Reflections on a reluctant spring

Winter bones in the garden of Agatha Wren at Victoria Beach. She made a lovely lunch and showed us her greenhouse while blue shadows played with the trees on the pristine snow.

Winter bones in the garden of Agatha Wren at Victoria Beach. She made a lovely lunch and showed us her greenhouse while blue shadows played with the trees on the pristine snow.

It is the 31st day of March, 2013. The sun is shedding her hot breath on the decaying snow banks, which weep water. Corrosive and salty lake-sized puddles wash the bellies of cars and trucks. It is minus 7 Celsius, but the days are long now, more than 12 hours and 52 minutes today, and the sun is persistent, the snow no longer resistant, even though the air is still quite frigid. It will dip to minus 15 tonight, but the battle between sun and snow will continue tomorrow. Even with the air temperature hovering at just around zero, and much lower at night, the snow must soon be gone.

There is a lot of it to go. It is piled as high as second-storey windows at some rural locations I am told. Exposed to the winds, with no obstruction, the snow can drift into massive peaks. Here in the city though, it’s the snow ploughs that pile the snow up. They have buried my front garden under four feet of snow, sand and salt, scarring a dwarf evergreen in the exercise. I despair of its recovery this summer, poor thing.
In spite of all this and the reluctance of the winter air to leave us, spring is here. And I know that the stirrings under the earth are beginning. The evergreen trees have lost some of their winter blackness as the sun stirs the leaves into action, already manufacturing chlorophyll. On warm days in the heat of the sun, their sap is singing as is that of the maple and the birch and the elm and the cottonwood. I cannot get anywhere near the forsythia which is surrounded by high accumulations of snow, but I imagine the buds to be swelling and the flowers preparing to burst into colour at the slightest encouragement by warm spring winds. This year, there will be some flowers if only from those branches that have spent the winter under the snow. Because forsythia blooms on old wood, a very cold winter (below -38 C) can damage the flower buds of even the hardiest forsythia. And often damage happens once dormancy breaks and the shrub is hit with a heavy cold spell of sub zero temperatures.

But I live in hope. I am a gardener , after all.

The hoar frost was heavy on the trees and it fell like little diamonds through the sunlit air.

The hoar frost was heavy on the trees and it fell like little diamonds through the sunlit air.

“Words are birds
that fly in herds . . .”
So began a limerick I composed while listening to what I am sure was a weighty argument being made by an important MP at some obscure debate back in my old world and I am reminded of this now after a two-week period during which I have given seven talks, attended nine meetings, taken part in two conference calls and listened to one long-winded political announcement. My head is buzzing with conflicting messages.

But the words were driven from my mind as I drove to Transcona this week to speak with a group of ladies who have been meeting about gardens and other things for the past 44 years! Not only were they refreshingly interactive, but the day was beautiful, with the sun smiling through an archway of hoar-frosted elms that line the streets. It was a heavy frost that was falling in diamond flakes, each flake spinning in the sunlight as it fell, picking up bits of light and flinging it outward.

I feel that I can hear the frost on mornings like this, when the air is so crystal clear and there is music in each breath of wind. If it were like this every day, we could wait much longer for spring.

A week ago, I drove to Victoria Beach to do a talk. Agatha Wren made us lunch and showed us her garage greenhouse. The snow lay deep on the ground; it had been refreshed that morning and the sun was marking blue shadows on the white land. I listened to the silence and rejoiced in the birdsong that gave it substance.

These brief encounters with the real world keep me sane. Yesterday, I drove three hours through the winter landscape to the International Peace Gardens for a meeting. Then I drove  home another three hours but by a different route, feasting my eyes on the rolling white landscape dressed up by the spring-urgent trees on either side of the road. The journey drove away the stress of the week. The time slipped by unnoticed with the scenery and a travel companion who spoke intelligently about a whole range of topics.

It is Easter Sunday. On Good Friday, we had a family dinner for 10 and the laughter echoes in my mind with sweetness. Today, Holly will come for dinner because she had to work on Friday. I have spoken with both my lovely daughters. Life is so full.



Spring is knocking at the door

It snowed heavily on March 2 and then throughout the following week.

On Thursday, March 8 the blowing snow stopped traffic.









It’s a balmy 14 degrees Celsius today as I pore through the grower’s catalogues and write of what’s new and what’s hot this spring for the next issue of the Gardener magazines. The snow is slipping down city drains and seeping into already unfrozen top soil. What a contrast with just four days ago, when the March wind tore holes in our coats and crept into our bones, causing the snow that had fallen and piled up in pillowy hills all week to drift and sting cheeks and block vision in accident-causing white-outs.

You can see the water melting and dripping from the roof.

And now this double digit, bud-swelling weather! If it freezes hard again, I shudder to think (as my mother used to say) what will become of our poor friends in the garden. The 14-day forecast, though, shows this unusually warm weather continuing.

Perhaps I should go outside to cut some branches of forsythia in case the emerging buds get frozen off. At least that way, I can watch them bloom in a vase of water indoors. Forsythia is chancy here in Manitoba where late frosts can nip the blossoms of many woody plants.

Daylight savings time came to North America last night, at 2 a.m., and startled me to wakefulness at what would normally be five o’clock this morning, even though the clock said six. I rise every Sunday at this hour to prepare for my weekly garden show on CJOB. The lines were largely silent this morning as even the most ardent gardeners ignored the clock and slept until the accustomed hour.

My guest, Carla Hyrcyna, and I had fun just the same. We talked about all the exciting new plants coming on stream this year – well, not new, but exciting in their variations. The growers have been very busy this past few seasons improving on improvements. Now we have double everything, even cosmos, surely the quintessential single flower, a thing of perfection in itself. We have double poppies and double echinacea and double-double cosmos, not to mention double zinnias and double petunias and double impatiens. And now we even have double osteospermum, for heaven’s sake!

To me the beauty of osteospermum was its brilliant, highlighted blue centre. I don’t see the point of doubling that up and making it look like one of those absurd Easter Bonnet type echinaceas (remember when echinaceas were actually called purple coneflower? They are everything but purple now – white, yellow, orange, red, pink, green . . .).

Still, all these variations intrigue me and I will no doubt buy and plant all sorts of these eye-candies this spring. Carla has just come back from Europe, Germany actually, where she saw some exciting things. She was impressed with the use of orange-scarlet blossoms with black florals and with the fluorescent cactus and eye-popping succulents. I’m still trying to get my head around black petunias!

Glenn is home now. They let him out of hospital on Feb. 24 and the first two weeks were pretty rough for him, but he is slowly mending and gathering strength for the battle still to come.

At the office, Ian is filled with spring fever, dying to get into the greenhouse and begin planting seeds. He has visions of hanging baskets filled with edibles such as cucumbers and beans, which he will hang in my garden. We are going to do an access show on Shaw TV this summer – 13 weeks of ideas to fill. I am sure this will be one of them.

March 11, 2012