RICHMOND

After the driest April ever, the garden dusty and the onion plants looking sick, we should have known we'd get drenched on and off in May. But watering in April was something we'd never, ever done.

Most years, even minimal showers were enough for peas, lettuce and onions to pick up their heads and go. The clay base on that side hill hangs onto water nicely, as long as it doesn't come too fast.

So when the proverbial April showers failed to appear, we watered and then looked to May, where most of our rain has come in fits and starts and not too hard.

Last week, however, nature swacked us with a downpour of more than an inch one evening, and the water ripped a little canyon through the driveway. It also made the spinach take notice, along with the potatoes, which are admittedly a lot of work in the garden but among the most satisfactory of crops. If the potato bugs come, my husband hunts them down and picks them off to save us from spraying. Some years they stay away.

Potatoes tell you exactly when they are ready - the vines die, dead brown and crisp. Then comes the treasure hunt for the several potatoes that should be hiding underground. We try not to slice any while digging, and every year we slice some while digging. Brushed off and stored in our cool cellar, they keep perfectly and if we're not too greedy, they'll be on the table for Thanksgiving, mashed and smooth and delicious.


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April did not encourage our potatoes to come up, but May called them all to the surface, their green leaves dark and crinkled on round plants.

The big surprise last week was digging holes for the oversized tomato plants raised by a friend. They include a fair number that are already blooming. Maybe that's cheating, but if it is, we are going to cheat. (One even has a tiny green tomato on it. That one bears watching.)

Anyway, the holes were six to 10 inches deep, and the surprise was that May's rain had soaked all the way down there. At that depth, we're out of dark topsoil and into brownish clay. Trying to fool Mother Nature yet again, I put the good stuff back in the hole first and left the clay on top where maybe it will, via fertilizer and cultivation, consider improving itself.

Several of those big plants were in place the night we heard more than an inch of rain pounding on the roof. You'd have thought we had children out there without raincoats, the way we discussed whether the plants were going to be standing or smashed. In the morning, they still stood tall, a reflection of the excellent upbringing they had from our friend who raised them.

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Packets of seeds, by the way, contain far too many seeds, so we would like to suggest that companies think about a smaller package for senior gardens - or even a combo containing four zucchini seeds, four of yellow squash, six of winter squash and no more than nine of radishes.

The radish is a frustration. It's a spring temptation - short germination, early harvest, cute, colorful, but more often than not, wormy. I don't like wormy.

Broccoli lost its place in our garden the year I boiled the green worms of the cabbage butterfly for dinner. It was accidental, of course, but the presoaking in salted water hadn't brought them out, so there they were, floating in a saucepan atop the lovely florets. Into the garbage, instant ban on future broccoli plants.

In this garden, decent behavior is expected and bad behavior punished. Not that the broccoli really cares. But perhaps the butterflies do.