Irises, Earthworms, Estivation!

A week or so ago, there was a tap on the door. I almost didn’t respond, thinking it was a hopping bird or swaying branch — who taps instead of ringing doorbells, when presented with so conveniently placed a doorbell as ours, and with no thoughtfully hung “Shhhh…Naptime!” sign next to it? But I did go to the door, and when I saw the big box on the porch and the back of the mail carrier vanishing into his truck with a cheerful wave, I was flooded both with pleased anticipation at the prospect of opening a package, and with bewildered gratefulness at the stranger’s oddly kind consideration. How did he KNOW my kids were napping and I would have curled up in a fetal ball of anguished despair, uttering ululating wails of mourning for the prematurely ended quiet time, had the doorbell rung?
The box was full of iris rhizomes. I’ve never planted irises before, so I was fascinated to see them. The individual iris roots were cushioned by swirls of long, fine wood shavings, reminiscent of those that would pile up under my dad’s lathe when he turned chair legs or picture frames or jewelry boxes. The irises are surprisingly pretty, with fan-shaped crowns rising above the lumpy rhizomes and twisty roots. They look like this:

Newly arrived iris rhizomes from Schreiner’s Iris Gardens    

A couple of days later we said goodbye to my mom, who’d just spent a delightfully out-of-character spontaneous weeklong visit with us, and I was left feeling at loose ends. After we waved her off, I commented to Aaron how nice it was for the morning to still be fairly cool. That’s when I realized it would be a good time to distract myself and the somewhat dejected Niko from missing Meemaw, and dig up the irises’ new home.

The garden bed against our shed, which is a potting and storage shed in one end and a woodworking shop in the larger remaining space, is filled with perennials that could be charming in the right setting but really just… aren’t. They all flower together, in the mid-to-late spring, and then simultaneously turn to scraggle and seed. The various plants all seem to flower along tall stems, with flowers dying near the base as new ones bud and open closer to the top, so they can’t be tidied up by deadheading. They’re always half full of dead flowers, browning leaves, collapsing stems, and seed fluff. This is our second summer here, and I’m finally realizing it’s OUR garden and I don’t have to maintain plants I don’t like. So, when we visited Schreiner’s Iris Gardens this spring, we decided that this haggard, overgrown garden would be the perfect place to fill with vividly colored irises and spring and summer bulbs. No more scraggle and slump.  Gleefully destroying a flower bed.

We’d dug up about a third of the bed, and were starting to think about lunch, when a clump of hard, dry dirt broke open and I saw the oddest thing: a ball of two or three earthworms entwined inside the nearly rock-hard lump. Their little wormy ball was slightly moist, as earthworms are, despite the extreme aridity of the ground that hadn’t seen rain in months. I was fascinated. Turns out, earthworms do something that’s like hibernation, only not, because scientists enjoy using precise words to describe precise activities, and this is something that occurs with certain creatures, including some insects and lizards, during extremely dry seasons rather than cold seasons. Various species approach it differently, but the general idea is the same: they protect themselves by retreating into the ground and going dormant, until moisture wakens them and signals them that their environment is once again friendly. It’s called estivation.

Estivation. Estivate. I love that. Estivation. I rolled that word around in my head for the rest of the day. Estivate. Don’t ask my why I love it so much, I just do. Estivation. And now, not only will we have a much prettier garden bed (thanks to Aaron’s finishing digging it up for me before the first rain since March arrived), but I have learned a new fascinating thing about earthworms, AND I have learned a delightful new word to murmur to myself whenever I need a quiet little bit of tranquillity.

Estivate.

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