The air has changed from its brittle, winter cloak. There is a softening. And the light has definitely returned, even on our incessantly cloudy days. It is indeed safe to sing out the cliché: “Spring is in the air.”

We revel in the brief hours of sunshine, much as we do later in the year on those first days of summer heat. We are reconnecting to the outer world, throwing off our hibernation tendencies. It is exhilarating to feel in our bones the resurgence of renewal.

The garden is challenging us once again. The early species crocus have thrown out their little, bristly shoots, with some showing off their first sunshine-yellow blooms. The snowdrops are pure whiteness. 

The Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis) has finally, this year, decided to bloom last week. There have been years when their first blooms occurred in early December. What is different? Is it less baking sunshine due to more shade from the surrounding trees? Do they need to be lifted and divided? Was it too cool last summer? 

Yes, the garden always offers us many conundrums to ponder upon.

 

Sowing the seeds

Then there are the stacks of seed packets waiting to be attended to. The sweet peas and the early snow peas can now be directly sowed into the ground. It still remains surprising to me that these seeds do not rot away in the cold, dank soil. It takes a complete leap of faith every year for me to get them into the ground in February. 

Most of the other seeds will be sown indoors in a few days or weeks or sown directly into the ground during March, April or May. 

While I don’t always follow my best intentions, I have found that a big planting-time chart has helped with getting the maximum successes out of my seed packets. I don’t mean those helpful planting charts that are published on-line or in garden books. Rather, I mean a chart that reflects your busy schedule. Yes, we know that ‘xyz’ needs to be planted mid-April, but on my planting chart, I stake out a day or two and, with a bright-red, wide-stroke marker, I add those days to my chart. 

Then there can be little procrastination, and I can clearly show my schedule to those well-meaning others who may be infringing on my time. Consider it to be your doctor or dentist appointment, or the PTA meeting, or the Board meeting. Yes, one might or could call it “extreme” gardening, but those seedlings, when sprouted, only re-enforce your cleverness at getting them under way this season.

One other brief bit of insight: Look ahead at the to-do lists that are published showing the monthly garden activities. Some of the “chores” listed can, in fact, be done sooner, rather than later. Of course, there is a wonderful smugness that comes from getting ahead of the game. However, do remember that the garden will bring you to your knees and teach you humility, no matter how great you perceive your ingenuity.

 

Our icon: the tree

Hopefully, our notes from previous years — and especially last year — will guide us toward appropriate choices for further plantings. 

Where are the bare spots? Where are the overgrown, ugly, need-to-replace shrubs? Should we add more trees? 

To the last question, I always say yes. For me, the trees in my garden are my soulmates. They persist, in spite of neighbors who, at times, have brutalized them. They steadfastly renew themselves after being pummeled or severely injured by storms.

One year, my mighty Madrone tree tore itself apart and, in the process, also wiped out one-third of a mighty red maple. They both showed great discretion by not injuring anyone or any structures. 

That same year, my husband injured some of his limbs, and I suffered the indignities of some surgeries. Those two trees became icons out in the garden for me: Yes, we were injured, as the trees had been, but the trees were still standing tall and just a little bit reconfigured. We could do the same.

Finally, I have found a book about trees that speaks my thoughts and ruminations so eloquently: “The Power of Trees,” by Gretchen C. Daily, with photographs by Charles J. Katz Jr. This book is a quiet and profound paean to the evolution, impact and wonder of trees. The photographs are from Katz’s lifelong immersion in the Skagit River region in Washington state. This short, intense book exudes its labor of love.

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