Reckless Abandon

It has been much too warm here in the Southeast Piedmont – except when it is too cold. Rains have been generous – except when the clouds are nowhere to be seen. As a gardener, I track weather forecasts closely, but that is not doing me much good these days. I have watched hourly forecasts change within the forecasted hour. It seems no one is quite certain what to expect from Mother Nature anymore.

Honeybees are busily visiting Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’ flowers.

We humans are the cause, of course. So thoroughly have we disrupted patterns of ocean and air that the planet oscillates more wildly with each passing month. Flora and fauna work hard to adapt and survive. Insects have wakened at least six weeks ahead of schedule here. Waters of creek and wetland have warmed. Spring peepers and chorus frogs sing lustily day and night, and the American toads joined the chorus weeks ago – at least six weeks ahead of their “normal” time.

Wood ducks are pairing off and displaying courtship behavior.

It seems to me that birds are also pushing up their schedules. Plumage is brightening, territorial displays abound. Procreative dances are well underway.

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ achieved peak bloom this week — about three weeks ahead of previous years.

Landscape flowers, especially the ornamental non-natives that adorn most yards, are in full, glorious bloom. Daffodils nod their yellow heads in strong south winds. Snowdrops and crocuses have nearly finished their bloom times. The non-native deciduous magnolias in my yard are either blooming or about to bloom – again, at least a month ahead of previous years.

All seem to have thrown caution aside, embracing the warm air as a sign that spring has arrived. Humans, too, are giddy in the warm air – donning shorts and t-shirts, picnicking in parks, working on early tans beneath the strengthening light of the sun.

Planted ten years ago, native Hamamelis vernalis ‘Amethyst’ is in full bloom — this plant’s “normal” time.

Those paying close attention may notice that winter has not ushered us reliably into spring just yet. About once a week here, night-time temperatures still dip into the mid-twenties – before they surge back into the fifties and sixties for five or six days – before they dip again. No matter what your local big box garden center may be trying to sell you, I beg you, do not try to plant summer vegetables or flowers in your gardens or planter boxes yet. They may not die outright, but they will never thrive.

In my greenhouse, spring vegetable seedlings are just emerging. Will my normal planting schedule doom these plants to an early demise by summer-like heat?

Long-range weather forecasts are hinting at a major disruption of polar air that will send it all downhill into the continental United States. Some models believe this surge of arctic air may be quite dramatic – and prolonged.

I worry that the reckless abandonment of respect for winter cold will result in freeze-killed tender vegetation, disappearance of insects currently feeding frogs and birds, and frozen/starved chicks in nests built too soon. I pray I’ll be proven wrong.

For the first time this year, Amethyst Witch Hazel dropped its leaves as the flowers peaked, providing a dramatic display of color in the winter landscape.

For now, I walk our five acres, admiring precocious blooms while urging leaf buds to remain tightly shut at least until mid-March. I caution birds and frogs to delay egg-laying until air remains consistently warm.

But reckless abandon has killed caution. No one is listening to a plant-obsessed white-haired woman muttering to trees and birds.

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  1. #1 by Julie Higgie on February 19, 2023 - 8:21 pm

    You and I share the same fear. Everything is blooming too early, unfortunately. I hope my bluebird parents are able to warmly shelter their babies this spring because I’ve been watching them settle into area nest boxes built for them.

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on February 19, 2023 - 10:02 pm

      Hi, Julie! My bluebirds have been discussing nest box options, but I don’t think they’ve moved in yet. At least, I hope not. Fingers crossed for a kind and early spring!

  2. #3 by Donna Deal on February 20, 2023 - 7:55 am

    I’m with you! I’ve gotten whiplash from the changes in the forecast, and I’m going around muttering to myself, “Should that be blooming already?” I swear the birds have started building nests, and it feels a month early.
    I imagine we’ll all be shocked by a March cold spell. If not, Spring is here!

    • #4 by piedmontgardener on February 20, 2023 - 8:15 am

      Hi, Donna! Fingers crossed that Winter really is going to let us off easy this year.

  3. #5 by Marcia E. Herman-Giddens on February 21, 2023 - 7:41 am

    Beautifully written, as usual. I agree entirely. Hard to enjoy it all when we know what the cause is.

    • #6 by piedmontgardener on February 21, 2023 - 8:27 am

      Thanks, Marcia. All I know to do is to appreciate the beautiful moments now while continuing to work for a beautiful future any way we can.

  4. #8 by James on February 28, 2023 - 10:41 pm

    Always love your well spoken outlook and wisdom. Hope things manage to work out in spite of being out of control and stepping into the danger zone. I just finally got the tomato seeds into flats last weekend.. I discovered TWO shoe boxes of assorted, shall we say Vintage, vegetable and flower seeds down in the garage. I won’t embarrass myself and share the dates of those packs. I have really got to get it together at Some Point. Happy premature Spring and Best Wishes as always, James

    • #9 by piedmontgardener on March 1, 2023 - 6:48 am

      Hello, James! It’s nice to hear from you. Two winters ago, I heard a noise in a closet and discovered a mouse dining on old seeds that I had not stored properly. This was finally the incentive I needed to begin taking better care of unused seeds. Many of them will germinate several years or more after acquired if they are stored properly, as I’m sure you know. It is hard to be organized about such things when we are busy creating and maintaining our gardens, I know! Thanks for stopping by.

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