April 2, 2013

The April Fools

Three weeks ago, the snow by our front door had retreated sufficiently that a clutch of yellow crocus had burst open, ready for whatever pollinators were buzzing about.  Two days later, the Storm That Wasn’t Supposed To Get This Far North dropped a foot of ‘partly cloudy’ on Medfield.  Over the weekend, the snow retreated, exposing the spot where the crocuses (croci?) had bloomed.  Alas, there were only crocus greens.
On Sunday, the crape myrtle,
hydrangea and lavender came out of
the garage, even though the ground
was still covered with snow.
Welcome to New England, the home of the April fools. 
‘April fools’ is not a day; it is season in which spring arrives in fits and starts.  Temperatures begin to rise, and so I drag pots filled with tender shrubs and perennials from out of their winter quarters to begin the acclimation process.  Then, the evening news brings word from a cheerful weatherperson that an unexpected dip in the jet stream will bring nighttime temperatures down into the upper teens.  Out I go, into the fading twilight, dragging pots back into the garage. 
At least I provide a continuing source of amusement for our neighbors.
The trick is to ignore the pink and
yellow lines, which show a nice,
gradual warming trend for the
month.  It's that blue bottom line

that counts.
This past weekend was a glorious time, weather-wise.  Temperatures soared to 60 degrees and so Betty and I went to work clearing oak-leaf-clogged perennial beds.  When the inner sidewalk bed was done, we found we had exposed broad patches of daffodil shoots, which gave us the zeal to tackle the next bed.  That one, too, had bulb greens awaiting the kiss of sunlight.  By yesterday afternoon, we had even cut down the grasses in the xeric bed fronting the street.  There is nothing like exposing a little green to get a gardener’s heart thumping.
In mid-afternoon, of course, a cold front came through, bringing high winds, rain, and plummeting temperatures.  This morning, we awakened to temperatures in the twenties.  All those fragile bulb greens – which had been protected under that covering of leaves – are now exposed to the elements.  Yep, we jumped the gun yet again. 
Winter has not yet run its
course.  This photo of our
front lawn was taken
April 3, 2011.
Anyone who has lived in New England for a decade or so knows the April weather stories:  the April Fool’s Day snow storm of 1997 (more than 20 inches in Boston) probably tops the list, but how about the ice storm of mid-April 2011 that let you watch the swelling buds on your fruit trees freeze before your very eyes? 
Maybe the Boston Marathon has something to do with it.  If it’s warm enough for 26,713 athletes to run 26 miles, surely it’s reasonable to expect that a few plants can survive outdoors.  What we fail to remember is that those athletes want it to be cold and dreary.  If it’s warm enough to grow petunias, runners will be dropping like flies.
In our spare time, Betty and I manage Medfield’s community garden with sixty plots for a like number of gardeners.  On March 23, Betty gave her annual vegetable gardening talk at the town library.  A room full of people listened intently as she repeatedly said that soil temperature is the only reliable indicator of when to plant.  The air temperature may be 55 degrees, but if the soil an inch down is 35 degrees, nothing will germinate.  By my count, she repeated that mantra five times.
No sooner did she finish her talk when the first hand went in the air with the inevitable question:  “How soon can we start working the garden?”
To her credit, Betty did not throw anything.  Instead, she smiled and gave her pat answer:  “You tell me what the weather is going be through the end of April, and I’ll tell you exactly when you can start your garden.”
Patience is the principal virtue of a New England gardener.

This clutch of
daffodils is waiting
to bloom... and to
be snowed upon.
At the same time, I know that the teasing will continue.  In a protected corner by our garage, a dozen daffodils are already eight inches high and headed up, waiting for the perfect afternoon to dazzle me with their blinding yellow trumpets.  And, just as surely, Old Man Winter will have a last gasp, and those daffodils will suffer the indignity of multiple inches of snow, sleet or freezing rain (or maybe all three).  But eventually, spring will arrive.  In New England, we call that ‘May’.

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