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a time for planting

If you thought February is when the gardener has nothing to do but wait for spring, that would not be correct: February is planting time.

Every year in the middle of winter my otherwise serene living room turns into a wild jungle, and for two blessed months I live inside a miniature greenhouse. It’s not all fun and games, of course, and between the water and dirt spilling on the carpet on my side, and the lack of appropriate lighting and the mold promoted by the excessive humidity of the starting trays on the plants’ side, come April I look forward to moving the little sprouts outdoors, and they do too. For now, however, their presence is nothing short of bliss.

Because the tomatoes tend to develop too fast and grow leggy and chlorotic if they get more than six weeks indoors, I always make the mistake to plant all the seeds late, and when the last frost passes I have to transplant outside small and wispy perennial seedlings that subsequently have trouble adjusting to the transition. Compared to the little cocoon of their starting tray, the vastness of the garden feels way too harsh for the little plants.

If you ever planted annuals and perennials together, no doubt you noticed that the perennials, programmed for longer life, are neither in a hurry to germinate, nor eager to sprout every one of their seeds. They take their sweet time to emerge, three weeks, four, even longer, during which the wise gardener keeps watering bare dirt, nervously chewing on his or her fingernails and feeling more and more inadequate as time progresses. At the end of this nail biting period, rarefied seedlings sprout. They are never vigorous and fast growing like the ones in the picture, and the gardener spends another couple of weeks wondering if they’re going to grow big and strong or give up the ghost. The few triumphant plants that decided to grace the seed pods linger for a few days longer between growing leggy and forgoing the opportunity altogether.

When the fittest specimens finally start to develop, it’s usually time to plant, and what looks like a strong, healthy start in the seed pod suddenly appears tiny and helpless in the barren dirt, still dry in the chilly spring, easily overtaken by any annual that sprouts in its vicinity, be it flower or weed, and looking for any excuse to check out.

And this is why this year I decided to give the perennial seedlings an extra month, which starts right now.

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