Checking In To The Grumpery

DSC_8800The month of March in Michigan always manages to test the good nature of the most graceful and exuberantly positive gardener. The bitter last of the winter is still firmly entrenched. It is 20 degrees, with snow flurries today.  It will be 14 degrees over night. I don’t know why these buckets of cheerfully fake red poinsettias irritate me so much.  If I didn’t know it was March, I would think it was Christmas time.

DSC_8788The north side of every cranny on my property has dirty snow and dead leaves on top of ice. The night temperatures regularly sink below freezing.  Dead tree branches litter the garden. The cold winds come and bring paper and plastic trash. Burned orange evergreen needles jump out at me. The south side of every Alberta spruce in my neighborhood is burned.

espalier damage

Tree trunks of espaliers whose bark has been gnawed off by rabbits-I fear for the lives of these plants.


Boxwood tips turning from cream to tan-I see the signs that signal winter kill. Never mind the bare boxwood branches courtesy of the winter of 2014.

DSC_8789My snowdrops that have just emerged will be subjected to 14 degree temperature over night. These should be named frozen through and through drops. I do not see any signs of the crocus-that is a good thing.

DSC_8798Some patches of my hellebores are still smothered in icy snow.  I am thinking of shoveling the last of the winter off of them, but I probably would take the crown of the plant with it.


The dead fern heads and cold singed European ginger laid flat out-I am more than ready for this phase of the year to be over. If you are a gardener, this is what March Madness really means.

DSC_8767My yard is dirty.  I have a big love for dirt-but not this kind of dead grass and compacted muck dirt. The dirt just outside the doorways is salt saturated. This dirt is in my car, and on my kitchen floor.  When it dries, it dries white.  A dirty white, that is.

DSC_8793Potholes, gaping and deep potholes, open up in the neighborhood streets. I believe a neighbor, out of desperation, filled this with dirt. A water main broke here in late January. A huge disk of ice sat here until a few weeks ago, when the pavement seemed to disintegrate over night. The skies are the same color as this road.

DSC_8784  Even the dogs had that accusatory look on their faces-can’t you do something about the endless winter?

DSC_8782We are still stuck indoors and moping. Why I went outside to see the dead leaves on the ivy – I am not sure. Maybe just to verify that we are truly living the misery.


I have talked to Buck at great length about all of this. On a number of occasions. Finally last night he advises me to go to the grumpery, and leave him be. I do not fault him for his exasperation. We have an understanding about the grumpery.  The grumpery is a place for any gardener who is so over the winter that they need to be quarantined.  I am hoping I do not need to spend too many more days there.


  1. Darlene Stanley says

    I hope libations are available at The Grumpery …

  2. Beverly Ricci says

    I love your honesty. I love your photos keeping it real. It helps ME, a beginning second-career landscape designer, to know that even YOU have grumpy garden days and that we just cannot beat Mother Nature at her worst. I wish I could say something to help you feel better–but on the other hand, when you wallow in your misery, it sort of helps to know that even seasoned professionals have their moments of quiet desperation. Very selfish I know.

    Hang in there. Go peruse some photos of your beautiful work that serves as a shining example to the rest of us!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Oh yes Beverly, I can be grumpy. They say next week we will have temperatures in the 50’s. That sounds so fabulous. best, Deborah

  3. debra phillips says

    quarantined, that’s the remedy deborah! chicago is not much better, march is such an ugly month in northern climes, and that is coming from a winter lover. that one corg has such an expression of exasperation!
    ps. i too am irritated by the likes of those poinsettia’s, ghastly

  4. Deborah,

    I agree wholeheartedly. Here in Maine I am watching the snow melt and what I see are broken branches of small trees and bushes with the browning of boxwood. I have shored up a couple split branches in two small trees a Japanese maple and redbud with the hope they will heal. I am not giving up!

  5. Oh my…I can’t even imagine it still being winter! You need a conservatory like they have in UK were you can sit surrounded by plants even in winter. I won’t tell you about the weather in Houston it would make you even grumpier. You can fly south some March (Houston’s best month for gardens) and enjoy a reprieve from the cold and desolation.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Laurin, I did go to Round Top one March-loved it. The bluebonnets and the feral pigs crossing the road-wild and beautiful. best, Deborah

  6. Sadly for us, your spring looks much further along than ours here in New Brunswick, Canada! Other than the roads and driveways, we cannot see the ground, only snow!

  7. Gerald Salerno says

    Yes, yes and yes to all of that. The only thing you missed was the added chore of cleaning up a winters worth of deer poop off the lawn and out of the garden. I’m not sure if it makes good compost or not but I sure don’t like it stuck to the bottom of my boots 🙁 and why does the dog want to eat it and roll in it??? Am I missing something? Landscaping for wildlife seemed like a good idea twenty years ago – not so much any more.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Gerald-I did forget about that part. The corgis never have learned how to clean up after themselves, and since we have no deer in the yard, they are forced to roll in bird poop. No, I don’t know what that is. Good to hear from you, Deborah

  8. Leslie Bacon says

    Dear Deborah,
    I like to think that hope springs eternal, but my muddy walk in Peru Vermont this morning would suggest otherwise. We are about to embark on Mud and Bug season – spring cleaning closets and drawers and then retreating back to CT until the grass is green….or at least visible. I am so looking forward to all your summer posts! Cheers, Leslie

  9. Marguerite says

    Ah, the Bard has a solution for every situation: “Get thee to a grumpery, Go!”. (Ham.3:1) . In all seriousness, does one look at all these tan leaves etc on boxwood, ivy, and just…..wait? How long does one wait before you decide it’s winter kill and prune off the offenders? I have a whole 11 foot arbovitae Emerald Gem that was blocking the neighbor’s swingset that is 3/4 Bronze. 18 mo ago I planted 100 ft of 7-8 feet compadre arbovitae around it to block the rest of the neighbor’s yard. How long to determine if it’s given up the ghost or just pining for the fjords? If it’s a goner, Iguess I’ll have to wade into my carefully spaced offset hedge get it dug out and somehow plant a new one without disrupting the whole line…. but how long before I’m convinced its dead? The look on the dogs’ faces is priceless.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Marguerite,bronze color on evergreens is not necessarily winter kill. You have a long time to go before you would be able to determine what to prune off. Wait until late spring for that. best, Deborah

  10. janet draper says

    Spring IS coming. I promise… winter’s icy cold grip is starting to thaw in DC, and it will make it to you soon. Your gorgeous images and thoughtful prose have brightened my spirits and sparked my creativity so often, I hate to see you sent to The Grumpery, even with the stoutest of Libation. I wish I could send you some of the signs of spring here –Witchhazels scenting the air and delighting the eye with their eggyolk yellow spidery flowers– Birds singing again, and warm sunlight on the skin… please hold on just a little longer.. it will all be better very soon.

  11. Taura Underys says

    Misery loves company. I’m with you! -But when spring finally DOES come, we will appreciate it all the more!

  12. just this morning after taking a walk around my yard I thought I can not take one more day of this. The only bright spots in the yard are colored dog toys which gives the yard the effect of craziness…

    • Deborah Silver says

      Margaret, I understand exactly what it means-not being able to take one more day of it. But I suspect the both of us will manage the mange of the last of the winter some how. Thanks, Deborah

  13. RE: the poinsettias – fake poinsettias outside are unattractive at any time of year . . . . Christmas time, or not! 🙂 Perhaps the people that live there need a Detroit Garden Works flyer attached to their door knob with a rubber band sometime late next fall so they get the idea!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Those poinsettias would not be my choice either-but I’ll bet the person who has them think they look swell! best to you, Deborah

  14. I love it! I’m over the being quarantined stage – I’m certifiable. My husband, like Buck, would rather I’d just comitt myself somewhere rather than listen to my anxious whining. My customers are wanting containers done before Easter – A couple wks. ago that sounded doable, but now the Pansies are like ice cubes in a tray. Waiting……..

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Susie, your letter is hilarious. I will be sure Buck reads it-so he knows that I am not the only gardener in distress right now! Thanks, Deborah

  15. That brown corgi sure does look accusing 🙂 . You have SO MUCH less snow than we do! I’m envious! You have galanthus blooming! We still have 99% snow cover. Sigh.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Molly, my sincere sympathies to you. Yes, Howard looks very accusing. He hates this weather as much as I do. Hoping for warmer days for you. best, Deborah

  16. Donna Perdue says

    The look on the dogs faces are priceless. We had seventy degrees for several days and snow showers today and down to twenty five tonight. I’m ready for the Grumpery too. Hopefully this is winters last gasp!

  17. I am so glad I live in California. I am afraid I might maim someone if I lived where you do.

  18. Marguerite says

    Hi Deborah, I am truly enjoying your blog! Every time I read your stories, see your pics, listen to your “angst” or elation about gardening, it warms my heart! Every emotion left ‘out there’ for interpretation or inspiration. How wonderful a free spirit you are! Thank you! We live in southwestern Ontario and our weather is the same as yours. Today we had snow, yesterday sun… getting anxious for the weather to break here as well! Seeing the fake red poinsettias made me laugh today and reminded me of when I was first married and working way more than I should have been. I lived in a neighborhood of older European (fabulous gardeners) and had no time to do anything at my home. Feeling dejected and scorned as they passed by my weedy garden or too tall grass, I decided to put some “fake” geraniums in hanging planters on my porch. One day I forgot my lunch and turned around to come back home only to find 4 of the elderly ladies on my porch feeling and commented about my plants. What a shock to find I was the talk of the block! They too were shocked and quite embarassed! They smiled and were gracious, but I think they felt sorry for me, because for the rest of that summer, I found my garden weeded and my grass trimmed regularly! Oh how neighborly! Thanks for the memories and the smile! By the way… cute puppies!

  19. I hear your pain….we have two basset hounds that give me the same exact looks! They are as annoyed with the long winter as I am. I walk them around the neighborhood and wipe down their bellies and paws which are loaded with salt and ice water from the road. I guess we’ll be in the “grumpery” till old man Winter throws in the towel! Looking forward to harvesting young green dandelions for a spring salad.

  20. Joni Holland says

    After reading all these comments, perhaps I should refrain from sharing all the color lovelies blooming here in California? The divine smell of the lilacs and jasmine polyanthum and first flush of the roses have made me dizzy! Banksia roses, ranunculus and tulips are becoming shadows of their early March selves. Spirea and hakonechloa are doing their duet in the front while the abutilon is swaying above the choisya and callas. But wait……it’s 80 March??!! And we will begin rationing water next month – a reduction of 30%!! There now…don’t you feel sorry for me? happy Spring all!

  21. Joyce B in Atlanta says

    Wow! Next year you need to plan a looong vacation in Florida with those poor little dogs!! Seeing their faces, I can just imagine the exasperation on yours. It’s coming, it’s coming… just a few more days… you can make it, you can do it. Spring will be worth every second you’ve had to wait for her. And there are so many more wonderful and hardier plants introduced to the world every day that will slough off the cold in years to come. It’s tough to start new hedges and plantings, but I’d go for it and try some new things this year. Go turn on a party tune and take those pups for a spin on the cloudy kitchen floor. You’ll all be laughing and barking with joy in no time! Remember this lull when you are so busy that you can’t remember one day from the next. Hopefully, that time will be very soon for you.

  22. I am definitely in the grumpery here in Wisconsin. My snowdrops came up, got hit by four inches of snow and a week of serious cold. I’ve never seen such blackened and flattened Hellebore leaves. Seeing yours helps me to realize it’s not just my garden that has had another bad winter.

  23. It certainly has been a loooong winter for you all in the east…I admire your resolve, fortitude and humour…Your blog is such a source of inspiration and beauty for me, and I’m sure many many others….Spring will come, and I’m sure you will enjoy it all the more for the difficult Winter you’ve endured. Thanks so much for your great descriptions of your design process, photos, and horticultural perspective…hope the Grumps are gone soon ; )

  24. Dear Deborah,
    Four bunches of beautiful Dogwood branching arrived via FedEx from California for me today. I got right to work giving them a fresh cut and filling buckets of water. I had a respite from my winter exasperation seeing spring in my studio. Next months Spring Fair at DGW is sure to put some pep in all of us ready for a new season. Thank you and Rob for hosting!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jody, I am hoping we have a little bit warmer temperatures for the fair! It will be good to see you-and your gorgeous cut flowers! Thanks, Deborah

  25. Rob Beebe says

    Which was the Michigan gardener’s worst winter nightmare: last year or the present one? We shall see soon enough whether my large plywood boxwood protectors worked any better than the traditional stake-and-burlap we have used in the past. If good results are noted I will let you know. (And I hate to think what prices we may have to pay for replacement boxwood in the local nursery market this coming spring.)

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Rob, your boxwood have an added insult to dessicating winter winds and extremely low temperatures. . The are right on a road that is heavily salted. Do let me know how they come through. Best, Deborah

  26. How true your words are Deborah! Spring is out there…somewhere.

Leave a Comment