With below normal temperatures stubbornly hanging around this late March there isn’t much to do in the garden. Instead I dive into my gardening books and make a trip down memory lane looking at pictures of the old garden. I also come across an old book; my “poetry album” from the mid-1960s. In Holland just about every girl had such an album and family and friends would write short little poems in it, preferably writing something about you. One of the poems I memorized decades ago. It was written by my uncle, my mother’s youngest brother, who always spent a lot of time with us when we were little. He died in a plane crash at 32 when I was 11 and I still miss him. Another poem was written by my fourth-grade teacher, Miss. Staal. She was a wonderful teacher even though I wasn’t a very good student. The windowsills of her class room were full of plants and I got to water them most weeks. Before summer vacation started each of the students got to take a plant home and brought it back when school started again. She was a woman with whom I forged a friendship after leaving school and I continued to visit her during my trips to Holland. She even met The Spouse one year, heartily approving of him! These days when we go to Holland we always make a trip to my home town to say a prayer over my parents’ grave and to visit her grave as well as she is only a few rows over from my parents. Her poem (loosely translated) reads as follows:
Befriend small things.
A flower in bloom,
a dancing butterfly.
Befriend small things
and you will be happy.
Funny how something written almost fifty-two years ago are the words I continue to live by and yes, it does make for a happy life.
A few days ago I hung out my "Welcome Spring" flag at the front door with the optimistic, albeit misguided, hope that spring would arrive soon and would be glorious. Today, March 21st the first full day of spring, brought us… 8+ inches of snow. It started last night and now, at 5 pm, it is still snowing. Shoveling will have to wait till tomorrow. There may be warmer weather in the forecast, about a week from now. I know, I know, better weather will arrive and we will all the happier once it gets here. But it sure isn’t coming fast enough for me.
March can be a cruel month. There are three weeks to go before it officially becomes spring, so technically winter should be disappearing soon in our rear-view mirror. The clock "sprung forward" giving us an extra hour of light in the evenings. Less than two weeks from spring we managed to dodge another bullet weather wise. A winter storm was supposed to bring over a foot of snow, but our area just got a few inches of very wet and sloppy snow. It took less than an hour to clear the driveway, walkway and sidewalks while The Spouse helped a neighbor across the street with his driveway. So far, the temperatures remain in the high twenties during the night and mid-thirties to low forties during the day. Spring weather seems a long way off.
Meanwhile the basement is filling up with plants, seed packages, bulbs, roots and more cuttings. When the first catalogs arrived, I held off for a while, but eventually gave in and started ordering. The orders have not yet arrived, but my garden will be so much more colorful then last year. I will bulk up the meager beds all over the garden and add a few colors I haven't used in the past; reds and oranges.
While my first garden was a tranquil vision with pinks, purples and blues, this year I am adding "in your face" colors. I got inspired last year with my hedging of Tithonia or Mexican sunflowers which bloom in bold orange. In my old garden I also grew these annuals, but as they were mostly shaded they never performed as well as they could. Last spring, I planted seeds near the fence in full sun, in the butterfly garden and watched them take off into six-foot giants festooned with flowers. The butterflies loved them and so did I. This spring I will add a couple of rose bushes near them which will flower with blooms as bright and as orange as the Tithonia. After nearly two decades with soft pastel colors I want to go for bold in this butterfly garden and make it zing.
As I make the rounds in the garden I see and hear the signs of spring. The birds are singing and I have spotted the first American robins (so different from the European robins!), both a sure sign of spring. Outside I can see buds growing fatter and fatter on my (unknown variety of) Spirea. It seems a few warmer days and these shrubs will explode with foliage and maybe early flowers.
The Hellebores are also eagerly waiting for some sunshine. The buds and half open flowers are there but they need a bit more warmth to elongate their stems and open their flowers.
I know spring is not that far off but winter won't release its grip on us yet. I am sure there will be a few more snowflakes in our future; another Nor-Easter forecasted for next week! Slowly, seemingly very slowly this time, spring will arrive and soon I will be digging in the dirt again.
PS: March 17th. On a sunny and slightly windy day I walk around the garden to see what, if any, progress my plants are making. The snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) which look like snowbells on steroids are starting to come up and they give me hope there will be flowers in my near future. Then, a pale blue flower catches my attention! On the slope of the waterfall, facing south, three Iris reticulata variety ‘Katharine Hodgkin” have opened and the foliage of about 18 more of these bulbs is sticking up, waiting for a few nice days to open up and strut their stuff. Hurray, flower power has arrived!
January came and went (hallelujah!) and February is flying by. We have little less than one month to go of winter and spring can’t come soon enough for me. However, winter has not been too bad so far. The last week of December and the first week of January were positively frigid, but the rest was fairly decent. We did get plenty of nuisance snow; three to four or even five inches at the time. Enough to have to shovel sidewalks and walkways, but not enough to make you ache so badly that the next day you can barely move. We also got plenty of rain when the temperatures came back up from freezing or otherwise we would have had much more snow. So this winter I count my blessings with the rain.
I keep the bird feeders filled and there is plenty of peanut butter and suet for the birds to eat. I attract a large variety of birds although I get very few cardinals to come to the feeders. In my old garden I always would have a flock of them in the winter garden, but here they are scarce. One of the trees in my garden is a Canadian Redbud (Cercis Canadensis). These trees are magnificent in early spring when all along their trunk and branches bright purple blooms appear. Last year I was disappointed with its (lack 0f) spring flowers and hoped for a grander display this year. Already in fall you can see how the little buds have developed on the branches. However, as this tree also contains a suet feeder and a hollowed out log which contains peanut butter, birds come to this tree in great numbers. Whole flocks of starlings land on the tree, partaking in the peanut butter, rubbing their beaks clean on branches and rubbing the delicate buds right off the tree. Next year I have a decision to make: flowers in spring on the Redbud or seeing my feathered friends all winter as they come to their feeders. I think the birds will win out for now.
One day last week the temperatures soared and we hit 82 degrees for a high. We enjoyed this balmy weather with a long walk outdoors and afterwards I made the rounds through the garden. Suddenly the witch hazels were a bright yellow and although their flowers are small, there are many.
Wrapped around a sorry looking dusty miller plant I spot a snake. It probably came out of hiding as the temperatures went up and when it got cooler it tried to find a hiding place. A few hours later it was gone again but I am quite sure I will come across it once more as we warm up and spring gets on its way.
For now I bide my time indoors, tending plants and the second round of cuttings which have grown into plants. The days are longer and occasionally warmer but soon enough the whole world will once more break out in bright colors. I wait for better days…
Today’s date is one that always sticks out; it’s my paternal grandfather’s birthday. Way, way back on January 15th, 1888, Jacobus Oostveen was born. It’s hard to imagine 130 years have come and gone since that day. Another day that also sticks out is June 21st, 1888, the day my maternal grandmother was born.
I never knew my maternal grandfather; he died in an accident right after the end of World War II. I also never knew my paternal grandmother. My sister, being four years older than me, however, knew her well and wasn’t very fond of her. She was a difficult woman, not very kind or affectionate, but she must have been different at one time to capture my grandfather’s heart. By marrying my grandfather she went against her parent’s wishes and was promptly disinherited after the wedding. When the first children came along her parents revised their stance and all was well once again in the family. When I came along in the summer of 1957 my sister told my parents she would be happy to give grandma Oostveen to me and she would take grandma S. as her own. Well, grandma Oostveen passed away a few short months after I was born, so the point was moot and we shared grandma S. equally.
I always gravitated to Grandpa Oostveen. On most weekends my dad would pick him up and he would have dinner at our house. Or we would go into Utrecht to the Cathedral where I would find him in his regular pew and afterwards we would go to his house and have coffee and cake. To this day I remember the High Mass in Latin which was the only service grandpa would go to. Mass in Dutch, or heavens forbid, with contemporary music and song, just wasn’t the same.
Grandpa’s row house had a tiny little courtyard out back. Not much was grown in the garden back then although during World War II it was used for growing vegetables to augment very meager meals. Grandpa’s interior remained unchanged in all the years they lived there. Their wedding picture taken at the dinner table in the house shows the same furniture, wall paper and clock compared with pictures taken more than 50 years later. When I went to high school in the city I often stopped by at grandpa’s during lunch. Because grandpa’s house was also the heart of the painting company he started in 1919, quite often I would run into my father or either of his two brothers who ran the different divisions of the company during that time. When they were together they would play a round of cards before going back to work again. Now my cousin Kees runs the company and in another two years he will be celebrating the centennial anniversary of the company started by grandpa.
While grandpa passed away when I was seventeen, I still mark each birth date. Just as I do for mom, dad and grandma. Without them I wouldn’t have been here. They shaped my world in one way or another. Without a doubt from dad I got my gardening genes, from mom my sense for order, from grandpa my love for Gregorian music and from grandma my love for peonies (of which I should plant more in my garden). People come and go into our lives and some leave a bigger footprint on our heart than others. It's good to look back once in a while and remember what they meant to us.