As much as I love my summer ritual of walking around the garden to see what’s growing, I also relish early spring’s routine; hunting for signs of life. Just as I’m thrilled when blossoms burst open, I love spring’s purple carpet of crocuses covering the backyard and finding tender foliage tips strong enough to break through the hardened ground after a cold, icy and snowy winter.
No matter the season, or plant’s growth stage, the ritual’s motivation is simple and consistent; nature is engrossing. The fleeting, fresh exuberance of spring flowers sets the stage for summer’s color parade, fragrances, continuous change and in some gardens, harvests. And just when summer’s glory (and work) begins to fade, in walks fall with its own color palette and signs of change.
I don’t think I could live somewhere without distinct seasons, though I’m told that even in areas where the temperature is relatively consistent year round, there are subtle differences between seasons. I just have a hard time imagining spring without associating it with the excitement of finding fresh buds on trees and/or discovering the treasures planted in late fall. Crocuses, daffodils, tulips, wisteria and alliums announce that it’s only a matter of weeks before it’s safe to put out pansies, geraniums, impatiens, primrose and annuals.
Springing forward signals it’s time to anticipate the Cherry Blossom Festival. The trees look dormant to my uneducated eye but the experts say blooms are only weeks away with the peak occurring somewhere around the second week of April. With Cherry Blossom time comes brilliant quince bushes, Scotch Broom, clematis climbing over everything from mailboxes to trellises, dramatic saucer magnolias, redbuds (I can’t wait to see my new weeping redbud), the delicious smell of lilacs, ants doing their duty on peony buds and azaleas . . . to name a few. Azalea festival dates will soon be advertised – an annual event I rarely miss.
The sounds of early spring are as unique and special to this time as changes in the landscape. Without as many leaves to hide behind, brilliant red cardinals are easy to spot and their coloring is a beautiful contrast to whatever snow remains. I’m not facile with birdcalls but I think I hear songbirds and the Mourning Doves distinct lament. My garden ritual includes listening for new sounds and quietly watching for nesting behavior.
Late spring is a perfect time to find nests as birds carry nesting materials in their beaks; they unwittingly lead you to their nest(s). Just be sure to watch from afar and take note of their behavior rather than inspecting, up close, the nest’s progress. If possible, walk quickly past the nest to catch a glimpse or else you might give a potential predator all the details they need.
Last November, nothing would do but to refresh the spring garden by planting new varieties of bulbs for color, height and a dash of drama. As much as I would like to do the planting myself, my spine has other ideas and I need help with many gardening tasks. With my gardener (Serena) we laid out a general plan for the new bulbs knowing that it’s especially important for me to be able to see growth from the tall kitchen windows — the truth is, when I’m having a bad “pain day” it’s really difficult for me to get shoes on my feet much less traipse through the soggy, sometimes slippery, garden path. Serena said she knew exactly what she wanted to plant along the meandering banks of the dry stream bed – something tall, colorful and new to my garden. She didn’t reveal more and I didn’t want to know. I wanted, and want, to watch the mystery unfold. I’m pretty sure I know what she planted but the foliage is new to my garden and I’m excited to see what emerges.
Growing plants can be a great surprise and I enjoy watching the story unfold. Many of the new bulbs are a mystery and although some foliage provides a reliable clue, it doesn’t mean the mystery’s solved in its entirety – sure, I know what a daffodil looks like when it’s only an inch out of the ground but I don’t know what kind of daffodil it is. And I can wait – that’s part of the fun.
So far, March is coming in like a lamb (not a lion) and signs of garden growth surround me. The beautiful green foliage dotting the landscape is a yard littered with mysteries. Much of what grows in March is a mystery to me. What is it about the appearance of those green tips that gets this gardener’s heart racing? Is it the appreciation for another season’s encore performance? The anticipation of what will emerge in the coming weeks? The delight in finding life? Or is it all of the above?
This morning I solved a few more mysteries; snowdrops, hellebores and a few grape hyacinths opened in today’s sunny, moderate temperatures. I noticed more bulbs beginning to shoot up leaves – one is in the area where I planted the coveted trillium last year. Could it be? Am I going to be that lucky? Why is there no sign of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit or is it too early? What are these other lovely green clues?