Spring Fever



It happens every year about this time. The soil warms and roots begin to stir. The slant of light from my window grows a bit longer. A few subtle shifts—a few degrees of warmth, a few minutes more of light—and I erupt into a fit of howling lunacy.

When the earth shifts, it is like some enzyme gets triggered in my brain that tips everything off balance. I become plant obsessed, soil obsessed, garden obsessed. Yes, I am fully aware that when it comes to plants, I am already borderline obsessive. Already I write, teach, speak, and make my livelihood with horticulture and landscape. But in spring, my seemingly controlled curiosities turn into wild hysteria.

Remember how Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk, right? It feels exactly like that, except without the muscles (could have used those . . .) Mild mannered landscape architect turns into raving plant lunatic. The other night, I awoke at four in the morning thinking about the soil in my garden. Did it have too much organic matter? Should I move some leaf mulch over against the house? Which edging should I use for the path I’m planning in the border? Fieldstone? Can I get it square enough? How would I set that so that it looks crisp? And what plant would work best with those brown colors in the stone? It needs to pop, so maybe orangish—no, that won’t work next to all those red blooming plants.

The next thing I know, I’m outside under the streetlight with a shovel, transplanting a perennial. If the cops come by, they’ll think I’m burying a body.

Two nights ago, I awoke at 3:30 am and decided I had to buy 5 burgandy Eucomis for the garden. By 3:45 am, I had placed my order online.

Other times—even during the day—I have this half dream about dissolving into soil. Surely, I need to be medicated, right?

Several years ago, The Los Angeles Times ran a story that looked at the scientific causes of spring fever. Apparently, the body’s internal chemistry is affected by changes in light. Melatonin drops, causing more wakefulness, seratonin rises, causing more giddiness. But my favorite part of the article was not the more scientific descriptions of shifts in neurotransmitters, it was the more romantic speculation of why spring fever occurs:

"Anthropologists have suggested that spring fever may have developed over the course of human evolution. They point out that early humans often spent winter in a state of near-hibernation. Then, when spring arrived, they would enter an active period of intense hunting, gathering and procreating."

That’s it! I’m not crazy; I’m just more in sync with my primordial self. In harmony with my inner caveman.

My spring fever reminds me of what I love most about gardening: the mysterious pull to the earth. We pull weeds, mow our yards, and plant pansies, but we’re really scratching some ancient itch designed to help us survive.
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