From Nothing To Something

March is invariably the most desolate month of all in my garden. Everything sits in stony silence. The passing of the snow reveals a landscape sullen from months of cold. The straw colored grass is thin. Muddy dirt pools in those places where the grass succumbed. The stoic evergreens that have been unable to absorb water all winter long via their roots sport foliage that is still that wintry shade of black green. They will hide the damage wrought by desiccating winter winds until the air temperatures warm up. The trees are budded, but tightly budded. It is not time yet for the signs of spring to emerge. It is the time of the revelation of the effects of the winter season.  There are those who think the landscape and garden sleeps beneath a thick blanket of snow. Not so. The winter is actually a pitched battle for survival with winners, losers, and the compromised.

It is dry enough to walk the garden now. Everywhere, the remains of what is dead, shed and scuffed up is on display. The reveal of the landscape post the worst of the winter, come March, is a rude one. Wince-worthy. The rabbits chewed every rose right down to the ground. Of course they did. A fledgling paeonia Ostii was similarly chewed, despite being surrounded with bamboo stakes. Every wispy dried up bit of organic trash has been blown around and deposited somewhere in the yard – both high and low. . The pachysandra is laid over and down, as if it had been trampled by a lawn roller. There is a winter’s worth of street trash to pick up.

Desolation is the landscape word of this March day. It is hard to imagine that anything will ever be different. It is more difficult to imagine the garden thriving. I am a working gardener, in the most literal sense of the word. I respond to what nature provides. I am not in charge, nor am I the least bit unhappy about that roll. But March in my zone is dreary indeed.

I would not be capable of planning, orchestrating or even entirely comprehending that complex mechanism by which the winter season comes to an end. My knowledge of the process is certainly better than it was 50 years ago, but I am routinely taken by surprise. What we call the force of nature is just that. Formidable, inexplicable – magical. I know that in a month’s time, this view will have taken on an entirely different appearance than what I see now. What is skeletal now will have a more juicy and lively look.

I feel confident in saying that every gardener endures the winter as best they can. The read, and order seeds, and plan for the gardening season to come. They clean tools, look out the windows, and wait. I suspect they are as frazzled as I, forced to be an unwilling witness to the last gasp of winter. But as unpleasant as March can be, there is the sure knowledge the winter season will run out of steam, and fizzle. And then there will be signs of spring. Though we have had very moderate temperatures the past few weeks, there is a forecast for night temperatures in the twenties the next few nights. March and April are known for their tantrums. But the bigger picture calls for an end to winter. As it has been my experience that spring always arrives, sooner or later.

The first call in my yard is always adonis amurensis. It is astonishing how early this perennial emerges, grows and blooms-in one fell swoop.

It is painfully slow to multiply for me, but I would not do without it. They demand nothing in the way of care.  Shortly after blooming, they go dormant until the following late winter. I have time to watch and marvel how it emerges weeks ahead of other plants. That yellow flower beats back the late winter blues.

The snowdrops are a late winter favorite. Beloved in all of its forms and hybrids by galanthophiles and informal fans all over the globe, they breach the soil still crusty with frost, and bloom profusely. True to their name, they shrug off a late snow as if that were nothing. They transplant most readily in their green form. Once happy, they multiply and seed with abandon.  Any gardener who reads here knows I am a fan of hellebores. They are, in my opinion, the perfect perennial.  Thick glossy foliage persists in its green state until late in the winter. The flowers emerge on leafless stalks in April, and bloom for a very long time. The green remains of the flowers can persist in the garden well in to June. The current years leaves will emerge after the flowers.  With proper moisture, these 18″ tall plants grow into very large clumps. They live for decades, and do not require dividing to bloom profusely.  I leave the flower heads be, in order to encourage seedlings.

The flowering stalks emerge early from the clusters of last years leaves. They are a welcome sign that spring is on the way.

It will not be that long before the hellebores reach this height and breadth. The time will come when every gardener will be fully engaged in spring, and the memory of the March landscape will fade.

There will be plenty to enjoy indoors-pots of bulbs, and the cut stems of spring flowering perennials and flowering shrub branches while the weather outdoors is still uncomfortably cold.

As delicate as the flowers of Barnhaven primrose are, they are quite robust and hardy in Michigan gardens.

Grape hyacinths blooming in the early patchy grass make the inevitable dandelions look great.

This spring window box from years ago-full of daffodils, parsley, annual phlox, alyssum and violas-is a reminder that as always, spring will have its turn

It’s coming.

 

Comments

  1. Cathy Cartwright says

    What a beautiful website ! Discovered while looking for information on growing ferns and hostas in outdoor containers. I have gardened for decades now, and still in awe of how much more there is to learn,and will gladly continue to do so. Love every season of gardening, and adjusting to the plantings of a zone 4 in central British Columbia!
    Spring is here and trying not to push the envelope! I am so much enjoying photos of your designs and the talents of your staff. Your expertise,on all topics regarding the garden are timely and fulfilling for me, as they are for thousands of others, certainly. Better than a good book ! Thank-you so much Deborah, will continue exploring your blog Simple Dirt with excitement and look forward to future posts as well !!

  2. We have lived in various climates and one of them was similar to yours. Reading this post l am reminded of the break from outdoor work that hard winter allows. Every year when fall begins here I am happy to be done with the real heat and the struggle to help plants survive summer. Our outdoor work continues in earnest in better working weather to last through into spring and sometimes summer. I am always happy to read your musings more removed from the endless outdoor chores and projects as they help me to retain perspective on the reasons I became a gardener. Thank you.

  3. Tom Van Dis says

    Deborah,

    I discovered your company website while looking for advice regarding winter care for our boxwoods. I found the advice I was looking for and as a bonus discovered your wonderful blog. Thanks for your lovely words about the anticipation of spring.

    Tom, Richland, MI

  4. Thank you. This is a beautiful post and just the nourishment my mind and heart needed today.

  5. Jennifer Taylor says

    Hi Deborah,
    Thank you for this welcome, beautiful reminder that the growing season and sun and warmth are coming! Take care and stay safe, Jennifer

  6. Thank you for an entire post that does not mention the “C” word at all. I almost deleted it without even opening it, but figured at least I can look at the pictures. Life goes on…

  7. Ann Nicholson says

    Your quote of “ March and April are well known for their tantrums “ is memorable. As is your beautiful analogy.

  8. Rene Johnson says

    Dear Deborah
    so lovely to read your blog. Thank you for encouraging us in so many practical ways. In the Southern hemisphere [Cape Town, South Africa], the temperatures are hot and the garden is beginning to show the first glimpses of autumn. We do not experience the extremes of your weather, and there are times when one wishes that one did!
    Stay warm, and stay writing please. You are a beacon of great encouragement and inspiration to so many of us. Warm regards

  9. A wonderful post and also wonderful comments! Here in Atlanta, the neighborhood is bursting with spring blooms. The cherry trees were spectacular today and my redbuds are fully opened. The Japanese maple next to my deck has full leaves and I never even noticed the buds this year, I’ve been so pre-occupied! I spent my day picking up sticks moving some perrineals and creating a new flower bed…pulling tons of weeds in the process. Thank you for the advice about trimming the hellebores. Mine are looking amazing, but I wondered about those outside brown leaves. Many happy gardening thoughts, and aren’t we lucky to have such a wonderful escape!

  10. Sandra wisebaker says

    Dear Deborah,
    Thank you for the garden tour of hope and renewal. I too appreciate spring for its promise, especially this year.
    Sandy Wisebaker

  11. Your March is our month of April in northern VT. I still have three foot drifts of snow in places and the low tonight is predicted to be six degrees. No sign of my snowdrops yet, but the peonies are visible and the ligonberry looks good and the daffodil foliage is peeking up. The male red wing blackbirds are singing and the sugar makers are driving by twice a day with big vats of maple sap. We really skip from winter directly to summer heat in early May in a matter of days with no real spring; just mud season. Our dirt roads are a mess for four miles in every direction. However, once the apple trees bloom, usually Memorial Day weekend, we almost catch up to zone five. In the meantime, trying to be patient, I am starting lots of seeds under grow lights in the basement…my Aladdin’s cave.

  12. Dear Deborah,
    Thank you for your beautiful writing. With everything going on in the world it was good to take a break and contemplate your garden in picture and words. We are reassured that once again, spring will come.

  13. mollie duvall says

    This post is the very metaphor of the hope we need right now. You did, indeed, “write” about the virus, without bringing it up, at all. I am in Rochester Hills, Deborah, and took a spin around my yard today. There are many signs of spring, including daylilies poking their heads out of the ground and, fat, flower buds on my dwarf, Korean viburnum. Soon, I will clip a few of those stems for the house so that I may breathe in not only the fragrance but, the hope as well. Looking forward to my first, spring visit to Detroit Garden Works.

    All the best,

    Mollie, from Rochester Hills

  14. Libby Maricelli says

    Your garden and blog are wonderful source of
    Information and inspiration. Here, just outside of New Orleans we reached a high of 85 degrees yesterday. A momentary distraction, or something bigger could cause one to miss Spring. No one wants that!
    Take care!

  15. Loved this! It seems we gardeners love metaphor, don’t we :-). Anyway, reading this gave me a lump in my throat…in a good way.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary, yes we do. Hearing from you brought tears to my eyes. Isn’t that ridiculous and grand? all the best to you from me. Deborah

    • Grace Johnston says

      Dear Deborah,

      Thank you for the lovely post. It’s early spring here in Alaska, which means the pussywillow have buds, we have two feet of snow on the ground but the tip tap of melting lulls us to sleep. It’s time for us to start seed indoors, because once most of the snow is gone spring bursts into bloom within a week or two. I’m planning to create a COVID Victory Garden, to help fill our Food Bank with fresh healthy stuff. In times like these gardening becomes a superpower. All the best to you and yours.

    • Dear Mary, we need now more than ever your artistry and the perspective on the world it brings us all.
      Please do take good care of yourself. We need the stories you have still yet to tell. Much love from North Dakota, where spring is a long time coming.

  16. Claudia Flemingloss says

    Thank you. It’s good to have a reminder that spring brings renewal and life moves ahead.

  17. Kittie Olivier says

    Beautifully described!

  18. Michaele Anderson says

    I get very spoiled by the early arrival of spring in my eastern TN area. There is lots of color from daffodils, tulips and flowering ground covers as well as the ever dependable hellebores. It is a worthwhile reminder to see the photos from up your way.

  19. Deborah -thank you for this glimpse into what is happening in your garden and providing a great perspective on the transformation that is March.
    Minneapolis is now a few weeks behind relative to temps and signs of life- but optimistic are we all for spring’s eventual beauty.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Dan, I truly believe that optimism and hope are innate in people, and especially strong in gardeners. Who could witness the miracle that is spring and not understand that in time, winter will turn to spring. all the best, Deborah

  20. Ellen Devine says

    Thank you. My garden has been showing both resilience and beauty, it is bringing me more joy than usual this year. I am glad you put words to it.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Ellen, I understand exactly what you mean. The garden is a source of joy and solace. Gardeners understand how nature is both ruthless and life giving. Godspeed, fellow gardener! best regards, Deborah

  21. nella davis-ray says

    I love the crisp geometric shapes you’ve created in the 1st picture.

  22. Dear Deborah,

    how does the quote go? “If you have a garden, you have a future; and if you have a future you have a life.” I never read “The Secret Garden” but I have been looking forward to hearing what you have been up to.

    Rather than focusing on the herd of deer turning my two thujas into deer lollipops, my March story is as follows: some years ago, a spry gardener moved in next door and announced I have no time. I have been supplying her with clumps of snow drops ever since. Last week, I counted nine on the border we have been working on. We have also enjoyed attending the Garden Cruise and hearing Louis Benech at the Penny Stamps lecture together.

    Gardening is about grit and endurance and sharing. There are lessons there that are unfortunately all too timely. Please be well and stay well during the pandemic.

    Best,

    Mark

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mark, it always makes me happy to hear from you, and this time was no exception. You and I share a view of gardening that is also a world view. You be well and stay well too. best regards, Deborah

  23. I am surprise your post made no mention of Covid-19. Actually it was refreshing so maybe that was deliberate. But this spring for those of us lucky enough to have gardens is especially sweet as we have more time to really see what is happening in our gardens and to work in our gardens. So grateful for that in these very strange days! Thank you for your posts as always. I will also appreciate them even more!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jennifer, I did write about the corona virus. From my gardening heart. best regards, Deborah

  24. The photo of grape hyacinths with dandelions is wonderful and made me LOL!

  25. I am happy to see and to read your post on this most incredibly dreary sunny day. I wish I could do more in my garden, so picking up sticks it shall be for now…

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Christa, even when I can do no more than pick up sticks, being outdoors in the garden is a very good place to be. No matter the weather. all the best, Deborah

  26. mary hrynik says

    Do you cut off the old hellebore leaves in late fall or in the spring or not at all?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary, I cut them off in the spring-hopefully before the flowers start to emerge. I think leaving them on over the winter gives them a little protection. best, Deborah

  27. Thank you for this. Your observations are always keen and your writing is lovely. In these strange days, your posts are a welcome respite.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Grace, it took a long time to write this post. Thinking about what is challenging the lives of so many, including my own. And sorting out how to express that the garden is a place like no other. I began writing this blog 11 years ago in the hopes that I might encourage people to garden. I have always known it was a goal that has meaning for me, but especially at the dawn of this spring. best regards, Deborah

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