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Green Acre #77: How to Dig a Hole

You notice that LittleBird Stephanie is not in this picture? It’s no accident. / iStock photo.

THE OTHER DAY the Prince was teaching me how to take a shower. Not the washing part,  which I gather he approves of, as he hasn’t said anything yet, but the drying off.

I use the bath mats—not instead of towels, just underfoot. I suppose he supposes they are purely decorative. I get them wet, he says. Worse, I sometimes miss them entirely, and splash water on the tile floor.

I should stand in the shower, he told me, demonstrating:  dry one leg then the other and so forth, and only then step out onto the mat. This should be done without holding onto any of the pipes or the curtain.  I may grip the edge of the claw-foot tub if I wish but cannot hang from the curtain rod.

When I protested that I thought I knew what I was doing he said, “Trust me. I was around in the world learning things three years before you were born.” There’s no arguing with that.

The older I get the more he has to teach me.

There’s storing things in the kitchen, which I do wrong.

There’s recycling, which I do wrong.

Then there’s usurpation of items such as His razor and His socks, which I consider community property but he doesn’t (did that need to be stated?).

Five minutes ago I discovered that I do not know how to make the bed.

The list of my flaws and faults is exhausting.  And I am very difficult to train.

Digging holes in the garden is the only thing I’m delighted to do wrong.

There is nothing I like less about gardening. I’m happy to prune, very slowly, preferably while drinking wine. I don’t even mind fertilizing, since I’ve found several products you don’t apply but a few times a year.

I certainly like deciding what goes where. I just don’t like putting it there. Digging holes is boring and sweaty Work. He’s excellent at it. Admirable even.

Then one needs to improve the soil, which involves dragging around bags of this and that and amending. I love that word amending, don’t you?

Right now is a fine time to plant, should you come across some things to shove in the ground. They’re frequently on sale, and might look a little bedraggled and perhaps near death, but are often just headed into winter dormancy. If you get various perennials and shrubs and groundcovers and trees off to a good start before the ground freezes, come March little pips of green and flowers might explode.

It’s all in the hole.

The Earthman, Henry Mitchell*, who I return to time and again for his wise humor, offers the following instructions for preparing them:

“I have rarely lost a plant that I really wanted sufficiently to prepare a reasonable spot for it to grow in.”

(I love the idea that there are plants that you don’t care sufficiently about, so you toss them higgledy-piggledy into the garden. That’s an aside).

“A place the size of a bushel basket, dug twenty inches deep and filled with good garden soil, will do.”

And what is good garden soil?

“ . . . whatever soil you have, to which two heaping shovels full of peat moss, one shovel full of sand and one or two shovels full of leaf mold have been added . . . dig in the things I have mentioned until the mixture is quite uniform for a depth of 18 inches or so.”

If your garden patch has been performing rottenly or you intend to start a new one come spring, you might do all of this labor now. Your dirt will be even better, richer, tastier once it has a chance to settle.

All of which is why, if I didn’t have a Prince, I’d move to a condo with a single potted palm, which would necessarily arrive pre-potted in an attractive container.

I’m not very good with potting things either, I’m told. That’s also fine by me. Making sure there are drainage holes in whatever inappropriate container I’ve chosen for the gardenia or what-nots is tedious. But that’s another story.

Additional seasonal note: With the weather uncertain, meaning a hint of an early frost or freeze, you might want to uproot your tenderest plants and get them into pots. Even if you don’t intend to coddle them over the winter, you can get weeks more of pleasure from them by trundling them in and out the door, or getting someone else to do it for you.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

*Who’s this Henry Mitchell? Click here.

“Stephanie Gardens” writes about gardening in the city but seems to do as little as possible to maintain the DC plot she shares with The Prince. To see earlier columns, type Green Acre into the Search box at the top.

2 thoughts on “Green Acre #77: How to Dig a Hole

  1. Maggie Hall says:

    Wonderful – now you no longer ever have to make the bed again, see to the recycling., or put groceries away. The Prince WILL/SHOULD do it all!

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