework. I carried my books quite a distance to and from school every day, and figured that was enough.

Al was no stranger to books either. He went through a phase of opening his school books and placing them, text-side down, on his head. It was common in my home in those days to hear a gentle snoring sound issuing from the library, where Al could be found napping in a chair, book on head. His theory was that in this manner he could absorb the reading matter directly into his brain.

A young man I know stopped to watch me dig and informed me that he has made a discovery: Raking is number one on his list of most-hated jobs. There is just no way to get comfortable raking, he explained. One day he shoveled dirt in the rain, and even that was preferable. He has been doing raking jobs for two weeks now. Before that it was painting.

“I thought painting was your most-hated job,” I said.


he replied thoughtfully. “It’s raking.”

The bleeding heart, named for the pink and white valentine-shaped flowers hanging along its graceful, slender stems, is an old-fashioned cottage garden favorite up North.

“I had become somewhat dismissive of them, they seemed so obvious,” Woodin wrote. And the name!”

Nonetheless, he figured that he grew and sold a thousand or so bleeding hearts over the years by dividing mature plants.

I, not in the least dismissive of the bleeding heart — far from it — am happy to read that even if freezing temperatures kill the budding and blooming branches, more will grow from lower on the stalk, and eventually the plant will flower.

On the other hand, I have never yet succeeded in growing a tomato, and I will not try again this year. This time I really mean it.

Have a good week.

(Martha Allen lives in Keene Valley. She has been writing for the News for more than 20 years.)