It’s a bright, sunny day here on the mountain above Peacham Pond and the sunshine is most welcome after February when we experienced four consecutive weeks of cold, windy weather that lacked any thaws and consequently stacked snow everywhere. There is little doubt that the climate is changing and being any kind of farmer, even a flower farmer like me, brings you closer to those changes.
Yesterday I received an email agricultural report that summarized major storms that hit the U.S. since 1980. The storms had to exceed a billion dollars in repair/replacement costs to be included in the total which was $1.87 trillion. The early 1980s is when I began a perennial flower business in Shelburne. The only negatives I can remember from back then were a hail storm that knocked down all our Pacific Giant Delphiniums and a herd of deer that arrived three weeks before Halloween and ate the entire pumpkin crop the day before we planned to harvest.
Fast forward to our move to Marshfield and weather issues have evolved. Only a couple instances of hail, but several sheer winds took down trees and ripped the tops off our shade houses. There were years when cold would just not leave and I remember one June when there was a killing frost that flattened our entire potted hosta crop. And then there was extreme water as in floods. One year we had three floods between May and August. That was the year that bad times culminated in Tropical Storm Irene. What a mess! And since then, we have become used to sheer winds that follow the Winooski River from Burlington. They arrive quickly and leave swaths of trees on the ground in their wake. When I think back on these events, I’m just happy we live here and not in Louisiana or Texas.
But spring is coming and by mid-April, most of the snow should be gone and the harbinger of spring should be spring ephemerals that are awakening. In 1990, our first year in Marshfield, the weather was so warm that our peas were in the ground on April 1. Most all years, early in May everywhere, and usually May 5-8 here, the male hummingbirds arrive to get started on their nest-building chores. By then red-winged blackbirds, grackles, starlings, and brown-headed cowbirds have returned and are busy cleaning up bird food leftovers underneath the feeders.
Early May provides the first color. Pulmonarias join hellebores no matter how much snow might be left in shady places. Granted the hellebore foliage from the previous year looks a little ratty but the flowers bring smiles and lure the hummingbirds and bumblebee Queens in for food. By the third week of the month, Trilliums including grandiflorum, erectum, and undulatum have broken through the ground. The wild Dicentra you might know as Dutchman’s Breeches are in bloom and the woodland Fernleaf Dicentra eximia in pink, red and white are right behind. At the same time, ferns, both native and hybrid, have begun to show their height and color, and a combination planting of native Cinnamon, Ostrich, and Northern Maidenhair fern serves as a good foundation for a mix of spring ephemerals including trout lilies, violets, bloodroot, and Japanese primroses. By this time Brunnera has opened its heavily veined leaves, variations of white and pink Dodecatheon are in bloom, native orchids are coming along nicely, Great Blue Heron have fledged and osprey kids are teenagers ready to shove off for a new life along with the river and area ponds.
So as spring moves your way, enjoy the longer and warmer days and map out your gardens for the 2021 season. They will need clean-up work, pruning, and perhaps some soil amendments. Have confidence that you are already your best designer so sketch out some new plans, read new garden books and locate sources for new products. Check what made it through the winter successfully and what plants might need to be replaced. Join a plant society for rock garden plants, daylilies, hostas, peonies, perennials, conifers, lilacs. There’s no doubt there’s a group for every interest. And above all, relax in your garden and invite others to join you. 2020 was an incredible year for all of us but our gardens always have and always will provide peace. If all else fails, remember this line from Minnie Aumonier. I like it enough to keep it hanging on the wall it at the flower farm. My copy is part of a poster by Mary Azarian.
“When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden.”