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THE SELF-TAUGHT GARDENER: Signs of life

Virginia bluebells and hellebores are the Punxsutawney Phil of plants. Their emergence reminds me that spring is on its way. I find comfort in these signs of spring, but also fret about the winter tasks still left undone

If spring is the collective nervous breakdown of gardeners, as a friend once said, filled with chores being added to the to-do list by the dozen with each five-degree increase in temperatures, it is also the collective birthing of the plant kingdom. Everywhere one looks signs of life are emerging, buds are swelling, crocus are blooming, reticulate iris are crowned with their three-part flowers (they are known in France as fleurs-de-lis for a reason) that seem to capture the sunlight and refract it across the slowly greening lawn that is their kingdom.

Crocus fill the lawn with a burst of color that rewards us when we rake away the leaves that have fallen over the long winter.

As one brushes away leaves, the purple-green shoots of Virginia bluebells show themselves and remind us of the soft blue-nodding flowers that are on their way. Hellebores, whose flowers are often waiting to emerge from the piles of leaves that I am raking away, show themselves as early as snowdrops. These two plants to me are the Punxsutawney Phil of plants; their emergence reminds me that spring is on its way. I find comfort in these signs of spring, but also fret about the winter tasks still left undone – the cutting back of hydrangeas, the removal of the brown leaves of epimedium, and the branches that seem to accumulate each week as another windstorm appears to roll through the region.

There is much to do in the garden this week. And just as I think spring is here and I am so behind schedule, I waken to a light snow that gives me a temporary reprieve from my to-do list. The world has a way of speeding up and slowing down again at this time of year and I suppose it is the earth’s way of teaching us to adapt to what is happening around us.

Hellebores let us know spring is on its way, along with all of the tasks that we put upon ourselves in readying the garden for the next season.

I know that underneath this light snow the lawn is slowly greening and the leaves of fennel and some spring bulbs are pushing forth, but just now they are, like me, covered in a light blanket and waiting for the moment to continue with the tasks at hand.

I take delight in this brief respite from spring chores and realize that as many tasks as I imagine I have to do, some things, like these plants, will just take care of themselves.

Reticulate iris come up so early and their three-part flowers seem to have the grandeur of a royal procession. ____________________________________

A gardener grows through observation, experimentation, and learning from the failures, triumphs, and hard work of oneself and others. In this sense, all gardeners are self-taught, while at the same time intrinsically connected to a tradition and a community that finds satisfaction through working the soil and sharing their experiences with one another. This column explores those relationships and how we learn about the world around us from plants and our fellow gardeners.

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