Let’s Get This Party Started!

February 23, 2011

My little bit of Eden is firmly in Zone 5. That’s an important thing for me – and other gardeners – to know, to select plants that thrive and survive in our environment. Plants hardy to Zone 5 can survive temperatures as low as -20 degrees.

Then there are these little spots in the yard known as “microclimates.” They can be colder spots, like where the winds swirl and blow, freezing the ground earlier, deeper and thawing later. But wonderfully, they can be warmer spots, where a house or fence protects an area from wind, where the ambient heat of the structure keeps the ground from completely freezing and where it gets toasty much quicker.

I have a microclimate, right outside of my front door, to the east of the front walk. It is next to the house and over the sewer outtake. This bed is temperate because of the heat from the house, the sun shining right on the brick and  the often-warm water piped underneath. The daffodils planted here are so very happy. They are already inches high, lime green, emerging from the mulch and lasagna compost.

I grab a rake and scrape all the compost leavings into a pile next to the house, where I’ll cover it with mulch in a few weeks. The daffodil shoots stand shining against the shredded wood, such a joyful harbinger of spring. They are the ones who start the party – the flowers that get the music started, the blooms who dance first in the cold rains of spring, happy, bright yellow faces that make everyone grin with the glee of promise.

Around in the back, I rake again, all the dog land mines that have accumulated in the grass over the winter. Ick, ick, ick. I rake back and forth, up and down, all along the patio, behind the house and beside the fire pit. I rake by the pond. Not only do I get the dog waste, I also rake up dead grass and leaves. I push it all into the grasses bed.

Oh, did that feel GOOD. Just that little bit of raking, that little bit of fresh air and effort, that little bit of real gardening did my soul and my body and my mind so so much good. I had a smile that lasted all day.

There is still a dusting of snow, like blown sugar, around the pin oak, circling the gazing ball stand. The pond is thawing. Just a layer of ice floats on top, pocked and uneven. I put my toe onto the ice, shifting my weight to see how thick it is. After more and more pressure, my shoe breaks the crust, creating a dent and a seep of water.

The pit compost in the black container has shrunk seemingly overnight. Just days ago, it was filled above the brim; today there is plenty of room for more. There are oak leaves everywhere, covering the bump by the pond, smothering the bellflower, the hydrangeas, the garlic chives – everything covered in brown. Something has been digging in the shade bed, but I’m not concerned. It was almost definitely a squirrel, hiding acorns that she’ll never find. Not a single daffodil emerging there. This bed is much colder and much more wet.

Back in the front, next to the driveway, there are a few more shoots, enjoying the reflected heat of the concrete. There are no signs of the hyacinths yet. There are delicate green leaves emerging on in the grasses bed on the other side of the drive. I am not sure what it is yet. I notice the sedum is starting to unfurl, tiny sage-colored rosettes clustered at the bottom of the dead stems. I push into the dried yarrow, looking for green, and unleash a fragrance, tangy and clean, like lavender on steroids, sharp and fresh. It covers my hands.

I take a long look at my beginnings of a new bed along the fence from the fall. With the new plan, this will have to move.

From the gutter spout, which should be directed into the rain barrel, but moves constantly – I need to just move the blasted rain barrel – there is an icicle melting. I crouch and watch the water sheet down the spear, round at the bottom, bead, swell and drop. I watch again and again, making literally dozens of photos to try to capture a drop actually in motion. Only one merely acceptable photograph results out of the bunch.

Watching water drops – what a peaceful, relaxing occupation.

A closer look at the sedum in the back bed under my office window reveals more and more and more rosettes, winking lima-bean colors through the dirt.

Later, Tony calls me as he lets the dogs out – “Grab your camera!” I hear the tick and shudder of hail falling on the patio. The pea-sized ice pellets sheet down, bouncing everywhere, making the concrete slicker and slicker. The hail showers on my hair, clicks against my jacket, pounding harder and harder. It falls into my open hand, round and cold. It pops up from the patio, from the pond and from the bridge. It covers everything like shattered glass. The deluge begins to soften, it lessens, trickles off and nearly stops. Just a tick here and there, then nothing – it is finished.

Maybe that was winter’s last real hurrah – a blast of sequins and glitter thrown from the sky – because the real party is just getting underway.

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