anxiety

primula white with yellow centres

Spring, the Frantic Season

Never mind that March 20th is the official first day of spring, here it’s been under way for weeks. The grass has been mowed twice. Crocuses have gone through two sets of flowers (the first of which were nibbled by deer). And the gardener is racing around with clippers in pocket, clutching a digging knife in one hand and a bucket (for the stuff to be clipped or dug) in the other, muttering incoherently.

I should know by now that going out and having a look around the garden at this time of year always ends in a frantic session of dealing with several small crises at once. Spray deer repellent or fetch netting for the plant that always gets eaten. Dig up those wild garlic sprouts and those snowberry suckers.

Where did all these weeds come from? Especially hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta). I pulled up zillions of them last spring, but I must have missed a few. This plant is also called “shotweed,” and no doubt it lived up to its name and shot seeds all over the place. The little plants are kind of pretty, with their rosettes of lacy leaves and their tiny wild flowers. Maybe I should just leave them? I understand this plant is edible, reputed to add a peppery zing to salads. Maybe I should treat it as a salad herb.

Cardamine hirsuta, a.k.a. hairy bittercress or shotweed

Hold it right there! This sort of thinking is why I have so many quasi-weeds and out-and-out weedy weeds here. Many are self-inflicted.

As a reminder, here is a list entitled Plants I Would Never Have Planted if I Knew Better: Italian arum, Snowberry, Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), Periwinkle, Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria aurea). And another list called Plants of Which I Have Way Too Many. I’m talking about you, Purple Toadflax and Rose Campion, champion self-seeders both.

Of course, it doesn’t help that I find it nearly impossible to remove (i.e., kill) any plant that’s growing vigorously and looking great. Even if it’s a weed. In fact, it’s quite possible all those hairy bittercress plants are descended from a pretty little specimen I failed to pull up years ago, thus ensuring its abundant presence here for all time.

On the plus side, in an east-facing window of the garden shed, there is a small pan containing a nice little crop of blue poppy seedlings. They are still too small to handle, but they’re alive and therefore full of potential.

Clematis armandii

The evergreen clematis (C. armandii) looks wonderful this year, weaving garlands of white flowers through a big old holly. Last year it failed to bloom at all, after brutally cold winds in early February. The pink hellebore “Pirouette” is blooming abundantly, and dark red “Ruby Wine” is living up to its name. “Black Diamond,” on the other hand, is not blooming. “Not blooming yet,” I say hopefully.

Hellebore "Pirouette"
Hellebore “Pirouette”

Sometimes I think nine-tenths of gardening is a matter of balancing the plants that grow way too vigorously with those that don’t. Maybe instead of striving for the ideal of each plant neatly surrounded by an area of bare dirt, I should consider how plants behave in natural environments, where tangled messes are the norm and bare dirt is an aberration. Let them fight it out among themselves and appreciate the survivors.

Years ago, I wrote a post about why I hate pruning. I still hate it. “Strength follows the knife” and “Prune vigorous plants lightly and weak ones hard,” are two pieces of advice I wonder about as I wield the clippers and pruning saw. Maybe they’re true for plants in optimal situations. What really happens is gardeners underestimate the ultimate size of shrubs. A day comes when hard pruning of the vigorous is necessary to make it possible to get into the house without having to turn sideways. It’s not a pruning issue so much as a planting one.

This Photinia was drastically reduced in size and needs an annual trim to keep it a reasonable size

Uh-oh, I hear the garden issuing further orders. Gotta run. Not wanting to end on a complaining note, I’ll just insert another picture…

Dark pink tulips, formerly almost white
Coming soon!
manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progress

Word Count Anxiety

Many of you have been concerned with word counts the past few weeks. I didn’t officially do NaNoWriMo, but I have been cranking out a fresh piece of writing. And as always, I’m haunted by the conviction that it’s too short.

Thing is, I’m not usually short of words. My first four novels are all well over 100,000 words. In fact, the second and third were once a 235,000-word monster that I clove into two smaller monsters.

And yet, when I set out to write something more ambitious than a blog post or flash fiction piece, there’s an imp on my shoulder whispering, “It’s too short! It won’t have enough depth. Come on, flesh out that paragraph a bit. How about some dialogue? They can talk about alchemy again, can’t they?”

I write my first drafts by hand, with pen on paper, so at that stage I never have an exact word count. But I know that 15 pages of my scribble adds up to about 7,500 words, so I’m always counting pages. When I hit ten and still have several key scenes to complete the story or a chapter, I smile and relax. Once the manuscript plumps up, I know I’ll have enough material to work with.

Because when it comes to editing and rewriting, I like having too many words. Cutting stuff is easier than crafting new material from scratch and figuring out where to wedge it in. In my finished scenes, however imperfect, sentences and paragraphs fit tightly to those preceding and following. Writing is sort of like making a piece of furniture or a garment, where skimpiness is bad news. Adding new material means having to disassemble the work, unpicking the seams or prying apart tightly-fitted joints — a painful process.

Strangely enough, though, I don’t have a problem moving things around. Words, sentences, paragraphs, even entire scenes. Once they’re finished, they acquire an integrity that helps them survive my whims.

type

What about you, fellow word-crafters (and NaNoWriMo survivors) — do you agonize over word counts? Do you end up with too many words or too few?