Saturday, February 2, 2013

Early Spring? Yes, Hazel Said So

My social media feeds were all chattering Saturday morning with the news that Punxsutawney Phil, that pampered Pennsylvanian prognosticator, had predicted an early spring. I hadn't yet opened the curtains to peer outside, to assess whether the garden had heard the news, allowing myself a few moments of gardener's lust before remembering the previous night's forecast of early-morning snow.

The chill of the floor under my bare feet betrayed winter's continued presence before I passed my first glimpse to the outdoors, the vertical row of windows in our entry hallway. Bright white streamed through the small panes. That could only mean one thing at this hour; the meteorologist for once this winter shed the label of tease. We finally had snow after many a false promise.

If spring hadn't arrived, we received the next best thing — an insulating albeit thin blanket of snow.




Snow gathered in the crown of the Nepeta clump that softens the driveway edge. Grey foliage, a ghost of its former self, still carries the spicy aroma that makes this corner of the garden one of my favorite places to linger. While clearing the driveway later in the afternoon, my plow shovel, a less than delicate monster of an implement, wafted the scent of catmint into the cold air.


The silhouette of a groundcover rose floated low over the new snow, still carrying the remnants of last year's final blooms. This variety (Flower Carpet®) doesn't form hips of any significance; this floral vestige is more testament to my lack of fall cleanup than a conscious pardon of the pruners. We don't often hear of the foliage qualities of roses, but their persistent leaves give a nice change of pace in the winter forest of sticks and bones.



The snow measured a couple of inches in places, barely a dusting in others. The wind renders the clouds inconsistent artists. Our prized blue spruce, a five-year-old with potential when we wrestled it out of our pickup into its planting hole a decade ago, stood snow-sugared at the northern end of our front border. I'll be removing and rearranging most of this garden in spring in my never-ending quest to remove turf, but Al (our nickname for Picea pungens 'Fat Albert') will remain as both sentry and anchor.


White underfoot gave definition to the patchwork of twigs, seedheads and trunks that comprise the driveway border in winter. Those with a need for clean lines and space between plants may see chaos instead of art in my garden, but Mother Nature and I have an agreement. I buy the plants; she supplies the aesthetic.


What is left of a bird's nest dangled from the rose trellis on the front of the house. Perhaps its former inhabitant was mimicking me. Save for some pruning of over-ambitious canes, I could be sued for neglect and abandonment of the climbing rose that weaves itself through the aging wooden grid. One of the few plants that remain from the garden we inherited on purchase, this rose is now hidden behind three 'Emerald Green' arborvitae. The ambitious gardener in me plans to replace the rose and trellis this year; an espaliered Magnolia currently floats in the ether of my dreams.



A robin, fluffed to comic proportions for warmth, perched on the shallow eaves above our bedroom windows. The groundhog was right! Spring is on the way! Then I remembered; over the past few winters robins have shared our neighborhood with the sparrows and cardinals. A sign of a changing climate or just the result of the increasing abundance of winter fruit sources in our maturing subdivision, the robins are welcome neighbors. This particular robin seemed unfazed by my slow approach, camera raised to capture him taking a drink from the snowmelt on the roof. Not exactly a warm cup o' joe on a cold winter's day, but being finicky is gravy for the comfortable.



As I completed my trail of footprints in the snow, I knew where I could find corroboration or contradiction with the fortune-telling groundhog. The witch hazel. She is the arbiter of winter's end. She is my source of hope, my sensei of patience, my reminder that true beauty sometimes unveils itself with agonizing lethargy.

Hazel — yes, I name a lot of my plants — Hazel may agree with Phil this year. During a quick warm snap last week, she stretched a few of her bright orange tendrils out but halted the march toward spring when frigid air soon followed. On Groundhog Day, Hazel is undeniably coming out of her winter den. She now glows with a rusty hue, even from a distance.

The race toward an early spring has begun. How do I know? Hazel said so.

13 comments:

  1. Beautiful pictures and dramatic prose adorn this blog.
    Something to ponder,Is it possible that in years to come maybe this "mysterious, mid western" witch hazel can help us have our own culture for predicting an early spring? Who knows generations to come will have their own witch hazel festival akin to Pennsylvanian Phil.
    Albert Einstein - "If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."

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    1. Thanks, Charu. The beauty of the witch hazel is that we can't warm her out of a burrow on a given day.

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  2. Thank you, Charu, for the kind words.

    I believe that we should all have our own messengers, the ones that speak best to us. Plus, the crowds would trample my garden. ;)

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  3. Nice post Christopher. I love to walk around my garden in the winter time too, especially when it is snow covered. Big flakes falling from the sky today. My hazel is still holding tight.

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    1. I haven't gotten out into the garden nearly enough this winter. We've had so little precipitation, the brown was depressing.

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  4. Lovely and hopeful! Thank you! You're making me want to walk my grounds with camera in hand.

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    1. Thank you, my friend. Don't forget about that camera. You've got a beautiful eye.

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  5. Striking photos and prose once again. Thank you. I forget about looking at most of my garden in the winter. You remind me that I must (especially my H. vernalis 'Christmas Cheer' although I have little hope it thinks it's spring in Madison. I'd be delighted to give you some of our snow!

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    1. We finally got some. I'm blaming (crediting?) you.

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  6. Hi Christopher,

    I discovered your site via Twitter recently: great pics and content! I'm a Punxsutawney Phil disciple as well (South central Pennsylvania/Zone 6). Let's hope for an early spring. I'm tiring of winter.

    Best,

    John

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    1. Thanks, John. Looks like winter is holding on tooth and nail across the county this week.

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