My garden never ceases to amaze me. There is a life here, amongst the trees and shrubs and earth, that seems to be watching out for me.
Just when I am feeling a bit drawn out about summer, deadheading the faded daylily blossoms for the umpteenth time, the bright, purple-blue chalices of autumn crocus emerge from bare earth to surprise me. It’s not that I had forgotten planting them here along the edges of an island bed in the lawn, but the business of my daily chores and the planning for new ideas had pushed them to the back of my mind.
The autumn crocus may come on a sunny, late summer afternoon, but their arrival signals dramatic changes in the weather ahead. There are other signs of impending change that are so subtle I only recognize them when their metamorphosis is almost complete and they no longer fit with the season at hand. The leaf-green berries on the stalks of Arum italicum “Picturm” must have turned scarlet red on a day I wasn’t looking. Today they stand out in the garden as vibrant as a cluster of ripe, red cherries. On my morning garden walk, new spider webs cross the pathway, alight with morning dew.
One of the reasons I love to garden in Washington is the distinct seasonal weather.
Having lived and traveled around the United States and the world, I know that our seasons are anything but severe. However, they are distinct in the sense that winter is cold, with the lowest temperatures of the year, and summer is dry and hot, even if that hot trend seldom arrives until well past the Fourth of July. The warmth of spring feels different from the heat of summer and different plants are at their best in specific seasons.
Here, we can have something in bloom, fruit or berry 12 months out of the year.
According to a weather journal that I have been keeping for the past 15 years, sometime in the month of February, in the midst of miserable winter, we can expect as much as two weeks of clear, pre-spring sunshine. In January, I remind myself that there is an upcoming respite and occasionally share this information when I hear someone complaining about the interminable winter.
There are those who are so affected by the low cloud cover of midwinter that they glower at this information, lowering their heads and glaring at me over reading glasses as if to say, “You have taken this cheerful gardener thing too far, haven’t you!” This always makes me want to smile and answer, “Yes, yes I have!”
Even the most normal, well-rounded human beings feel out of kilter at certain times in their lives. I honestly believe that gardening has helped me weather a few of these personal storms. It’s as if, while digging in the soil, we unearth secrets about ourselves that ground us to the rest of the life we live.
Planting a tree makes me a veritable part of this world. My actions do have an effect. I pick up a worm and move him out of danger’s way when I am weeding, taking a moment to care for another living being. Windstorms are often followed by the most beautiful sunsets.
On a recent rainy afternoon I worked under cover in the barn. I have a collection of small trees and shrubs in various styles of planters that I keep pruned for shape and size. Some of these plants have grown quite mature in their small pots. I do not like to call them bonsai or penjing, as I know the depth of training and skill involved in the Japanese and Chinese artforms. Mine are more like miniature landscapes. In one, the tiniest viola had grown up into a maple sapling no taller than 10 inches. For just a moment, from close up and kneeling on the ground, it looked exactly like a flowering vine climbing up through a mature Japanese maple tree.
Soon, the rain will return and my lawn will revert to a deep green after just a few showers. I did not have to pick up the grass clippings once this year, instead keeping the lawn to a specific height and letting the cut grass recycle as a natural mulch and fertilizer. The natural process works. The gardener knows that spring will follow winter, and then summer will come and once again, fall. I don’t think anything moves me the way a sunny autumn day does, especially a sunny day following a chilly night. What could follow next but the changing of the autumn leaves?
Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com.