The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size. ~Gertrude S. Wister
Winter comes and goes these days. February has embraced all of the seasons in a few short weeks, from bitter winter to balmy summer. Earlier in the month, January’s snow melted into the ground and a thick fog rose overnight, transforming the woodland into a mysterious world of gray and black.
Later, the sun appeared and burned away the blanket of fog, revealing the bold architecture of oak trees stark against a bright blue sky. (Click on any photo to enlarge)
Bench in fog
Sun touching the foggy garden
Oak trees against February sky
Temperatures continued to warm last week until many early flowers burst into full bloom while shrubs and trees began to swell with buds and leaves. The black and white and gray of winter was suddenly sparked with color.
Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’
Tommy crocus (Crocus tommasinianus)
White forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum)
More hellebore (Helleborus orientalis) flowers open each day, a few weeks earlier than usual. Many have self-seeded and spread under trees and shrubs; a few are named varieties. A favorite is the almost black double flowered ‘Onyx Odyssey’. The unusual green flowers and uniquely patterned foliage of the fetid hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) punctuate the edge of the woodlands.
Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle … a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream. ~ Barbara Winkler
Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. ~Camus
Somehow, summer slipped by without me and now that I’ve returned to the garden, I find myself in a new season, deep in autumn’s glory. The oak and maple leaves are at their height of color, still clinging to their branches and rustling in the wind that brought November with it this morning. What a rich season filled with a touch of nostalgia for the flower-filled summer that was and a touch of sadness for the stark and cold winter to come.
I missed my garden this summer. Most of my attention was on a major renovation in the kitchen, followed by a nasty flood in the basement brought on by a series of torrential rains. Instead of a quiet summer tending the garden, I lived in a noisy dusty house answering dozens of questions a day from hard-working men who were there to make it beautiful and functional again. We are still putting the last few displaced items away but how wonderful it feels to return to the rake and the clippers and reclaim the last lovely days of the garden season.
In spite of months of construction chaos in the house, I stole a moment here and there to enjoy the garden and those memories inspire me as I weed and prune and prepare the garden for its long winter’s nap. The owls have been hooting in the early morning hours and the bluejays leave me a feather now and then as if to remind me that life goes on in all seasons.
“This is the only bird whose note affects me like music. It lifts and exhilarates me. It is inspiring. It changes all hours to an eternal morning.” ~Henry David Thoreau
This year, a wood thrush has come to live in our woods. I knew its song immediately, the distinctive two part harmony it sings through its Y-shaped syrinx (voice box). It is an elusive woodland bird that is related to the robin (and sometimes called a wood robin), but seldom seen – I have yet to spot him. His song goes on each day from pre-dawn to early evening and accompanies my every move in the garden, a lovely soundtrack to my days. Here is a clip of his song that I captured a few mornings ago.
Oh, it’s a long long while from May to December,
But the days grow short when you reach September. ~lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, fromSeptember Song
Sweet Autumn Clematis
Those long summer evenings are gone, borne away on the boom and crack of violent thunderstorms. Perhaps a few more warm nights remain, filled with the summer songs of cicadas and frogs, but the weather is quickly changing to the cool short days of fall. It has been an odd summer – weather spinning from torrential rains and steamy days to the occasional stretch of dry sunny weather. Now the garden is filled with the sunny blooms of goldenrod and black-eyed susan; the last crop of cherry tomatoes glisten in shiny red cascades, and a giant cloud of fragrant white stars covers the sweet autumn clematis climbing up the fence and into the trees. All the creatures are busy filling their larders against the coming winter, from spiders bundling up yellow jackets caught in their webs to squirrels and chipmunks gathering acorns under the oak trees. The hummingbirds and most of the butterflies have headed south and flying V’s of geese are starting to follow them. Next week, the autumn solstice returns and summer will be truly gone.
Oh what a beautiful morning,
Oh what a beautiful day,
I’ve got a wonderful feeling,
Everything’s going my way. ~lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, from “Oklahoma!”
I’ve spent the early hours of the past few mornings in the garden, with the moments between weeding and planting spent enjoying the sparkle of early morning light. The woods are showing a soft green blush of unfurling leaves as the garden begins its April bloom cycle. Yesterday morning a golden shimmer of light reflected on dewy flowers; this morning the almost full moon still hung in the morning sky while the birds sang their dawn chorus. I couldn’t help myself – I broke into song with them. “Oh What a Beautiful Morning!” is a personal favorite of mine and it seemed so descriptive of the moment. “All the sounds of the earth are like music” – who knew Oscar was so poetic?
Here are a few images from the late April garden. Enjoy!