Spring. Sun. Soil. Digging. Seeds. Watering. Groundhog.

This seems to be the downward spiral in which my garden grows—or doesn’t.  I start out with such great plans. Take last year. Please. I’d heard about this revolutionary way to plant and I was eager to try it. Basically, you cut the front off a bag of potting soil, poke some drainage holes into the bottom and sow your seeds directly into the dirt. This I did and without the backbreaking effort of digging up my entire 8’ x 4’ raised patch, I had—voila!—a garden. And I took pains to protect it, too, putting up a chicken wire fence that was stapled onto posts at the four corners. There was a bit of a break where the wire fencing didn’t quite stretch, but I covered that with netting. Within a few weeks, there were lovely green sprouts emerging and I looked on it and it was good.

Coming home from an errand one morning, I stopped to admire my efforts. Peas and beans and spaghetti  squash and lettuce and some marigolds to help keep the bugs away—all were upright and perky and doing just fine. Two hours later, I emerged from the house and stopped in my tracks. In the middle of my garden sat a fat groundhog and around him was devastation, complete and utter.

I yelled, naturally, even though it was probably just instinct. The groundhog sat up and looked at me, annoyed that I was spoiling his lunch. Then he collapsed into what resembled a fur stole and slithered—no other word for it—slithered down between the chicken wire and wood sides of the garden, and off he toddled.

He’d done well, in terms of groundhog meals, for every green shoot was gone, leveled to the ground. “Wascally gwoundhog,” I muttered.

Almost nothing recovered. I replanted the spaghetti squash and it made a valiant effort, but  produced only two fruits. By that time, it was so late in the season that there wasn’t time to ripen. I wrote the whole thing off.

I confess that I’m not a very good gardener. I don’t take the time or the energy to do the job right. Many times, I even depend on what’s sitting around in the compost, but basically, my mantra is “toss the seeds in the general direction of the ground and see what comes up.” I play the piano in much the same way. But for those few minutes when I’m paused at the beginning of a new endeavor, be it music or plants, it’s that feeling of hope, of this time it’s going to be better that keeps me coming back.

My seeds are purchased for this year—peas, baby spinach, and another attempt at spaghetti squash. The groundhog better up his game.


      Sure and it’s coming up on St. Patrick’s Day and I’ll be proud to be wearin’ the green once more. I’m not just “married Irish,” but Irish in my own right. My father’s family came from the Old Sod, a mix of Cork and Down. They came because of the Famine and worked their way across New York State to settle in Buffalo’s First Ward. Currently, there is a plaque to them at the base of the Irish Memorial on the Buffalo waterfront. In time, there was further migration to South Buffalo, which is where I was born and raised. My husband Pat’s family arrived by another gateway—Canada, but ended up in the same place, which is where we met.

     Some fifteen years ago, we made our first trip to Ireland. There were four couples and not everyone knew each other. Of course, they all had a bit of the Irish in them, and so it didn’t take long for them all to bond. Over a pint at the Shannon airport, as I recall. Ireland was as green as they said it was. I loved the hills and the houses and the winding roads that made you glad you weren’t doing the driving. We had hired a small bus and a driver, whose name was David and who took it upon himself to make sure we had a great time.

      One of David’s first chores was to teach us the fine art of drinking Irish beer. He had a Four Step program. Day 1 was Harp, followed on subsequent days by Kilkenny, Smithwicks, and finally the ultimate--Guinness. He showed us the Lakes of Kilarney, Bunratty Castle, the Burren, and took us around the Ring of Kerry--backwards. We had to start early in the morning in order to make it to the place where the road narrows before the big tour buses arrived. “Start” meant making a visit to a local pub owned by Irish football legend Páidí Ó Sé (Paddy O’Shea). The proprietor himself opened up just for us and made us Irish coffee. (I was saddened, while looking up the correct spelling, to learn that Paidi had recently died. According to Wikipedia, “The body of Páidí Ó Sé lay in repose at his home in Ceann Trá, with "a constant stream of mourners" seen going in and out during the wake.” I can only imagine.)

     We stayed in B & B’s which is definitely the way to go in Ireland as you’ll meet some of the nicest people God ever put on the face of the earth. While on a two-day stay in Dingle, I learned that the young son of our hosts was going to be part of an Irish cultural production in Tralee the next evening. I wanted to go there. My father’s favorite song was The Rose of Tralee. Since David was taking a break and going home for a night, we decided to get a cab and head over there. When David heard that, he promptly cancelled his plans and drove us. The program was lovely—something similar to Riverdance. Our Dingle hosts had asked us to bring their son and his friend home with us on the bus, so afterwards, they hopped on and we set off for Dingle. The road was dark and winding. Suddenly, David began to sing lovely Irish songsand the two kids chimed in—their sweet voices filling the air as we drove through the night. It was one of the most magical moments of my life.

     About the only disappointment I felt during the entire ten day trip was with the sheep. We like to think of those green hills being covered with fluffy white dots. The dots, alas, had big splotches of spray paint on them. I know. It was so the owners can identify them, but still. . . Our second trip to Ireland was about ten years later. We flew into Dublin for just a few days, but made the most of them. We walked around the city, taking in the Book of Kells at Trinity University, having a photo op at the statue of Molly Malone selling her cockles and mussels, doing a literary pub crawl, and visiting the Wicklow Mountains to the south. While driving through the mostly deserted upland, we came upon the Guinness Estate. We were amused to see that the water in the lake was as black as the peat through which it filtered down. A “head” of white French sand spanned one end of the lake, looking for all the world like a huge “pint.” Naturally, we had to visit the Guinness museum, as well, where we ended our tour, as do all tourists, with a free pint in the Gravity Bar at the very top of the building, complete with a shamrock drawn in the foam. The place offers a spectacular 360˚ view of the city.

     I want to go back again, and I’ll be thinking of how to put that plan in motion on March 17 as I raise my glass.