It pains me to admit it, but for once my sister is right. I am becoming wimpy in my old age. When
I was growing up in a snowy slice of New York State, 30 miles east of Buffalo,
it did not matter to me that winter sometimes lasted until Memorial Day. We had our own set of rules for the groundhog. If he saw his shadow, it meant ten more weeks of winter for us. If he didn’t, it meant an early spring—only six more weeks of winter. Some years children wore snowsuits under their Halloween costumes and
over their Easter finery. It
didn’t bother me at all.
Now that I live in a milder climate, winter bothers me. We haven’t had that much snow this year, but I want spring and I want
it now. There are a few tantalizing
signs—the hyacinth bulb that I put in a forcing jar full of water a few weeks
ago is stretching white roots downward and a green flower stalk upward. The viola seeds under the grow light in the cellar are about ½ inch
tall. Potted primroses are
appearing in the supermarket. In
the pine tree outside my second-floor office window, three male cardinals are
carrying on in typical male fashion, observed by a lone female. Can spring really be far off?
The problem is, spring is still too far off for my taste, and I am in a
state of high agitation. If the ice
on the driveway would melt a little more, I could deal with my frustration by
going out and getting a start on pruning the overgrown hedgerow. I won’t prune it enough to destroy it as a bird sanctuary,
but I will cut it back so it doesn’t obscure my driveway. Unfortunately, Mother Nature is not contributing as
generously as she might to the melting process.
My fingers are numb from thumbing through catalogs, and they long to be
digging in the dirt. It is not as
if there is nothing garden-related to do. The
disciplined part of me knows that this is the time for planning, for working
things out on paper and reading books about garden design, gardening practice
and the philosophies of the great gardeners of the past. When I get tired of doing that, I can always bite the bullet
and organize my groaning shelves of gardening books. Then there’s human contact. If I want to I can go online and chat with gardeners from Kuala Lampur to
Skagway, Alaska to find out how they are coping with the gardening life.
The problem is that while I get a lot of inspiration from reading and
studying and observing, I get equal amounts of inspiration by walking my garden
over and over. Sometimes it takes
seeing the same corner fifty times until a vision of the right plant for it pops
into my head. There is certainly
more scope for imagination in that corner when it is not filled with snow.
Clearly I will not be content spending the next 4 weeks cleaning my tools
and rereading Taylor’s Guide to
Perennials. To keep boredom at
bay, I have devised at strategy, which may be inspirational for others in the
First, I will walk my garden once a day, even if it’s covered with
snow, iced over or awash in mud. At
the very least I can pile up the downed branches, setting aside the best of them
for plant supports. When the
melting process uncovers some of the piles of decomposing leaves that have
accumulated in the corners, I will rake them up, and set them aside for future
use in the beds. After all,
everyone knows that you can never be to thin, too rich or have too many dead
While I am outside, I will put out food for the birds. They provide as much “winter interest” as the most interestingly
shaped shrub or garden sculpture.
When I come inside, I will start seeds. If I do this about every other day, I should have enough watering chores
to keep me out of trouble now, and a nice crop of plants for my beds later. If I keep to my self-imposed planting schedule, it’s likely that I will
avoid ending up with another bumper crop of outdated seed packets to sort
through next spring.
I will also get out of here from time to time and seek gardening
inspiration elsewhere. Bermuda
would, of course, be nice, but in lieu of that I can take myself to the New York
Botanical Garden’s Haupt Conservatory, Longwood Gardens, and that one-of-kind
horticultural bacchanal, the Philadelphia Flower Show.
By the time I have accomplished all of the above, the snowdrops should be
blooming. With any luck there will
also be blossoms on the hellebore that I splurged on last year. The smell of mud will fill the air, and it will be time to think about
hardening off all those seedlings down in the cellar. Another spring will be jump-started.