Who is the secret gardener?

All spring I found them while weeding the flower beds around my house. A dozen sunflower sprouts rose from a single space, their winged leaves fanned out in an umbrella shape.

I pulled out the stalks as one mass and wondered who was the mysterious gardener creating mounds of sprouts tucked beneath peonies and poking through the daylily leaves. While deadheading my daffodils, I ruminated on such possibilities as voles or squirrels.

Later as I sat at my table writing, I glanced out the window at the terra-cotta birdbath a friend had given me for Christmas. I had been too impatient to wait for warm weather and had hung it on a shepherd's hook and filled it with sunflower seeds.

Chickadees zipped in, nipped a seed, and zoomed away. Goldfinches clung to the black crook, scanning the landscape for cats before they selected their treats.

A chipmunk scurried up the metal pole and jumped onto the swinging dish. He plopped down, with his striped back turned toward me, and stuffed himself. His cheeks widened millimeter by millimeter. Suddenly, he leapt up onto the crook and slithered down the stake.

Here was the culprit filling my beds with sunflower seeds. While his gluttony and caches of seeds seemed wasteful, I decided not to deter him from his routine of feasting and planting.

A week later, I stationed pots of geraniums along one edge of my front porch steps. Inside our screened-in porch, I set out containers filled with rosemary, lemon thyme, and a bay laurel tree. A nor'easter blew in that weekend. Rain drifted through the screens, and rivulets sluiced over the porch shingles. When a south wind finally shredded the clouds, I noticed heaps bulging in my flowerpots.

Like green mushrooms, leaves unfolded from the erupting sunflower sprouts. I plucked them out, stalk by stalk. A score of seeds nestled in each pocket – and sometimes I uncovered four plantings in a single pot.

My striped friend had been busy and, like any avid seed planter, he had occupied the storm by fussing with some indoor gardening. I've felt the same frustrations when the weather thwarts my plans.

Thankfully, since then we've had mostly overnight showers. So, while my flowerpots have not been disturbed, I'm back to finding sunflower sprouts beneath the daylilies.

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