I want more beauty in my life. I also want more exercise, more sunshine and more calming activities to soothe my mind.

To escape the daily barrage of war, political and pandemic news, I just want to get out into my yard and listen to the sounds of birds, insects and breezes blowing through the trees. Peace is too much to hope for with all the depressing news everywhere, but I will settle for a bit of calmness.

Despite my intense need to be gardening, I have made almost no plans and set no goals for this season. As I have for the past two years, I planted lettuce in a cold frame in mid-March, which will soon be ready to harvest. The next step will be peas, beets, radishes, carrots, potatoes and other early season vegetables. After that come the Memorial Day tomatoes, peppers and other fruits and vegetables of summer.

But we haven’t found anything new that we want to grow to eat, and although the work will be welcome and calming, it won’t be exciting.

That means that most of my attention is on flowers.

Columnist Tom Atwell is eager to see his newly planted peonies. Can you blame him? They’re beautiful flowers. Natali22206/Shutterstock

I’m patiently awaiting the peonies that I planted last year by our back door. They’re in a spot that the bird’s nest spruce (Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’) we planted in 1986 had outgrown. The tree couldn’t be pruned without looking odd, so we removed it. Last week, the peonies were just starting to poke up out of the ground. They will be a fortuitous addition to one of my wife Nancy’s goals for the coming year – a goal that complements my desire for more beauty. She wants more cut flowers.

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We always cut dahlias, gladiolus, rudbeckia, lilacs, lilies of the valley and any other flower we see in bloom. Nancy planted some ranunculus that we hope will give us blossoms. We ordered seeds for more varieties of Tithonia (which come in several colors), zinnias (we haven’t grown them in years), cosmos (not the white/pink varieties, but the orange/yellow varieties), amaranth, celosia and several different varieties or nasturtiums. Those are the annuals. For perennials from seed, Nancy has planted two basket flowers (Centaurea Americana) – one white, the other light lavender.

We also have a naked spot in the back yard. A long time ago, a dwarf burning bush grew there; we’d planted it in 1976, the first summer after we moved into our home. At the time, we didn’t know the bush would later be deemed invasive – we still are pulling out occasional seedlings – and it had long since expanded beyond the point where it would be considered dwarf. We’re still thinking about what to plant in that spot.

One lesson we’ve learned after almost half a century in the same property is not to rush into anything, not to plant the first species that comes to mind. We’ll wait until we are wandering through a nursery, perhaps leafing through a catalog or scrolling through a website, and we say to ourselves, ‘I have to have that plant!’ Even then, we’ll research it first to find out if it will actually grow and thrive in the spot where the burning bush once grew.

I am also trying to learn to be more forgiving of flaws in our garden. Heaven knows that I have enough flaws myself that require some forgiveness.

We’ve moved away from using much fertilizer and any pesticides on our property, and their lack causes some of these flaws. A lot more green leaves have signs of chewing. As for the occasionally mowed area that we call the lawn, it’s got a lot of bare and brown spots, quite a bit of moss and some of the fescue and bluegrass that we planted a long time ago. It’s not exactly ugly, but it is a lot less green than our neighbor’s professionally tended lawn, which I can see over the fence.

I know, though, that soon our lawn will be bursting with violet blossoms (which come in violet, white and yellow). It will be prettier than the neighbor’s while also being far more useful to pollinators and other beneficial insects. In addition, we won’t have to mow our lawn until sometime in June, and probably just four times all season long after that. That’ll give me spare time to get our hammock set up and to spend some time in it during lawn-blooming season.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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