We’re all tired of the cold. Of that I am quite sure, and what we all need is to jump into spring with it’s glorious promise of color and the promise of renewal. But when the temperature at night still demands being bundled up in layers it’s hard to think about going out and digging in the soil. I want to go out and start cleaning, or planting, or weeding or pruning, but the soil is reluctant to let me in.
My advice, get yourself some poppy seeds.
Poppies like to be sown in the cold, the trick is how to sown them and then not disturb them when you want to clean your beds. My solution this year is to find small spaces where the sun has tempted the soil into subtle spots of thaw and the go in and remove the fallen matted down leaves by hand, to gently uncover spaces between the snowdrops (in April, it’s so strange I know) and make patches for my poppies to live. I’ve done early spring sowing of poppies before, but invariably the seeds I’ve tossed the early each year have been sacrificed to the gods of garden bed cleanliness and have not had a chance to grow. So this year I’m changing my ways. I didn’t do a vigorous cleaning in the fall, so the leaves and debris is greater than it used to be, but I’m trying to be more gentle. I’m trying to be okay with letting nature take it’s own course.
So instead of inviting the blowers and the rough raking, this year, I’m approaching the garden on my hands and knees. When I’m down there, closer to the beginnings of the season, I’m more aware of what’s happening. I notice the tiny new promise of hellebore growth. As I cut off the dead leaves and gather them with gloved fingers instead of a rake I can really see what needs attention and what doesn’t. I can see there’s a lot of dead in the roses, I can see that the hydrangea buds are brown and desiccated. And yet my hands are slow to pull out the clippers. I am waiting for the plants to tell me what they want and when they need me, I’m letting the garden dictate it’s timing this year, not my own desires. It’s cold down in the dirt, and wet, but I drag a piece of tarp with me (or sometimes when I’m feeling lazy a Citerella bag) and pull on long, tight warm garden gloves. I persevere.
I’ve scattered seeds along the vegetable garden fence where tulip tips have been revealed by my fingers’ slow methodical tickling. It’s taking much longer than it normally does and it would be easier for me to see it as my not getting a lot accomplished each day I as I survey my progress, but I’m choosing to see it as a more caring, softer approach to an entity that’s had it even rougher this winter than those off us that had the choice to come in from the cold and wrap ourselves in blankets. More poppies went under the pear tree which looks bare and exposed at a glance but which will be lush and full and billowing soon.
That the garden is not on my schedule -- that it doesn’t want to wake up yet is understandable. If I can respect it, if I can follow its lead I know I will be rewarded later. It’s not the way I normally approach the yard. I tend to want to go through like a dervish and remove debris in a mad frenzy of spring-cleaning, but this slow picking away of detritus is a revelation of sorts. I see lots of dead that needs to be removed but there’s also signs of life.
Unfortunately, my bees seem to have not survived the winter. And I’m sure there’s going to be more damage revealed as the temperature warms and the plants start to push, but today I mourned my bees. Having bees is actually a little harder than I thought it would be, and the silence of my garden without them is strange. I’ve gotten so used to them filling the witch hazel with activity, but the orange and yellow and rust flowers are silently gorgeous. To actually have an Arnold Promise witch hazel and snowdrops blooming in April is crazy, but it is the stirring of change. I’ve promised to get new bees and to try again, to not be disappointed but instead to look forward. That I’m used to having my hamamalis colors and the promise of a new beginning in February and that I’ve had to wait until Easter has been hard, but it is now happening. I can see from my kneeling perspective that the soil has softened. My parsnip I was planning on enjoying throughout the winter months are revealed now that the last of the snow has finally been pushed back by the sun. The earth releases them to me and I am overjoyed by the sweetness sleeping through this long cold has gifted to them.
I heard the other day that the Inuits have looked up at the sky and noticed the sun is rising in a different place, that their days are shorter and that they feel the earth has tilted on it’s axis. That we, as a planet, are literally off balance. I think they are right. I know I have been off balance, treating the garden as something that is mine to force and shape and change instead of seeing it as it is, something to be watched and learned from, something that I can help instead of something I can force. And this has been a lesson for me.
I don’t know if my fig has survived yet, but my quince is full of buds. I’m certain none of the artichokes I was hoping would winter over made it, but the snow provided much needed water for trees that were still stressed from Sandy two years ago. The forsythia hasn’t cracked yet but the cornus mas has and I see tiny slices of its yellow promise within the eyelid opening of its buds. What’s crazy is that it appears that some of my tulips from last spring are still with us although the last few struggling rhododendrons have given up. I am not giving up. And this year, I’m also not pushing it. People keep asking me what they can put outside, telling me they need color, they need to plants something. I offer them fistfuls of pansies, fill their arms with ranunculus and show them the hellebores that are inured to the cold nights. I tell them that peas want to be planted now, as do beets and carrots and kale. I show them onion sets, and yes I hand them some poppy seeds and a pair of gloves and suggest that they might possibly want to invest in kneepads.
Paige Patterson has 12 baby hellebores sitting in her living room tonight after drinking in the sun on her kitchen porch all day as she tries to ready them to venture out into the cold.