Discoveries Await in the Garden

By Michael Leach

As the incredible NASA rover seeks signs of extinct life on Mars, I don jacket, gloves and boots to discover life in the garden.

My quest lacks any scientific or other significance, but it’s exciting for me. To behold snowdrop blossoms, crocus shoots and swelling magnolia buds fires hope.

In this part of the Midwest, winter sets no records (so far). Still it’s been a trial. Months of always cold, mostly gray weather preceding a snowy mostly subfreezing February. As the snow pack melts away, daily excursions across the backyard wasteland produce a harvest of sightings. 

Just as NASA chose a landing site rich in potential for discovery, I too, know where to search. My eyes carefully scan little warm places, microclimates where the scant winter sun strikes longest and protected areas near the house.

In mid-January the snowdrops beside the walk near the backdoor were opening. As the piles of snow melted in late February, there they stood as if nothing happened. Deliberately planting such tiny wonders in places easily seen from the warmth of indoors enhances the show (no jacket, gloves and boots are needed to see them). I also plant clumps of these early birds elsewhere in the garden to enliven forays into the brown world of wintery death and dormancy.

More than green awaits. Sound is back.

Water trickles into the roof gutters overhead as the snow mass melts. Occasionally crystal icicles shatter as they plunge from rooftop glaciers. Little streams, once muted by an ice slab, babble again.

The resident male cardinal, who began singing pretty regularly about Valentine’s Day, is joined by other birds almost every morning.

Even before melting commenced and birds chirped, I brushed snow from the glass top of the tiny cold frame to speed warming. I cleared weeds and debris from this solar-heated grow box in January, and have been looking for weed seeds sprouting at least once a week since. Germinating weed seeds will  indicate it’s warm enough under glass to plant cold tolerant greens for a jump on the growing season.

Doesn’t that sound hopeful — growing season?

Adjusting to Spring Time

Snowdrops, as their name implies, aren’t afraid of being among the first blooms of the year.

By Michael Leach

My garden spends months waiting to exhale into green tips and tiny blossoms. This breath of life is held captive all winter beneath a crust of cold, wet soil, dull brown leaves and leaden clouds.

Despite the seeming dormancy, daffodils, crocus, snowdrops and other early bloomers have little patience with this situation. They make the best of it for weeks, by growing roots. But eventually the time comes to send up  pinpoints of green. Timid at first, they grow bolder in the warmer, longer days. 

Bees enjoy the early flowers of snow crocus, too.

More and more plants join them. With this breath of life called spring, the earth is transformed, almost as we watch, into green everywhere, swelling flower buds, blossoms opening. In just a few weeks, this part of the Midwest will be filled with a chartreuse haze, softer than a whisper, that seems to hover over every branch and twig. Hillsides become fluffy, pale green clouds, accented with tufts of redbud and dogwood flowers. 

Daffodils push their way through the cold soil and old leaves. Flowers will soon appear.

Even as those first tiny shoots begin sticking it to winter’s backside, cardinals sing again in early morning. They are probably only marking territory, but I prefer to think they’re heralding the coming spring.

Redwing blackbirds do the same thing, singing brightly. Spring is coming, along with those migrating birds. True, bitter winds, snow and ice can make an appearance anytime in March — usually after a couple of balmy days — but their return is short lived. No wonder birds sing with hope.

Adding to the effect, is a powerful artificial construct — daylight savings time returns not long after the redwings.

There are downsides to this. One, the inevitable poor man’s jet lag of getting the body adjusted to a new time zone — without leaving home to visit a different place. And for a few weeks, morning coffee will revert to waiting for signs of dawn, instead of marveling at the play of light on the white sycamore branches. Evening, however, suddenly grows longer, hinting at summertime.

This gift of evening light from the government could mean a bit of weeding after supper. Or I could gaze at the charming, ever-changing scene. The latter choice is wisest, for spring vanishes almost as quickly as the last note of a cardinal’s cheery trill.

Garden Topics

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