The Cruelest Month

Snow is called for on Tuesday. There. I said it. A four-letter word, and I’ve put it in print for all to behold: snow. Tuesday. Early September, if you’re keeping track.

My weather (Wunderground) really isn’t saying snow yet, but it does promise Tuesday afternoon wetness and a low of 22, which is well within the white stuff’s reach. A high of 44, as opposed to the last couple of days when the day starts in the low 30s and climbs steadily into the 80s.

Having never been much of a gardener, statements like this don’t generally matter too much to me. But since Lynn has put a great deal of effort into her flower beds this year, with some of the flowers just starting to come on, this must be what betrayal feels like.

In January, when it is waaaaay too soon to even begin to think about cogitating on outdoor gardens, Lynn ordered a lot of flowers for her gardens from some company. Several of these arrived in May, if I recall, and Lynn took their diagram and went out front to the bed she had staked out and put them in the ground. And now, months later, the fruits of her labor are apparent.

What I did not know until Friday, however, was that these were not the plants intended for this space, which may be why a couple of them are leaning tiredly, beat down, oddly enough, by the shade and in one instance, the cascade of rain off a junction of the roof that funnels right onto one of these plants.

I only learned this Friday because another box of plants arrived. I don’t know what this company is thinking, sending plants ordered in January in September, and Lynn even called to see what the company was thinking. They didn’t seem very forthcoming, or interested in trying to explain themselves.

“I’m in Colorado,” Lynn said. “It’s supposed to snow on Tuesday.” The woman at the other end of the phone didn’t bother herself with forecasts, contenting herself with living in the moment: “It’s 83 degrees where you are,” she informed Lynn on Friday at 3 p.m. Lynn should have called back this morning at 6 when it was 35, which was four degrees warmer than the previous two mornings.

It turns out, these are the plants for Lynn’s shade garden, the garden just outside the front door where the not-shade-garden plants now live. There doesn’t seem to be much point in planting a hundred dollars of ornamentals two days before they’re scheduled to get snowed on, with lows below freezing called for all week.

So over Lynn’s objections, they’re probably going the container route for the nonce, hauled outside each morning and into the garage each night, before setting up winter camp inside the house.

I have a horrible time watching plants die, which explains last summer’s flowers that still live with us, and the strawberry plant I bought at the farmers’ market in June that featured bonus grass, which squeezed the strawberry completely out of existence and yet still goes in and out on a daily basis alongside the strawberry that really is a strawberry except for the part where it has produced nothing resembling fruit.

And there I am, outside, watering all the little random flowers that sprouted up out of the dregs of our failed landscaping experiment of last year at this time, when the grass was lush and full, gaining speed into October — in hindsight, rather a waste of money, resources and time, given the local climate. I am watering all these little flowers, many of them just starting to come up, wondering how many of them are doomed in a few short days.

Our grass came up green again in April, when it was freezing every night and not conducive to watering. By late May, when it was time to begin watering, the grass was all gone.

Now, while hand-watering a yard dotted with August flowers, little tufts of grass have been coerced back into the world — only to get snowed on and frozen once again. Somehow, we have to convince this yard to live on a Gunnison cycle, a trick made trickier by the part where you never know if the last frost and first frost might possibly overlap.

Lynn, an online shopper from the word “go,” long before she started complaining about the burden everyone else’s online habits have placed on the Postal Service in the time of Pandemia, also ordered some miracle grass seed that doesn’t need any water, grows to some certain height and then stops, and stays green forever. Or something along those lines.

It arrived last month, around the anniversary of our move-in, and that seemed fool-hardy, repeating last year’s mistake of urging a Gunnison lawn to sprout in the fall. The seeds will winter in the garage, or maybe will have to move into the house as well. Maybe we should just put the entire yard inside our house — it seems like it would have a better chance of thriving.

In the meantime, today is another hand-watering day, as poor little flowers and shoots of grass gasp for a few droplets of water in the overly-dry Colorado air —

[As of Sept. 1, 99 percent of the state was in some state of drought, 55 percent of it severe, 36 percent extreme and half a percent “exceptional,” which is not the sort of exceptional one wants to be. For the moment, Gunnison is “severe,” although the pincers of “extreme” are reaching from the west, north and south.]

— so I will go out and give them water, wondering if any of them have any notion that their doom may be coming as early as Tuesday . . . it’s starting to sound like I should probably leave the gardening to those who can be merciless, doesn’t it? Or at least those whose hearts aren’t going to be broken when the little pink flowers that only just arrived go away in the cold and the snow, and both of them four-letter words.

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