Spring, oh spring, where art thou?
I made it through January. February wasn’t too bad, but March just crawled and took forever to end. As we entered April things didn’t look much better and we were again on the receiving end of a snowstorm. Now we have temperatures in the 40s and still occasional snow. Nearly mid-April and 14 states are under winter weather advisories with some cities or towns in the northern states getting up to two feet of snow.
On a Friday we made a trip to Cape May in NJ. On the way down trees were just getting a slight haze of color. Once we got to Cape May the weather turned warmer and temperatures climbed into the high 70s, low 80s (although not quite that high in Cape May itself). By Sunday on our return home the wind blew fiercely, it rained, and it was raw. But oh, the sights on the way home. Suddenly white and pink blossoms had erupted, and greenery abounded.
Last week I planted some lily bulbs at the end of the garden. Much to my delight, the soil was just wonderful. Without much effort, the spade bit into the crumbly soil and I carefully laid the already sprouting bulbs in their new homes. It won’t be long before they will peak out of the soil and in another month or two their fiery orange blooms will grace my garden. My small Magnolia tree is starting to open its first blooms after those two warm days and much to my delight, yes, the flowers will be a magnificent yellow. We still have some cold, dreary and damp days in the forecast but everywhere I look in the garden I can see signs of life. Get set, ready, GROW!
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…