The bubbling fountain came last, the watery finish to a wonderfully sunny day spent playing in the dirt. Sure, spring had officially arrived a few days earlier, but to me the first full day of useful sunshine is what really counts as spring, not some moveable number on the calendar.

 To lean slightly into the scientific, there are all sorts of listed reasons for why gentle sunshine pushes the mind toward mellow. One is sunshine that produces a hormone called serotonin, which pumps the brain to cheer you up. Then there is evidence the light can help release endorphins in the skin cells, a feel-good chemical. Early morning sun rays also have vitamin D – and you thought it came from milk – which warms the body and mind.

Add it all up. Walking stick along with me for the ride in a golf cart dressed in two sweatshirts, broad gardener’s hat and yellow, feed-store gloves accompanied by rake, shovel, and hand spade. Bring it on. Work to do. Up and at it.

Start off transplanting some lavender. We hadn’t grown much of it in previous garden endeavors. The color was always intriguing, the fragrance, ah, heavenly, and last year we were long overdue to try it.

It was a good move in theory, but I screwed up in practice. Lavender requires full sunshine and hot and dry Mediterranean summers to reach maximum color and fragrance. (Utica, Indiana is hot with jungle-damp, summer humidity.) I had stuck the lavender in partial, late-afternoon sunshine near a row of whitish birch trees. It was a good pick in terms of easy aesthetics, dancing purple flowers and flaky white bark. It was a dumb idea given the birch tree’s shade. The lavender didn’t seem very interesting in that spot, or even interested. Floppy.

Janet Hill thus suggested a full-sunshine place in the front yard. The transplant journey began in morning chill, the sunshine casting long shadows across the back field. Some of the lavender, for all previously listed reasons, just looked dead. I dug out fat clumps, anxiously searching for signs of life, hints of new growth in last year’s faded foliage.

Optimism prevailed. Why else garden? About ten of the more hopeful plants were carted to the front yard, where full sunshine had risen above the tree line. The lavender’s new home had been the site of a front-yard sculpture of some recycled metal thing that seemed a good idea at the time. The sculpture was subsequently banished to the barn. The site sat there empty for a couple years, perhaps waiting for some lavender.

Transplanting first required removal of some pea gravel on the metal-thing site that had also seemed a good idea at the time. The pea gravel soon had a new purpose, filling in holes in the driveway, not normally a routine part of transplanting lavender.

Some of that pea gravel remained mixed in the dirt of the metal-thing site, helping to add need drainage to the tough soil. The ten lavender plants were carefully placed in a zig-zag pattern in what was now full sun. They looked up at me, strangers in a strange land. Now what?

I had to drag a garden hose about 300 feet for the lavender-watering process. It was also the hose’s Opening Day in the 2024 Garden Season. It performed well, the hand sprinkler still locked in its full and upright position after four months of off-season cold. The water-wet lavender looked more alive, even happy. I was happy. Bone-deep happy. Damn near euphoric. Garden sunshine filled the front yard.

You go serotonin. As it can in the garden world, the day just got better from there. The air warmed. One layer of sweatshirt came off. I looked around, kept going, checked out our azalea plants. They looked a little needy, so I found our almost empty bag of acidic fertilizer and sprinkled it around their feet, better too late than never.

I had made the first round of spring mowing the day before but missed a few places. I saddled up my 60-inch mower and cleaned up the missed spots, leveling the whole grassy playing field for the upcoming weekly missions – and more – once the sun remained a little more engaged.

To that end, I like to think of late March and April as the “Fool’s Gardening Season.” This has been the best spring I can remember, an incredible parade of hellebores, crocus, phlox, daffodils, snowdrops, quince, tulips, magnolias, redbuds, lilacs, dogwoods and more. Right on cue. Boom, boom, boom, bang. Our peonies are on the rise.

Quince

All of it yet without the oncoming onslaught of weeds, heat, drought, humidity, and skin-burning, biting sunshine. The garden world will not be this nice or refreshing again until October. We are so easily fooled now. We want to be fooled.

But on this sunny, 50s and 60s day I spring-feverishly pursued my garden chores across our eight acres in our golf cart. I pruned hydrangeas I had missed earlier. I peered anxiously at my nascent heuchera and bleeding hearts wondering what they were thinking. I mentally plotted the locations of about 175 perennials I have on order to finally fill in all those damn spots the weeds want to own.

Anticipation thrives in sunshine.

Then I parked the golf cart in a sunny spot in front of a sweetly blooming pink almond shrub and took a nap. Gardeners in the four-score-years-and-something territory get to do that.

Low-growing almond bush (Prunus glandulosa)

Mandatory. I love our pink almond shrub. It just defines fleeting beauty. Every year.

What made the day even more sunny was a friend came over to help weed a few of those particularly loathsome garden areas.  She needed a break, loves plants and planting, so we took off on a tour of much of the previously mentioned.

Nothing warms a gardener’s heart more than showing off about 40 years of work and hundreds of flowers, shrubs and trees to someone who understands and appreciates all that it took. My favorite stop at that moment on that day was our patch of woods where a huge cluster of golden yellow daffodils had neighbored up to a couple hundred pink, purple and white hellebores. All of it lit in gentle sunshine.

Our last stop was at a big concrete fountain perched beneath tall trees at the end of a long path that had been cow pasture 40 years ago. The fountain is not elegant, but, more important, it is sturdy and loyal. It has been there for years. It marks a special, expected place. It adds a different texture to the shade gardens along one side of it, the garden art and magnolia rising in the sunshine farther down the way.

 The cord to the pump runs a short distance to an electric outlet about ten feet away. It had been unplugged since last October for winter protection. I plugged it in. More anticipation. No problem. The water bubbled up, gleaming in the filtered sunlight.