Thursday, April 1, 2010

The gardening season has begun, but there’s a dark little thought in the back of my mind.

After one of the hardest winters in recent memory, we are enjoying 70 degree weather in early April!

Usually the sight of the first little purple crocus brings tears to my eyes but this year was something special. And despite all the ice and snow I didn’t lose any more plants than usual—just a few ancient rhododendrons that had been looking sickly for the past few years .

One of the really fun things about gardening is the element of surprise: we never know which plants will survive the winter and we ever know when the show will begin. (According to my gardening records the appearance of the first crocus can vary by up to 2 and half weeks.)

But there is one constant. The crocuses always follow the snowdrops, the early daffodils follow the crocuses, then the scilla, hyacinth, the early tulips, mid and late seasons tulips, the alliums, the irises. The succession of bloom never changes. For reasons, I can’t quite explain I find this very gratifying.

The flowering shrubs have their own invariable sequence: witch hazel in February, followed by winter honeysuckle (the aptly named lonicera fragrantissima), pieris in mid March; forsythia, quince and early rhododendrons in late March: magnolia and cherry trees in early April; the explosion of azaleas and the over- powering fragrance of lilacs in late April; the rhododendron and tree peonies in May, the mountain laurel, peonies, and roses in early June.

Will this predictable succession of bloom be upended by climate change? There might be some gaps in this amazing sequence of bloom but the sequence would remain, wouldn’t it?

Since the scientific literature on climate change is way above my reading level, and since at my age it is unlikely I will be around for any really dramatic changes, I haven’t made much of an effort to try to sort it all out.

Yet fear of what climate change might do to the beauty of my little patch of earth is in the back of my mind. (I’m convinced there is no place on earth more beautiful than the Delaware valley in Spring! We’re the southernmost zone for many northern plants and the northernmost zone for many southern plants—the variety is astonishing.)

I don’t brood about the impact of climate change all that often. Usually I am happy just playing in the dirt, but sometimes the thought surfaces: Just how fragile is all of this????


  1. Exceedingly fragile and, therefore, all the more beautiful. Thanks for the pictures and mental images. I've never seen your valley, but it sounds a little like heaven at this time of year.

  2. These are lovely photos, Karen. One of my aged Germantown neighbors taught me that cherry trees bloom around the first day of spring, lilacs on Mother's day, and peonies on Memorial day, and those are great dates to look forward to. Your gorgeous garden is perhaps one small way of caretaking our fragile system, and as a side benefit your friends can enjoy seductive visual and olfactory beauty!

  3. Thanks, Reni. My garden is a little raggedy but as one of my neighbors said—-relax, this is not Longwood Gardens.

    Nance, some spring you should try to visit the Delaware Valley—-it has some of the great gardens of the world—Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, Chanticleer, Morris Arboreteum!

  4. I haven't been to Winterthur or Chanticleer yet (how did that happen?) so your note's a welcome reminder, Karen.

  5. Thank you Thank you Thank you.... I'm wandering your landscape with you right now. The desert southwest is blooming, but you are right -- there is nothing like your springtime. Heaven indeed.

    I'd add the lilies in July and August after the roses in June. My Marin courtyard and its 10' stalks of stargazers is my fondest memory of that garden.

  6. I have a brown thumb! But oh how I admire women who's like having a magic wand. And I live in the desert...I love it here in the spring.

  7. Ashleigh, yes oriental lilies are magical-—the stars of my mid-summer garden.

    And Mary, you have those amazing desert skies. Each landscape has its gifts.