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A Gardener’s Spring Fever

By Cindy Brown, Interpretative Horticulturist, Green Spring Gardens Park

You can see it in their eyes — the dreamy, far away look gardeners get when they think of spring. Long winter afternoons are spent yearn-ing over the pages of seed catalogs, measuring the merits of new introductions against the attributes of trustworthy heirlooms. Nostalgia versus novelty. Visions of coralbells, phlox, larkspur and poppies soothe chilled chlorophyll enthusiasts. I participate in the annual catalog frenzy, but I limit my lusting to edible species.

Catalogs are filled with petunia, geranium and aster cultivars, but I flip by the seductive colors and quickly find the "important" seeds. Peppers, corn, squash and beans — these are a few of my favorite things. I am easily seduced by the luscious photos and regret my limited kitchen gardening space.

As I decide what delectables I will grow, I think about the meager selection of winter vegetables found in the grocery store. I prefer seasonal vegetables that are locally grown instead of the imported card-board imitations. The idea of eating “fresh” tomatoes in December or watermelon in January is abhorrent. Consequently, I eat a lot of vegetables that have a long storage life: winter squash, potatoes and carrots.

Seed ordering occurs at winter’s end. Craving the fresh spring crops, I find myself salivating over pictures of plump peas, crisp lettuce heads, and verdant, green asparagus spears. When I receive the new seed packets in the mail, I know I will soon enjoy the first bowl of pasta and fava beans.

The familiar heralds of spring, including daffodils, tulips and forsythia, remind me to plant peas, onions and garbanzo beans. Overwintering veg-etables such as spinach, leeks and kale will help sustain my cravings until my favorites are ready to harvest.

The first spears of my asparagus are plucked and consumed before anyone else notices their emergence. Chive stems are eagerly cut and enliven many meals, including omelets and baked potatoes. I gather mustard blossoms, spinach, chicory and dandelion leaves to make a spring salad that shakes off the winter cobwebs.

However, all these pleasures pale in comparison to the enjoyment I receive from my favorite spring vegetable: PEAS! The first few pods never make it to the kitchen. You’ll find me sitting between the rows stuffing my face. I feel like a three-year-old stealing from the cookie jar eating as many as I can before I get caught. Fresh, steamed or sautéed, I’ve never met a pea I didn’t like. Well, except for those aliens they put in a can.

The variety of vegetables available in the spring garden — but not in the grocery store — is aston-ishing. If I have stimulated your appetite for more information, stop by Green Spring Gardens and visit the Kitchen Garden. Volunteers actually consume the vegetables, the product of their work. But they will be glad to share growing tips.

Or perhaps a class will help you develop a green thumb and heighten your appreciation for fresh vegetables. Green Spring offers many great gardening classes and workshops. Call them at 703-642- 5173 or visit them on the web.

Developing an interest in vegetable gardening is healthy. However, if you become a fresh-vegetable lover like me, you too may find your winter afternoons next year lost in dreams of picking spring’s first edible delights.

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