It’s been spring for almost a month as I sit down to write this, but the sky is full of snow. It falls furiously on my sprightly daffodils. It lands in our new bird bath, the one we had to buy when last week’s hailstorm put three cracks in the heated bowl before knocking it to the ground. Going out to refill it, I found that, like many of my arguments, it no longer holds water.
Our neighbors across the street have a tree that becomes a glorious white cloud for a week or so every spring. I’m not sure if it’s a Russian Olive or some kind of Magnolia, but it’s a sight to behold. Except for the springs when Mother Nature sends a wet, windy storm just as the flowers burst into bloom, as happened last night. Yet there it is, still decked out in its finery, despite the storm and this morning’s flurry of flakes. Way to go, tree.
The crab apple in our back yard is still getting organized for its own annual show. Usually it’s mid-May by the time it knocks itself out with a zillion spectacular pink flowers. It’s so pretty, one of my neighbors posted its photo on his Facebook page last year, commenting: “The view from my deck.” Aww. I’d say “thanks,” but it was planted long ago. All I do is enjoy it and trim off the occasional errant limb.
Despite my best efforts to kill them off, we still have a few bulbs that burrow through the frozen tundra along the south side of our house every year. We hardly ever go over there, since we come straight from the garage to the back door. But every February, I see my neighbors’ daffodils shoot up way too early. I have to fight off the urge to buy one of those Styrofoam rose cones to cover them up; that’s how much I worry about them. “What are you DOING?” I want to yell at these overeager perennials. “Don’t you know it’s still WINTER? Go back to sleep!”
But they persist, every year. All too often, I see them come up, bloom cheerfully, and then keel over in a late-winter gale. Then I remember to check my own. Usually, they fare a little better. Two clumps of daffodils, four varied kinds of tulips, some alarmingly large peonies, and maybe a few others I’ve forgotten. It’s a long winter, and I don’t mind being surprised.
When my kids and I moved into our first house in Dubuque – the first house I’d ever bought all by myself – the sellers told us to keep an eye out for all sorts of spring surprises. Boy, they weren’t kidding. From the miniature Siberian irises to the peonies in four colors, the lilies of the valley and roses, real roses, that yard was filled with flowers. I knew a little about raising them, so most of them survived, though not, I must report, the roses. The lilies of the valley took me back to my childhood home, but try as I might to bring some with me to my new house on Wood Street, I found them impossible to transplant. I did, however, manage to start a bleeding heart that has survived a few years, so far.
Sometimes I fantasize about having someone – anyone – build me a raised bed in which I can grow flowers. Just flowers. Speaking from experience, vegetables are too much work. If they don’t grow, if they get aphids or fungus or Japanese beetles or some voodoo curse – then you get nothing to eat. If they do grow, you get too many tomatoes or green peppers all at once, and you either have to eat ratatouille for a month or learn to can. Been there, done that, and I don’t care to do it again. And don’t even talk to me about zucchini. I love fresh vegetables, but isn’t that what farmers’ markets are for?
No, what I want is a cutting garden, a place I can walk out to, armed with scissors and a basket and wearing a charming sun hat, to choose an array of blooms for the dining room table – some zinnias, a few daisies, an armload of purple cone flowers. That’s all the farming I want to do.
As it is, our yard is no arboretum. You could drive by and not even notice the few plantings we do have. I sort of gave up one year and put in bushes – two kinds! – along the south side, because I was tired of weeding and trying to make the space look nice during the three seasons when the spring flowers were not in bloom. In the process, we lost quite a few of those bulbs, especially after we covered the dirt with plastic and mulch. When you work like mad to keep the weeds out, it’s kind of hard not to keep the nice plants out, too.
Last year, in fact, my daughter was over when I decided to check for spring shoots. I was exclaiming over tulip leaves coming up when Allison suddenly said “Mo-om,” stretching it into two syllables the way only one’s offspring can. She’d spotted something under the plastic, straining to get out. I fetched some scissors and tore it away, revealing a clump of daffodil shoots, misshapen from bumping their heads against the resistant barrier.
After only a few days, they straightened up, and within weeks they’d grown a foot and blossomed like little suns. Spring is persistent, I assure myself, looking out at this April snow. It may seem to be dragging its feet this year, but it will get here, and it will be worth the wait.