Every year for Mother’s Day (or as close as we can get), we’ve planted about 250 or so little marigold plants along both sides of the front walk for the entire length of the walk. With a single blossom on each plant at first, the front walk starts out looking like it’s lined with little yellow lights rather than flowers – they look like landing lights alongside an airport runway. But as the spring and summer progresses they fill out and become quite impressive eventually. We’ve had strangers stop and tell us to never change the tradition because they use our distinctive walkway planting as a landmark when they give directions to friends. We even made the front page of the local paper with our marigolds one year!
The tradition started as a Mother’s Day gift to Lynn that the once-young girls could actively contribute to. It was an assembly-line tradition; one person (usually me) would use a pre-measured stick and circular bulb-digger to cut small holes in the ground every six inches, another person (usually one of the little girls) would mix up Miracle-Gro fertilizer in water and soak each newly-cut hole, another (usually the other little girl) would pop the little plants out of the flats and place one in each hole, and a fourth person (usually the master gardener, Lynn) would come along and set the plant straight up and back-fill with dirt. The walkway is about 62 feet long on a curve so there was about 125 feet of marigolds planted each year on both sides. Some years all four of us would participate, some years Lynn got to rest and watch as the girls and I ran the show. Eventually the girls were skilled enough so they could take care of everything and both Lynn and I got to observe! We tried to do it on the day. One year the girls and I did the planting in the pouring rain, with me pontificating that rain wouldn’t hurt them, they wouldn’t melt!
Some years Mother’s Day was early in the month and the threat of frost would cause us to delay a week or two, or if we did plant I’d cover them up each night when there was a freeze danger. We paid the price one year when a frost hit after we planted and I wasn’t paying attention to the nightly weather report in order to know when to cover them, and we lost about a third of the tender little plants to freezing.
Our tradition lasted quite a number of years, but eventually the girls got older and went off to college and beyond, and Lynn and I were left to take care of the planting ceremony by ourselves.
Every second or third year I’d pull out a saved set of sticks that had been cut to 22 inches in length, and I’d use them to keep the “marigold plots” on either side of the front walk wide enough to accommodate the plants, edging the garden with a foot-driven manual blade edger.
To my disgrace, I hadn’t done the edging in probably 6-8 years so it was badly needed this year, along with a rejuvenation of the soil itself. I trimmed out up to 15 inches of thick sod in places (garden-cart after garden-cart of sod pulled up and hauled into the woods), then I pitch-forked both sides of the front walk to loosen the soil and extract the larger rocks that creep upwards to the surface in New England.
Then I spread 125 lbs. of dehydrated cow manure (a.k.a. “Bovung”) over the soil and then rototilled it in to a depth of about 6-8 inches. After raking out as many rocks as I could, the beds were finally ready to receive the marigolds.
In the meantime, our youngest daughter Audrey had pulled me aside and whispered that if I was able to get Mom to go up to the Ballot Box in Maine for Mother’s Day weekend, she would plant the marigolds by herself while we were gone as a surprise Mother’s Day gift for Lynn… just like old times!
And she did! We got home last night just before dinnertime and the marigolds were all planted with their toes happily set in the richly-fertilized newly-turned soil! Lynn was delighted! And she was even more delighted when we got inside to find Audrey cooking dinner for us all – a beef-cacciatore-like invention of her own, over angel-hair pasta. Magnificent! Lynn had a wonderful and memorable Mother’s Day!