Finally! With just a few warm days, crocus blooms are popping open in a rush to greet the returning sun. Green spears of wild woodlings pepper thawed ground, a few tiny violet leaves are just beginning to unfold and hellebore buds are blushing deep pink under leaves that have gotten scraggily from the unaccustomed harsh winter. There is a feeling of delicious anticipation in the woods gardens as I venture out to soak up some sun and explore what’s coming up, hoping there have not been too many losses.
It’s too early to begin much of any spring clean-up. I’m sure ol’ Winter still has a few more icy chest-beatings to show off before it admits defeat. It’s hard to keep my hands off, but I know I have to satisfy myself with picking up fallen branches and clearing paths again, piling raked-up leaves on beds where winter winds have scoured them bare; to keep hostas from coming up too soon as the sun warms the earth. A pond-cleaning can be done, and the rock garden needs attention. Sedums and sempervivums can withstand a lot of cold so it‘s safe to uncover them.
Fat buds are swelling already on the lilacs. I am always surprised to see them so early, but they are hardy and strong, undaunted by even this past winter. I do worry about the fates of some plants I consider to be “delicate”, as the cold was so deep and so long, but this garden is a survivor.
It is not a young garden. Begun in the middle of the last century, it was the love-labor of a woman who surrounded her one-room frame house with flowers, dreams of English gardens shining in her eyes. I know this because I have read the same books in the library that she must have, recognizing combinations of plants that she recreated from those pages in her own garden. There are still epimediums, euphorbias, tiger lilies, lily of the valley, hardy geraniums, sweeps of grape hyacinths, scores of pale blue, grape-soda scented irises and a glory of daffodils and daylilies, all going strong after more than 60 years. She planted a red dogwood, white lilacs, redbuds, a magnolia soulangeana, and a tulip poplar that now towers to nearly a hundred feet. A knotty, gnarled old smoke tree that must have been young a half-century ago now always looks as if it’s on its last year; but miraculously it springs into leaf and bloom each spring, to our continual amazement.
Hundreds of surprise lilies have been transplanted everywhere from a small group that were growing in a fence corner, hidden under a wild tangle of autumn clematis. A wisteria once clamored to the top of a long-dead oak; we thought it was gone along with its host, but it shot up from the roots and scrambled up and over our stone wall. It took almost 15 years to bloom again.
Surprises continue to appear; two years ago after digging up a corner by the wall to plant a holly tree, hollyhocks sprung up, apparently from seed that had lain fallow in the ground until they were brought to the surface and germinated. A neighbor who has lived here all her life told me hollyhocks always used to grow there and she could see them from her house blooming above the top of the wall.
A vegetable garden and an orchard grew where the woods are today. The last of the old apple trees fell in a storm three years after we moved here, but its legacy lived on; for years morel mushrooms grew from the decaying roots.
The lady was a lover of rocks like me. She built the rock house we now live in, studding the walls with seashells and interesting stones. While digging up a neglected corner last year, I uncovered dozens of mineral eggs, calcite crystals, fossils (and a whole jar-full of marbles) tossed around the roots of another deceased oak. The stone wall bordering the south side of the yard is embedded with more shells, bits of jewelry, doll dishes and sundry other curious items. A broken birdbath encrusted with shells was found buried in a flower bed, and is now pieced together around the base of a pot.
I would have enjoyed knowing her. I often wonder what she thinks of her garden now. I miss her, this lady I never had a chance to meet but feel I know so well. We live with her in small ways, every day, for her personality is stamped upon this house and garden as surely as is our own. I’m sure her soul still lives on here. I sometimes imagine I see her, wandering the gardens she loved in her housedress and old gray cardigan. I feel her looking over my shoulder as I plant even more daffodils in the fall and laughing at me as I swear at the long canes of the antique rose that she planted, when the vicious thorns get tangled in my clothes and hair as I try in vain to keep it trimmed back from taking over the entire front yard. I’d rip it out but it has sent its canes high into a redbud tree and is a glorious sight in the spring with clusters of deep pink flowers cascading down over the blue irises that are there by her hand. I think she always knew it would be that way.She would have been a good friend.
"Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow."--Author unknown
Sandy Parrill "Speaking of Gardens" The Joplin Globe, February 23, 2014