Rainshadow contributor Ann Candioto relishes in the end of winter and the start of gardening season.
Lately I’ve been thinking about a T-shirt, grey of course, with an “I Survived …” message. I’ve lived on Puget Sound for more than fifty years, in the rainshadow for twenty, and somehow this seemed to me the most oppressive winter ever. Of course, there were contributing factors: my age, the pandemic, personal losses, and the stress of a society reeling along, like a drunk, through a transition era too big for my imagination.
But, back to the weather: a dry-dry late summer was followed by a wet-wet autumn, and extra gloomy right up to the Big Freeze, when walking around outside required life insurance. I do want to claim, right here, that I have never before suffered from the light deprivation-based depression that keeps some folks oppressed every winter. Now I get it.
A friend described a New Yorker cartoon she had seen which showed the calendar as a pie-chart with January occupying three-quarters of the year. The freezes, having been longer and colder than in several years past, killed some things in the garden, burned others to brown droopy tatters, and destroyed any zone-denial fantasies I might have been entertaining. I also muse over the mysterious randomness of the damage: large Aeoniumsucculents that had been starring in my pots for several years froze and drooped in defeat in spite of my covering them with a patchwork of plastic. Yet, one cloned sibling, planted in the ground, is green and growing. I did save my Bay tree with a snappy striped plastic tablecloth – its wind -blocking capacities probably did the trick. The hardy fuchsias are sticks with shriveled, crispy leaves and the leftover annuals are dead in their pots except for the, again mysterious, survival of a pansy or two. I cut things back, but sparingly – sometimes they rise from the roots.
The goldfish are again gliding around in their stock-tank pond, having passed the freeze in near suspended animation while I twice-daily broke the ice sheet covering them. The water spout which feeds it became a magnificent geyser-like ice sculpture, with enough flowing drips to water some alert birds. I felt terrible when I saw a hummingbird, hunting for food, attracted to a red ribbon.
Yes, it did seem endless, but there is good news: the natural world, having survived eons of this stuff, has awakened. If you are watching carefully, every year, it seems to me, within hours of the winter solstice, the internal alarm clock rings out. Some hit the snooze button but others immediately start raising sap, turning bark color – so subtle you will see it only as a blush in a thicket – and fattening dormant buds.
We are now a couple of weeks into calendar spring though, as a gardener, I think of spring here as lasting from the first snowdrops, crocus and hellebores, which have already come and gone, through daffodil season, when our cool weather crops can be planted, to the first peas and strawberries, just before the Fourth of July.
Protection Island is as green as Ireland and foxglove are perking up on their way to making gloves-for-foxes in later spring. The winter heathers are still making swaths of white or red-violet flowers, the green shoots of some alliums are up, in preview of round flowers to come, and the Japanese maples are clothing themselves in leaf buds just as colorful as flowers.
So here we are in the long-long, grey-grey, cold-cold spring of 2022, in our chosen paradise. We can bask in the increased hours of daylight and enjoy the steady slowness of nature, a luxury not available to all. Time to not be in a hurry but to walk between the raindrops, watch the mists lift, eat bitter greens and succulent salads, plant seeds, and notice the tiny beginnings of the green world which will sweep over us soon enough, another season in God’s country.