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GROWING UP: YESTERDAY WAS THE OFFICIAL LAST FROST DAY, SO READY, SET, GROW!

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May 16, 2010

Today is the day!  May 15th marks the last official frost day, so it is safe to plant.  As I was beginning this column on May 12th, I was determined that, rain or shine, I was going to "get it done" because days off are scarce. I was totally sick of looking at bare branches and any other signs of winter. In my mind it was a task that needed to be completed. Boy, was there a lesson in store. 

If you're like me, you woke up this morning with a million things on your "to-do" list that could take precedence over getting out in the yard.  Personally, the last twelve months have been trying, to state it lightly.  Health, family, business, and financial issues are at the forefront of my mind (not necessarily always in that order).

Yesterday while I was waiting for the rain to stop so that I could get back outside to the garden, I stopped and watched the Oprah Winfrey show.  This is not something I normally have the time to do at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday; I simply sat in a chair and watched the entire episode.

She introduced the author of the book "Women, Food and God".  While I opened the mail, searched for that can of Pringles I knew we had somewhere, I thought to myself "blah, blah, blah" another new author with a self-help guide to 'handle life' in 6 easy steps.

I started to assemble my case against the author with thoughts like, "No wonder you're smiling — you're at the top of the New York Times best seller list; you're a millionaire and you are on the Oprah show".  As I continued to watch, my skepticism and jealousy began to wane. I opened up to the possibility that she was saying something I needed to hear.

 As the show progressed, I realized this was not just another author with a book to peddle.  She explained that the word 'God' is a feeling of inescapable happiness that we've all experienced but tend to ignore.

The example she offered of God was a state of completely being taken care of by realizing that it was already inside her.  She cited a childhood reflection when, on a hot summer day, just the smell of the grass and the sun on her face was enough and she was completely at peace. Another example she gave was a baby being born.  She continued to define this place as 'that fleeting feeling of having no worries, of contentment, being free from judgment of herself and of others.' 

By now, the Pringles consumption had gone to zero and I realized that she wasn't talking about food at all.  I was experiencing a new enlightenment, dripping wet, covered in mud from head to toe, stuffed with Pringles, watching the Oprah Winfrey Show.  Will wonders never cease!

I haven't read the book, but I hope to.  But, even if I don't, the general premise will now help me navigate my life and get off of this treadmill of expectations. Thankfully, it's never too late to learn something new.  The biggest lesson that I learned was that kindness leads to freedom. We have the choice to pass on a legacy of self-loathing and disappointments or of true self love and happiness. 

My point in all of this is that I experience that place of happiness and freedom while in the garden.  Sure, there's a lot to do and my yard never looks like a magazine, but that really isn't the point.  To feel soil, to plant, to create is to experience life beautifully.  Even if you don't grow the prize-winning watermelon for the fair, all is well, because during the process of gardening the most amazing growth and change happens inside the gardener.

This weekend it's time to get out there and experience the true pleasure of working in the yard.  Add an early dinner with all of your favorites on the grill and it may be the perfect day.

Annuals are plants that only live for one season, so don't be intimidated and think that whatever you do is permanent.  There are so many different varieties of annuals available that you can create completely different looks every year.

Your garden design doesn't need to be complicated to be eye-catching.  Mass plantings are always striking whether you have a small space or a large area to plant.  Select one plant that appeals to you and fill your entire space with it.  I drove by a house last year that had a circular garden planted with nothing but short yellow marigolds.  It wasn't a large space, but that one block of color caught my eye. 

If you would like a little more variety, try two different colors of the same plant and an annual foliage plant.  For a sunny area, you could try dark blue and hot pink petunias with some dusty miller. For a shady area, plant some hot pink and orange impatiens with some coleus. 

For a little more drama, choose plants of varying heights.  Plant something tall in the background, such as blue sage.  Plant some red geraniums directly in front of them and white alyssum in front of the geraniums.

Remember to add some time release fertilizer and compost to the hole when planting. 

Jim Gainan is VP/Shareholder of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings.

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