At their home in Country Club Estates off Airport Road, Mona and Tom Stetina have a one-acre piece of land. Four years ago, it was bare dirt and desert scrub. Then Mona discovered gardening. Now she works six hours a day, five days a week, to maintain a large green lawn and a garden that contains 125 rose bushes and no fewer than 5,000 irises.

"I got started on roses and said, 'I've gotta stop!'" Mona said this week. "Then I got into irises, and now they are everywhere!"

Mona Stetina is one of many thousands of Santa Feans, both native and newcomer, who have been bitten by the gardening bug. And this is the week they begin to scratch their itch in earnest, lining up at the city's nurseries to buy new plants and bushes, digging in the dirt to set in bedding plants, watering the new plants gently, as if they were newborn babes, to make sure they survive the transition.

May 15—this Saturday—is the unofficial start of the spring planting season, because it's the date after which, on average, there are no more night frosts here to kill the plants. It's the time when gardeners can set out their delicate annuals—petunias and geraniums, marigolds and alyssum—with some assurance that warmer weather has arrived to stay.

At the city's seven full-time nurseries, and at half a dozen places such as Osco Drug, Kmart and Wal-Mart that add flowering plants to their merchandise this time of year, business was blooming last weekend. Gardeners lined up at checkout counters pulling little red wagons filled with leafy goodies...

At Payne's nursery, a salesman said that on May weekends, his nursery serves about 8,000 people—and that last weekend, the number swelled to more than 10,000, partly because Sunday was Mother's Day. At Santa Fe Greenhouses, garden center manager Nancy Stokes said business was up more than 200 percent over the previous weekend. She said a typical spring Saturday attracts about 1,000 people who spend about $20,000.

But gardening is not mostly about the cash; it's about another kind of long green—the long green stalks of irises loosening their holds on tightly wrapped buds, allowing dark purple blossoms to burst free. It's about the long green branches of rose bushes bristling with thorns to keep away predators. It's about expectation, and creation, and work that serves as fun.

This year marks SFR's 40th anniversary. Celebrate with us  by reading excerpts of stories that have graced our pages through the years. Gardeners are now praying a late frost doesn't blight their freshly planted seeds.