Early May

Our bitterly cold and record breaking April gave way to an early May that has been too warm, too windy, too rainy and very stormy. Of course it has. Every plant that hunkered down in April was shoved into bloom and leaf by unseasonable heat. This is anything but a cool and slowly evolving spring. This isn’t springtime.  It is boom and bust time. Daffodils began to wilt with the heat at the moment they came in to bloom. The magnolia petals were falling as the flowers opened. Even the grape hyacinths looked unhappy. This is the natural course of events-nature ruling over all in a rather capricious even cruel way. That rule is not especially friendly and certainly not fair. The only thing to do is to pay attention. The Secretariat of all springs is zooming by and already heading into the home stretch. Yesterday and today the temps are hovering around 45, and are accompanied by torrential rains. Every gardener is blinking, just like me. Are we up or down?

This does not mean that the experience of the beauty of the garden and landscape waking up is lost. It is just fleeting. In a spring like this, it takes effort and concentration to capture the moment. Not a one of my hellebores bloomed until the very end of April. Snow and ice buried them until quite late. It was an event when they finally sallied forth. This green flowered hellebore is a cultivar from Pine Knot Farms, and it was well worth waiting for.

May visits every property equally. The coming of the growing happens everywhere. Even those places where there may not be a gardener on staff. The new growth on the weeds is just as beautiful as the new growth on delphiniums. Truly. A patch of daylilies fresh out of the ground is my favorite time for them. The flowers on the maples are the most exquisite shade of chartreuse. There are a few spring days when even the roadway is green. The violets may not be welcome in some lawns, but I love them. I would have them everywhere, in every color, in the spring.

Seasonal spring plants have the same vibrant aura as the spring landscape. The color is clear and brilliant. Spring rains wash all of the dust and pollen out of the air. Spring sunlight is like no other light. Everything grows for broke. What a delight to be a part of that! This window box has pansies, strawberries, annual phlox, bidens, osteospermum, parsley and alyssum.  Seasonal flowers have the ability to handle unusual cold and heat better than the ephemeral spring wildflowers, spring flowering bulbs, shrubs and trees. Anyone who has ever known the pleasure of a stand of double bloodroot understands keeping a close eye on the approaching bloom. A day away from the garden means you might miss it altogether. This window box will prosper steadily, even in the warmer weather to come.

There is nothing particularly extraordinary about creeping jenny, but a mass of it under planting white daffodils is a May moment worth savoring. Later in the summer, that chartreuse will harden, and take on an orange cast unless it has afternoon shade. Right now it looks good enough to eat.

Forsythia is an ordinary spring flowering shrub, but the late day May light makes the color glow. This gardener had the good sense to just let it grow. A shrub in full spring bloom, a wheelbarrow, and an sidewalk-this is the stuff of which great spring days are made.

My old clumps of Royal Heritage hellebores all feature downward facing flowers. This means I need to get down on the ground and look up into their faces. Any perennial that can make this 68 year old gardener do that has something going for it. Oh yes, the hellebores are a feature of the spring season, no matter the weather.

This PJM rhododendron came with the house I bought 24 years ago.  It has had its ups and downs, but I can count on those dazzling flowers in May. This year’s display began to fade in the heat, but my memory of this moment, given my experience of it for more than 2 decades, is a forever memory. I have had 48 springs as a gardener. Each one is different.  But the sum total of all of my Mays is worth my attention.

I do not travel much outside my route to and from work, this time of year. So much of my experience of May is in my own neighborhood, driving by. This Bradford pear, branched to the ground and in full bloom, is an experience of spring that delights my eye.

A single shoot of variegated lily of the valley, after 3 years in my garden, has decided to branch out. I could not be more delighted. May has a way of surprising even the most veteran gardener. I cannot really explain how this plant settling down and spreading has been such an important part of my spring. Yes, I was paying attention.

The Princeton Gold maples in my back yard are leafing out. Those giant chartreuse leaves say spring in no uncertain terms. This year’s spring green may be fleeting, but a beautiful moment is a moment to be treasured.

The tulips at the shop are not their usual size, given our freezing April.  But they are blooming. I admire their effort.

My pansies have taken the worst of the cold and the heat, as they always do. This spring is not the best we have ever had, but any spring is a moment worth cherishing.

I have had this picture on my computer for ages. It is spring photograph, featuring spring blooming trees, in Japan.  Astonishing, this. Although my spring does not look like this, it feels like this.





  1. Sarah Cornelius says

    You are very lucky to have some heat. In our part of Canada, the temperature has not gotten above 20C. We also had a massive windstorm last week that cut the power to many households, as well as knocking my neighbour’s 60 foot Manitoba maple right over into my backyard. It damaged my fence, crushed the garden swing and broke three large branches off my 30 year old silver maple. The yard looks like a hurricane hit it.

    Between co-ordinating insurance company and contractors, this spring has not been pleasant. Good thing it has been cold or I would resent not being able to get into the backyard to garden and enjoy my gardens.

    • In the south we have had we had a very early spring. The hosta and hydrangea pop up and then was slammed with at least three freeze days. I was so painful to see these plants fall over and disappear. Thank you for your words. Nature is lovely, even though it does not act the way I prefer.

  2. Susan Bercheck says

    All your posts are fabulous, but this is truly exquisite, and so captures the capriciousness of spring, which, as a fellow not-so-young-anymore gardener, seems to echo our lives.
    Thank you, as always!!

  3. Katherine Kastle says

    Thank you. I wandered my garden this stormy Saturday (5/12/18) in between the rains, fussing about my beloved Japanese maple, perennials so slow to start they might not have survived, hydrangreas that may or may not flower. You put it into perspective. It’s nature. What we love about gardening. And far more resilient than we will ever be.

  4. Elsa Bekkala says

    How wonderful to find a gardener who can appreciate even the tiniest
    moments of beauty.

  5. a crazy spring down south too. your pix are lovely – thanks for sharing!

  6. Linda Gilliem says

    I really enjoy your perspective on our Spring! Thank you for your time expressing this to us. LG

  7. Spring miracles make beautiful prose. Love your words here, Deborah.

  8. Mary Kathryn Poptic says

    Deborah. Your observations inspire me to slow down and do sone deeper observing in my own gardens. Although I have been a gardener and a tend-er for 40 of my 63 years your descriptions gently guide me to look at the familiar with new eyes. Thank you for this beautiful blog. It lifts and inspires. I hope to visit your shop sone day on a day trio from neighboring Cleveland.

  9. Susan Roubal says

    Anything that has managed to bloom in this Spring is worth admiring. My poor hellebores were squashed flat under five feet of snow, yet still sent up some upright blossoms on 5 inch stalks, surrounded by a circle of flattened leaves! I finally found a blossom of Arbutus! My very favorite of Spring blossoms, the Arbutus has the most heavenly fragrance that I wish could be duplicated in a perfume! Thank you for persevering with your column through a gloomy non-spring. Better weather is finally here!
    From the U.P. in Marquette, Susan

  10. Our gardens are definitely soldiering on, despite a cold, snowy start. Their strength and determination is impressive. Their beauty delivers great pleasure. Your Creeping Jenny with the daffodils is a delightful combination and the lily of the valley is a long time favorite. Today, I picked my first small bouquet and the fragrance is lovely. Your stand of Maples are outstanding. Bright color after a cold, long winter is so, so welcomed. Delightful and uplifting post.
    Thank you, ever-so-much. Susan.

Leave a Comment