Posts Tagged vernal equinox

The Solace of Spring

Deciduous azalea flower bud

I don’t know if it is just me, but spring’s arrival carries a bittersweet note this year. Human suffering seems more widespread than ever. Mother Earth, too, struggles from the burdens of climate change, pollution, and massive biodiversity loss. This beautiful season of hopeful new beginnings feels heavier than past springs.

Then I step outside into my crazy, mostly wild five-acre yard and my heart begins to sing – softly, as the calls of cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, bluebirds, and woodpeckers reach my ears; louder, as the deafening chorus of spring peepers and cricket frogs (with toad descant accompaniment) kicks into full volume.

The sweet, clean fragrance of witch hazel floats on a northern breeze. Sunny daffodils nod in greeting. Thousands of native bloodroots dance together on a rocky slope overlooking the creek, where quacking mallards and shrieking wood ducks paddle up and down for hours.

Over two inches of rain last week allowed these geese to wade and swim on what is usually dry land.

Five Canada geese have arrived. A small group visits annually at this time, seeking the quiet of the beaver pond to raise a new brood of goslings.

Native blueberry bushes full of blooms are alive with humming pollinators of varying sizes. Buds on native magnolias and azaleas are swelling visibly. The pinxterbloom azaleas will likely be open in another week, if not sooner.

My greenhouse is full of vegetable, herb, and flower seedlings. These will be the summer vegetable garden inhabitants. Already, an array of lettuces, beets, onions, chives, garlic, dill, and parsley are flourishing (and delicious!) in their spring vegetable beds.

Witch hazel ‘Aurora’

A few minutes outside reboots my perspective. All around me, plants and animals are busy living their lives, starting a new cycle of growth and fecundity. Their message seems clear. It is time to get to work, find a purpose, and fulfill it.

I’ve been pondering how to apply this message to my own life. I’ve decided that sharing more of my green world is a good place to start. With that in mind, I’ve decided on these approaches.

  • I will grow enough summer vegetables to yield extras to donate to my local food bank.
  • I am beginning to write a book about my interactions with and lessons learned from working the same piece of Piedmont land for 33 years and counting.
  • If there is interest, I plan to offer classes to small groups using my yard as my classroom. I hope to offer detailed descriptions of the classes soon, but if you are local to the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, NC area and you are interested, please send an email to the address on my About page, and I’ll be sure to put you on my email distribution list.
  • I am hoping to find an apprentice or two, who might be interested in working with me here. In exchange for helping me with garden tasks for a couple of four-hour shifts a week, I will offer modest payment, abundant free plants, and as much information download as you can handle about native plants and animals, native ecology, invasive non-native species, and gardening methods from basic to advanced levels as warranted by the experience of the apprentice. I’m hoping to begin this by early May. If you know someone who might be interested, send an email to the address on my About page. I am willing to work with the right candidate(s) on weekdays or weekends, as long as we can agree on a consistent schedule.

Happy Vernal Equinox to all!

Spring’s message for me this year is focused on nurturing – plants and people. Every seedling planted, weed pulled, and vegetable harvested is a prayer for a brighter future free of suffering, a petition for peace.

May this turning of the seasonal wheel bring lighter hearts and happier days to all of Earth’s inhabitants.

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Spring is …

Bloodroots pushing through the leafy forest floor.

Salamanders emerging from algae-covered gelatinous egg masses.

Freeze-killed Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ flowers.

Emerging columbine blooms decapitated by hungry deer. I watched five very pregnant does scour the frosty floodplain this morning for anything tasty and green.

Splotchy Mayapple leaves just emerging, with fat, round flower buds centered between their two leaves.

A newly planted onion bed.

Fuzzy elm seeds and two-winged maple samaras floating on sluggish creek waters.

Red buckeye flower buds preparing to open in time to greet returning Ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Freeze-killed blueberry flowers.

A male Wood Duck paddling on the beaver pond, barely within range of my camera.

A freeze-killed cinnamon fern fiddlehead. Fortunately, the others  appear to remain viable, tucked tightly in the center of the plants.

Pawpaw flower buds wisely waiting for more settled temperatures.

Spring salad greens and wildflower seedlings waiting for the final (we hope) big dip in temperatures predicted to arrive after tomorrow’s 80-degree heat ushers in another cold front.

Hot and cold, dry and rainy, vibrant and brown, life and death — Spring is here.

 

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Winter’s Waning

Royal Star Magnolia bud in snow

A few day’s before winter’s astronomical departure, from my window I watched a sliver of its final moon fade into a brightening sky. Vocal accompaniment was provided by White-throated Sparrows, who have begun singing their minor-key mating calls robustly at day’s first and last light.

sunrise1

Soon, I reminded myself, the creek reflecting dawn’s light as it snakes along my eastern border will vanish, obscured by summer’s lush overgrowth. Soon, the tall canopy giants – Green Ash, Tulip Poplar, Red Maple, Water Oak, Loblolly Pine, Sweet Gum — that tower over the floodplain will don fresh foliage, merging high above into the roof of my green cathedral. As the Cheshire Cat smile of the moon faded, my gaze lingered on still-bare interweaving branches, starkly outlined, black against an eastern sky tinged with coral and peach.

cold cardinal

Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens, myriad warblers – all competed to be heard by their One True Love. The Northern Mockingbird, who silently guarded a still-berry-laden holly for months, decided two days ago that it was time to make his presence known. Every visit to my vegetable garden is now serenaded by Mr. Mocker’s versatile repertoire.

floodplain daffodils close

Plants pushed deep into hibernation by winter’s prolonged grip are exploding into a procreative cloud of pollen and fragrance. Yellow, lavender, blue, ivory – everywhere color spotlights awakening green friends from their slumbers. Crimson flowers of Red Maples remind me that the giants in my landscape are also stirring.

tomato and pepper seedlings

The dance has begun. Transformation from winter’s contemplative landscape to spring’s ebullience gains momentum as the new moon of the vernal equinox makes its entrance. Love and hope are easier to find as the earth returns to spring. May all your spring dreams of beauty bring hope to your heart – and the most abundant, healthy gardens you’ve ever grown.

dwarf crested iris

Happy Spring, y’all.

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Hello, Spring?

Bloodroots nearing peak bloom

Bloodroots nearing peak bloom

On behalf of winter-weary gardeners everywhere, I bid you welcome! Spring — you are here, right? It is, of course, the day of the vernal equinox, that astronomical milestone that marks your onset. I ask, because, well, you seem to be a bit more capricious than usual this year.

Yes, the plants in my yard are showing definite signs of moving toward a new growing season, as evidenced by the beautiful native wildflowers in the above photo, blooming yesterday in my yard. They are just beginning to reach peak bloom; the ones in my north garden only yesterday peeked above ground. By last year’s vernal equinox, these flowers were nearly done.

Likewise, my beautiful Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ was well past peak bloom by last year’s equinox. This year, flower buds are just now swelling, as you can see here:

Magnolia 'Butterflies" flower buds are just now displaying a hint of color.

Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ flower buds are just now displaying a hint of color.

The native spicebushes (Lindera benzoin) are reaching peak bloom just in time for your arrival. Last year, they maxed out two weeks earlier. I love the tiny specks of bright yellow that adorn every branch.

The diminutive size of Spicebush flowers are difficult for my camera to capture adequately, but you get the idea.

The diminutive size of Spicebush flowers are difficult for my camera to capture adequately, but you get the idea.

One non-native early bloomer — my large Winterhazel — is about a week and a half behind last year’s peak blooming moment. The photo here was taken yesterday, and you can see that the flower clusters are just now pushing out their pendant strings of sunny bells.

Winterhazels are just beginning to bloom.

Winterhazels are just beginning to bloom.

My other big non-native bloomers — the loropetalum shrubs — seem to be more attuned to daylight changes than temperature. Flower buds are brimming with magenta color; a few are flaunting their bright strappy petals. But I’m guessing that the full spring display will occur just about the same time it did the previous two years.

Loropetalum flowers on the verge of exploding into neon magenta splendor.

Loropetalum flowers on the verge of exploding into neon magenta splendor.

That’s all well and good, Spring. A little variation in bloom time among the ornamentals on my five acres of North Carolina Piedmont is entirely to be expected. That variability is actually part of what keeps gardening exciting; I never know when and what each season will bring.

On the other hand, your capriciousness is also a source of frustration. You see, I had a feeling you were going to take your time coming this year. So I started my spring greens in the greenhouse later than last year, planning to transplant them into their permanent beds about now. I expected later frosts, maybe even a light freeze, but because I cover the transplants in protective garden fabric, I figured they would remain unharmed.

But, Spring, you have turned my planting schedule upside down with this predicted ten-day bout of well-below-normal temperatures that includes a very hard freeze tomorrow night. The weather seers are calling for a low of 26 degrees Fahrenheit at the local airport. Here in the boonies, that will likely mean a low hovering in the mid-teens.

I can’t put tender transplants into the ground when you are bringing winter temperatures to my garden. That would be plant murder! Meanwhile, right on schedule, my onion starts arrived in the mail two days ago. Somehow, I must persuade them to be patient, because I can’t plant them yet either.

Raring to go!

Raring to go!

Spring, it’s getting crowded in the greenhouse. The greens are itching for permanent digs. My pots of ornamental plants that overwinter in the greenhouse are all putting out new growth, gaining size and enthusiasm for your arrival daily.

I know I can’t stop your games, Spring, so I’ll do my best to convince the greens to be patient a few days. I think I know what you’re up to. After lingering early and long last year, you don’t want to party here at all. I think you’re planning to pound us with winter weather until April arrives, and then depart almost immediately, letting summer’s temperatures sear us before the canopy trees are even properly leafed out. The models of the weather forecasters seem to agree. They are calling for above-normal temperatures for most of the US during the month of April, which is why I’m going to sow tomato and pepper seeds in the germination chamber in my greenhouse later today.

I love you, Spring, really, I do. But, frankly, your whimsy is one of the reasons my hair is as white as the new snow covering Boston — again — this week.

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