2009 was the worst gardening year in the Northeast since records have been kept. Not everything suffered, of course. Baptisia and bankruptcy lawyers both did fine. There were actually bonuses for the most aggressive roses, which managed to capitalize on a combination of sandy soil and beating rain in certain yards and bloom spectacularly. But even a $787 billion stimulus package could not save the region's tomatoes and potatoes.
An air of misery hung over many yards, and its root cause was not credit default swaps, as destructive as they were. It was excessive carbon emissions leading to increased spring precipitation in the region, combined with unsustainable levels of household indebtedness. When household incomes failed to rise during the last decade, Americans maintained their standard of living by borrowing, often for the purchase of bulbs–including ephemeral bulbs such as hybrid tulips that offered no lasting advantage to the household economy. Businesses like Brent & Becky's were the beneficiary of an extreme lack of credit discipline on the part of the American people.
As a result, dried lily stalks and lily stakes dotted certain yards last spring like a particularly severe hangover. They overhung the spring's first crocuses and species irises like the ghosts of parties past, parties at which one has said particularly stupid things at a particularly late hour.
So clear out the debris, you say! Regroup! Turn a new page and learn some discipline! Eventually, in many yards that is exactly what happened, though later than many economists expected. Many households were simply unwilling to clean things up in late April or early May, fearful that they might actually set themselves back by stomping on emerging perennials.
Do a fall clean-up, you say? Get rid of all those drying perennial stalks and the whole depressing lily mess then, ahead of schedule? Excellent in theory, but impossible in practice. By the time the stalks have completely died back in early November, overstretched gardeners are too busy processing the inventory yielded by the vegetable garden and digging themselves yet deeper into debt by planting a few hundred tulips.
No, now is the time for decisive action, at the very beginning of mud season. Yes, there are green shoots under the snow, a hopeful sign that the economy will eventually recover. And yes, a few of those green shoots will be crushed by the gardener's boots as she yanks the lily stakes out of the only partways defrosted soil. There are no perfect solutions.
But the main concern here at this particular moment is getting the gardener back to work. It's been a long period of unemployment for many gardeners, and many are discouraged by a job hunt that has gone on for months. At this point, even shoveling dog poop out of the front perennial beds feels like a job well worth doing.