As The Season Turns
It's good to remember the small satisfactions
Why is it we dwell on garden mishaps and disasters? Most of us define our gardening year by plants we kill off and diseases we discover rather than by our accomplishments and happinesses. Whenever gardeners gather, the talk is of storms, record cold, disappearing honeybees and ravenous slugs. I'm still lamenting an escallonia hedge I lost to a February freeze before my daughter was born. She's now 27.
Gardening shouldn't be so much about regrets, so this year I kept a separate calendar of garden delights. I wrote down the small satisfactions that too often get lost in the "what ifs" and "if onlys" of our gardening lives.
Most of what I recorded would already be forgotten if not for these scribbled notes. Yet reading them over returns me to the quiet pleasures of mornings in the garden, of first bloom and the wonder of a hummingbird hovering at eye level. I share these with the hope their collective joy might prove sufficiently powerful to quell even the most persistent grumbling gardener . . .
JAN. 27: I run out in the pouring rain to clip a twig off my year-old witch hazel, Hamamelis 'Jelena.' The shrub is such a baby that her copper-colored blooms hardly show up in the gray, gray winter garden. Yet inside, tucked into a white vase, the curious little flowers are bright and cheerful, and their clean, astringent perfume fills the room.
FEB. 17: The thermometer hits an astounding 60 degrees, and I can actually feel the warm sun on my back as I clear away the muck of decayed hosta leaves. A few bees are buzzing about, enjoying the sunshine, too. When I hack back the bleached, papery blades of Japanese forest grass I find lavender and golden crocus in bloom beneath.
FEB. 18: I cut the first mixed bouquet of the season, composed of fat buds from 'Ivory Prince' hellebores, Iris reticulata, little yellow 'Tête-à-tête' narcissus and the flowers of Daphne odora. I snip off the daphne's frost-blackened leaves, leaving the pink, sweetly fragrant flowers.
MARCH 18: I finish mulching, finally, in a cold, persistent rain and a month behind schedule. I come in chilled, wet and thrilled to be finished. All the fresh green growth of the perennials looks gorgeous set against the rich, dark mulch that coats the ground. I relish the thought of manure soaking into the soil to feed the plants.
APRIL 6: Good Friday is a glorious 75 degrees. The lilacs are in bud, and I cut branches to force. This is the first year I've ever successfully grown crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis), the peacocks of the plant world. It must be the good drainage in the raised beds.
APRIL 7: It is only after I plant up the new container I scored at the local nursery that I realize I've bought an egg-shaped pot, no doubt influenced by the fact Easter is tomorrow.
APRIL 21: I love that green haze when the trees leaf out. It's been such a cold spring, but even the tardiest trees, excepting the still bare chocolate mimosa and golden locust, are enveloped in a soft cloud of fresh new leaves.
APRIL 27: Even though it's still in the low 40s at night, I'm able to cut an armload of supremely fragrant dark purple lilacs and fill the house with them.
MAY 5: I cook my first garden-inspired dinner of the season: lettuces for a salad, chives, parsley, mint and lemon balm to flavor a risotto.
MAY 21: The clematis 'Crystal Fountain,' which I mail-ordered and paid too much for from White Flower Farm, is blooming on the hog-wire screen, and it's as blowsy and exotic-looking as its photo.
MAY 26: The miracle of a warm, sunny Memorial Day and I realize I've at last planted enough allium. I have more than 50 tall, purple Allium 'Globemaster' and A. 'Purple Sensation' blooming in one small border.
JUNE 1: Right now the garden is all buds and potential — the very best time of year with the long, light evenings and summer about to unfold.
JUNE 8: The soil is finally warm enough to plant pumpkins, sunflowers and basil, and I'll set tomatoes out next week.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "A Pattern Garden." Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Jacqueline Koch is a Seattle freelance photographer.