Sea to shining sea

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Sea to shining sea

Second day of spring garden clean-up. I found this a surprising activity when I moved to New England: raking in the springtime? But now I am an old-timer and know that the tide of winter recedes here slowly and leaving much debris behind. Branches and leaves, mostly, but also clumps of sod, thrown up by snow plows, and gravel drifts.

Tom, home from college for two weeks, has become a gardener, and Rachel is full of enthusiasm for seed planting. We were all out this weekend raking and scraping, filling in holes, and pulling out bittersweet (the most beautiful rampant vine we know). I tend to let stalks and leaves lie in the autumn, providing some protection in the flower beds and forming a thick mulch. But in the spring sunlight this can look messy. There is a bag of buckwheat hulls in the barn, which make a civilized and almost ladylike mulch, but I feel guilty about using so much of this bought-in garden material. David and Tom got the little chipping machine out and made mulch of lots of leaves right on the spot where it is needed, and I pulled apart a bale of hay to mulch my shade beds (mulch, by the way, holds moisture in the soil and keeps weeds from sprouting–it’s good year round).

As I was tossing the silky clumps of hay I was thinking about garden supplies and global warming: how we can use wonderful natural materials, made from the waste of food processing (like the buckwheat hulls), but there is probably a high energy price tag. Local hay, I thought, isn’t as attractive but it is cheap and available right here. Then I caught a whiff of ocean brine and it occurred to me that the silky hay I was spreading was something out of the ordinary. I checked with David, who had bought it to insulate the back of the house (it keeps our downstairs bathroom pipes from freezing). Yes, it’s salt hay, something I’d heard of but never seen. Very nice to use, but not exactly the ecological choice I’d imagined, having travelled from the sea coast to the Berkshire Hills.

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