Green-Up Time

Daffodil, close up“Lo, the fair beauty of earth, from the death of the winter arising! Every good gift of the year now with its Master returns!”

– Venantius Honorius Fortunatus (540?-600?)

This year, spring (the Midwestern variety, not just the precession of the equinoxes) arrived in remarkable synchronicity with Easter. The season of Easter, of course, continues for the Great 50 Days. So, if the weather smiles upon us, does spring.

Both seasons are now past their first blush. A few lonely blossoms cling to the half-leafed-out flowering crab outside my bedroom window, and the last of the narcissi have been clipped from the cutting bed out back. But even as a storm front knocks the fragile blossoms from one set of trees, the buds ready themselves to burst on another.

My father calls this “green-up time,” when leaves are new and grass re-grows, and that bright fresh green seen only in early spring is everywhere as the days lengthen recklessly on their way to summer. It’s the season for planting, whether crops, trees, or something in between in terms of permanence. So plant I did.

In fact, the only retail establishments to which I can easily walk from home are nurseries. In fact, there are four of them, three in a row just to the north of me, and one an outlier to the south. I headed out to buy pansies; their cheerful faces always brighten the pots outside my front door, to say nothing of my mood when I see them smiling back at me. On my way to Nursery #2, I noticed a sign at Nursery #1: “$99 trees.”

When this development was in its final stages of construction, someone found cheap white pines and planted them behind the houses. Unfortunately, the white pine doesn’t like our thick clay soil, and it doesn’t care for damp. Ours are planted on the low ground, and soggy roots are an issue. While one of my pines has done all right, the kindest word for the other one was “puny.” It was sick and sad, and largely bereft of needles.

I thought about it as I headed home with my plants and deposited them on my doorstep. Then I headed back to seek a tree, one that wouldn’t mind getting its feet wet.

The nursery man looked for an oak variety he thought would suit, but they were sold out, and the new ones wouldn’t be $99. Then he hit on the river birch, a native of southern Missouri, a practical tree that can deal with flooding. I bought it, and called Jim the Landscaper to take out the old and put in the new.

For a couple of weeks, the birch looked decidedly dead. Last week I saw the first signs of buds, cautious signs, not-quite-sure signs. This week, suddenly, there are thousands of tiny grass-green leaves, each expanding almost as I look.

Planting anything is an act of faith, whether it’s burying bulbs in the late-fall chill or trees by the pale light of early spring. For those of us with short life expectancies, bulbs are the safer bet. I expect to see mine come up several times.

But trees are for the long haul. It may not grow tall enough fast enough for me ever to enjoy its shade, but that’s all right; others will appreciate it in years to come. It is a connection to the future, a bond with God’s earth, and a promise for springs to come.

– Sarah Bryan Miller

In the garden

I am not an outstanding gardener. I’m a few rungs above my mother, who was famed for her brown thumb, but no one comes to me for advice on how to make plants flourish.

For that, I turn to my friend Linda, and to Bill the Landscaper. Bill’s team has gradually transformed my yard with knockout roses, butterfly bushes, and other attractive vegetation whose names I do not, offhand, recall,  but which meet my criteria of visual appeal, easy care, and not being favorite deer munchies.

Linda has a real gift for putting together appealing outdoor flower pots for each season, choosing plants that go well together but are varied in style and colored. There’s usually something vertical, and something horizontal that will drape itself over the sides, for an attractive whole.

In the early spring, we went with pansies. They flourish when it’s chilly, but when summer heat and humidity strike, it’s time to switch.

This is where I have problems. I love pansies, with their sweet cheerful faces; I hate to yank them up while they’re flourishing. It gives me a pang to see them still vibrant but trashed. It just seems heartless somehow.

Instead, most years I end up leaving them in place until they fail in the summer sauna that is St. Louis. That seems heartless in a different way. This year, I listened to Linda.

Sometimes our good intentions lead us astray; sometimes we let sentiment overcome good sense, and not just in the garden.  It’s a gift to know when the time is right to make a change, and to have friends who are willing to give us a gentle nudge in the right direction.

– Sarah Bryan Miller


Spring, interrupted

After a long cold Midwestern winter, we long for the coming of spring, for warmth and flowers and sunny days.

Spring is fickle, though, teasing us with a few unseasonably gorgeous days in late February, blowing hot and cold in March, seeming to settle down in April, and then tossing off a late snowstorm, just to keep us on our toes.

It means that it’s hard to know just when to send your winter clothes to the cleaners; life here does build character in that regard. But a springtime snowfall, unlike its wintry counterpart, carries the reassurance that however deep the white stuff may be, it won’t stay long.

We sometimes expect the weather to conform to the printed calendar, to follow a set program. We sometimes expect our lives to do the same: for our careers in school and work, love, and family life, and health, to sail along a prescribed bump-free arc. But there are usually, along with unexpectedly good times, some switcheroos and infelicitous curves thrown our way when we least expect them.

This is where it helps to have a working faith, like having a well-fitting all-weather coat within easy reach. Both shelter and protect us; both give us comfort when the winds blow sharply. Those winds may still blow cold in April, but they won’t last forever.

– Sarah Bryan Miller