The weather outside is still a tad frightful, but the sunshine and the longer daylight this past week seem to have triggered Mother Nature. A pair of bluebirds showed up Saturday morning in our backyard where they explored one of our birdhouses. More bluebirds on Sunday morning flying from another nest box in our front garden, into the woods across the street. But indoors, spring has already arrived.
Towards the end of February a startling fact was reported on the news. January, it turns out, had been the fourth warmest month in the history of the world. How can that be, everyone east of the Mississippi must have gasped?
Snow showers hit the area this week, but the Swiss chard that’s growing under my frost cloths and in a small unheated greenhouse in our backyard just shrugs off the chilly temperatures. I grow several varieties and all of them seem to taste just a little better with the onset of cold weather.
While my back was turned (okay, I was out of town), we got a little frost. I didn’t realize it until I walked around my garden yesterday and discovered that the New Guinea impatiens, coleus and zinnia had collapsed. The dahlias also had gotten zapped. The cannas, however, were still standing tall in their pots, and I’m going to leave them there until the frost makes a repeat performance.
There’s a nip in the air — I wouldn’t yet call it a chill — that prompted me to rummage through the box on the back porch yesterday and bring out the bags of bulbs I will be planting. Some of them maybe even today.
One of the most extraordinary creatures to visit local gardens is the hummingbird. There are several species of hummingbirds in the U.S., but the one most commonly seen east of the Mississippi River is the ruby throat.
It’s the male that sports the ruby-colored collar that glistens in sunlight. The females have a dullish white neck with a few gray spots. The male and female’s wings, back and tail are a dull olive, which appears to sparkle bright green in sunlight.
You know who you are. You’re the gardeners who keep your lawn perfectly edged and weed-free, the ones who maintain an exquisitely proportioned space between plants. You’re the opposite of folks like me whose plants are forever rubbing shoulders with their neighbors and muttering under their breath about garden bullies.
The juxtaposition is a little jarring at first, and then you start to smile. You’re downtown, driving along Lake Shore Drive, the splendor of the city’s sophisticated architecture for a backdrop, and what do you see as you pass directly east of Buckingham Fountain but hundreds and hundreds of giant yellow-flowering sunflowers. A country flower if there ever was one.
It helps to go out and look at your garden every day. After a Saturday morning spent hacking out purple violets with the dandelion weeder because 1) there doesn’t appear to be an organic herbicide on the market that deals with violets and 2) I worry about the after-effects of whatever strong chemical a licensed professional might apply, I decided to catch my breath with a leisurely stroll through the front yard. And there I discovered a treasure — a lovely pendulous apricot-colored brugmansia.
There are a few cyclical events in my life that I look forward to: the first lazy snowflakes, the emergence of a small spring bulb, the fulsome green of spring, my July birthday, and the sudden shocking pink of Aechmea fasciata leaping out of its silver urn.
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The experts looked at the evidence and gave these new plants a thumbs up. You will too.
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I’m not paranoid but it’s out to get me. It’s everywhere. It’s in my life, my dreams, my backyard, my garden.
A comical plant identification flow chart from our columnist, Mike Nowak.