The Plot Thickens

It is early May as I write, and we are having an extraordinary spring in Washington. I'm usually not good at noticing such things.

About this time each year, I take a short pilgrimage out New York Avenue to the National Arboretum, to walk under canopies of giant azaleas donning brilliant hues of red and pink, mixed with softer shades of peach and lavender. It is my one nod to spring. No matter how busy I am, I find an afternoon to pay homage to these marvelous flowers -- more breathtaking, I find, than the much-touted Washington cherry blossoms.

But this year I'm noticing more than the azaleas. Maybe it's because we experienced the bleakest winter in a long time -- not harsh by weather standards, but barren for the soul. Maybe it's because during the long, lean days of Lent, I learned a few things. I was prepared to see resurrection wherever it presented itself.

And there is also the fact that, with a move to 13th Street last summer, I inherited a little plot of sloping earth out front. It began popping with green things about a month ago, thanks to the plantings of the previous tenants -- first with thyme and spearmint, followed by a wave of tulips, a fragrant hyacinth or two, and a spreading carpet of purple phlox.

The flowers came and went, and the mint was threatening to take over the neighborhood -- in collaboration, it seemed, with an array of weeds that defied all natural coalitions. Something needed to be done.

I confess that the word "garden" brings a wave of mixed emotions. I remember with fondness August days in Pennsylvania, with endless ears of fresh, sweet corn and juicy, red tomatoes the size of softballs, right out of the backyard garden. And I also remember my sisters and I complaining as we capped and snapped equally endless bushel baskets of green beans -- and when the beets began showing up on the dinner table.

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