With the last of the bulbs in the ground and garlic, too, digging is over for the year and I do already miss it: Digging is what the garden is all about. Holes large and small are fundamental to its structure, essential to its openly agreeable accomplishments. (Other sounds and noises, of course, orchestrate: The snap of pruners and burr of mowers, broom and rake the sweeping sound of detritus being gathered, and the plunging sound of shovel, spade, trowel, and even the delicate dibble.) A humble, bowing act, much of which is done on the knees, delving is very much affirmation, akin to prayer. Delving is the posture of agreement and submission, a camaraderie with the earth and all of nature, on the side of the angels, an act of ministration and nurture. And you be aware of it, digging is a dowse of singular sensuality. There is nothing for it, but the moment of rising spring.
Rolled before you is the great, wide-open day, the temperature of the season registered by your knees, hands, testing air and earth by such immersion only a swimmer might fathom, deep breaths and small as you engulf it all, sweetness of the earth itself, first, how successful its condition and, with the first plunge of your trowel, its tilth, its condition and, if you wish, its very posture, comportment, and availability. Earth is all. It is not only that its texture must be refined but its very odor must be sweet. Fat worms will subscribe its worth as will the little pile you expose with your digging the overall pattern of posture and texture: top to bottom evenly, wet enough to make a small ball that is friable enough to fall apart at a slight tap. Assayers find ores by such techniques. The great privilege of decanting a plant is the next procedure. Slightly furring out, all round, its roots so that they may seize the hole and not repeat container motion. The pressing of soil all around. The settle made by liberal watering that too and again swells odors, if more illusive, get then the smell of completion. If one stakes, then sharp, schoolroom taps as if on a blackboard, pointing. The tying. The snip of the shears as ends are cut. And then the next hole and then the next in severely geometric progression or the seemingly random but still arithmetic free form, done with equal precision, until the intention appears on the dug soil like a proposal wanting only a signature.
There is the dog wants to join in, the lurking rabbit ever ware of exotic nibbles . . . the wind . . . an hour of overly strong sun . . . deer . . . visitors to the garden.
But now you are in from it all, cleaning up, changing clothes, shoes outside, reaching for your notebook:
May 3: Set out lavender — (does lavandula sound like a new dance?) — “Hidcote” — hope I’ve not furled them out too soon but the day said it, so — soil is, of course, too good even though I put sand in its too rich — smell even in foliage so glorious . . . here’s to the season . . . why not bottle the smell . . . oh, I hope I hope a good year —
When one digs in a garden one is very, very old and very, very young.