Gardening 101

Changes in the Garden and in Life


Dread – I’m writing this article and I am full of dread. It was an exceptionally warm winter so many of the plants began putting out new growth in January when the weather was absolutely soupy. For the first time ever, I began to worry that perhaps the lilies, hostas, and peonies weren’t going to get enough chill hours to perform well this spring.

Judging from the photos I took of the garden in March and April of 2019, many plants today are six weeks ahead of schedule. The zoysia grass that should turn green in May is now changing color. Hostas that reappear in late April or early May have sprung forth. The viburnums that dominate the landscape in late April are blooming early.

The Polygonatums have fully emerged while the calla lilies are well on their way. Ordinarily, I would be rejoicing that spring is actually here on the first day of spring but we aren’t living in ordinary times. Last summer was hotter than the summer before, while last October – usually a refreshing month – was unbearable.

The lack of rain last summer didn’t help. My area of Chapel Hill went nine weeks with nary a drop, whereas the other side of Franklin Street received periodic drenchings. I began to take the state of nonexistent rain personally. Gardeners can handle the hot summers if they periodically experience some rain. Is this, I ask, nature’s revenge?

My Japanese maples are in full bloom whereas they should still be bare. The leaves on other hardwoods are emerging – in March! The roses are now in full growth, competing with the Camellia japonicas that should be holding center stage in March.

Other questions besides the obvious “What is happening?” plague me. The two fat fatsias in pots by the front door have to be released from their prison. Fatsias only fare well in the pots for two years before they start to get pale and listless because their roots cannot move. Yet, dare I go to the nursery to purchase two new adolescent fatsias to take their place?

I’m a member of that unwished-for category that has greater susceptibility to this new coronavirus. Will I emerge in one piece? In fact, will I ever see a nursery again? Will the nurseries be able to continue when there is little income during the vital six weeks that should sustain them for the remainder of the year? I worry about them while I worry about me.

I have three Crinums ‘Super Ellen’. Generally, they wait to remind me that they are still alive in April. This year, they grew a good four inches in January, only to be zapped by a freeze. Trying again, they reemerged in February until a cold snap stopped them in their tracks. Now they are definitely saying, “This time it’s for sure.”

Usually, I love spring but I find this spring is filled with apprehension. Will the summer be bearable? Will there be an occasional cloudburst? Is our new late April now coming in early March? Will my garden centers survive?

But then I drive to Durham to deliver toilet paper to a friend. I’m not sure I ever had to think of delivering this item to anyone. I look around me: the redbuds are spectacular this spring. The dogwoods are springing out. And I think to myself, is there anything lovelier than a North Carolina spring? Nature turns my feeling of dread to one of thankfulness.

In this time of gloom and doom, part of me is grateful that we are experiencing a North Carolina spring early. It reminds us that there is life, that there is still hope left. Summer will be hot as it always is. Rain might be spotty but we gardeners always worry about rain. Fall will return – we just don’t know when.

Just as we cannot read the future, let’s dwell in the present. Perhaps our early spring is nature’s gift to us in this time of dread.

After joining the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners in 2003, Kit Flynn now has emeritus status. She writes gardening articles for the Durham County Extension Master Gardener newsletter, an online magazine “Senior Correspondent,” and “The Absentee Gardeners” column for “The Blowing Rocket” with Lise Jenkins.

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