Garden Plot: Real cure for coronavirus may be outside your door

As I type these words on March 19, my ancestral home, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is essentially on hiatus (as is much of the rest of the nation and the world).

Major and Minor League Baseball have been postponed nationwide, with the players forbidden to even hold “sandlot” games, which I would have watched with great enthusiasm, because I’m wearing out my old VHS tapes of Ken Burns’ great PBS series on baseball.

March Madness has been canceled, forcing office workers to resort to legal gambling (except that the casinos are also closed). Bottles of hand sanitizer are approaching the price of gold, with toilet paper not far behind.

Uncertainty rules, with one great exception: No one can cancel spring, and no one can stop us from gardening.

Back in my native Pennsylvania, the state-run wine and spirits shops closed yesterday. But in my front yard, the crocus are blooming, to the delight of the native bees that have been feeding on their pollen on sunny days, even the ones following freezing cold nights; and the blooms on most of the Snowdrops and Glory of Snow are still hanging on.

Even the forsythia are in bloom, despite the fact they already bloomed last November. Perhaps they realize how much we need their brightness now.

I’m in a cold spot and lower USDA Zone, so my daffodils are just about to open, but the tulips are right behind them, thanks to the blessed nonintervention of the evil squirrels, who once took every single tulip bulb out of one of my beds and replaced each bulb with a black walnut.

I had to give them points for inventiveness and determination, but it gave new meaning to the phrase “Black Forest.”

The movies are closed and Broadway is dark, but the sun still rises in the east and makes my fall planted pansies warm and happy. That reminds me to pinch off a few flowers for my salad tonight. (Yes, pansy flowers are edible. They are also the only true food source of the nutrient Rutin, which has the power to prevent or even reverse the visible effects of varicose and spider veins.)

The distinctive red shoots of my peonies have broken ground, with the promise of crazy big pink (and red) flowers that no government order can stop. St. Patrick’s Day was canceled in Ireland, which yes, is one of the signs of the apocalypse.

However, no one can stop the greening of spring, even if the record amounts of tree pollen have forced me to stock up on Kleenex.

The buds on my azaleas and rhododendrons are fat and happy; soon that show will begin and the ancient two-story high rhododendron in the front will be covered by hundreds of blooms, each more entertaining than the best Pixar movie.

Most of us “have never seen anything like this,” but perhaps my garden tulips have. They were old when we moved in thirty-five years ago, no one knows how old the house is and older neighbors tell us “those red tulips were always there.”

I took a break and wandered outside a minute ago. I pulled up a clump of onion grass, and rather than just toss it into the woods, took a while to marvel at the bulbing structure and intense aroma of this accidental cousin of onions and garlic.

Then I tossed it into the woods. Then the real garlic!

Planted last September, the shoots are up and looking good. So I dream of the ritual of harvest time, when I will carefully pull up each bulb in early July, gently brush the dirt off and then arrange the bulbs on the table on my enclosed porch to “cure” under the gentle breeze of the ceiling fan.

That heavily insulated porch and my kitchen island are currently covered with baby tomato and pepper plants under lights. Actually, most of the tomatoes are already two months old, thanks to my clever idea of starting my peppers super early to get an earlier harvest.

But I was out of seed starting mix and so combined some potting soil from old containers with castings from my wonderful worm bin and used packs of pepper seeds that were technically expired.

Everything came up great!

But eventually I realized that, “Hey! These aren’t peppers!” I will have the first tomatoes on the block, perhaps even before the plants go outdoors.

Hopefully, the government will realize that garden centers and nurseries are just as essential as gas stations and grocery stores. I can guarantee that millions of flats of peppers, tomatoes, flowers and the like are being grown for us all over the country and will be ready to rock by Mother’s Day.

And so will we!

In the meantime, seek out blooming bulbs and flowering cherries; stare intently at the new greenery of roses and the inevitable invasion of the hostas. There is something growing or flowering wherever you are, and this is the time to marvel at the wonder and persistence of plants.

Because “They can’t take that away from me.”

Or you.

Mike McGrath was Editor-in-Chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated Public Radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and Garden Editor for WTOP since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at

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