Tuesday, March 30, 2010

in the pink

Everyone has their inner clock to mark the passing of time. It may be the beginning of a new calendar year, the September back to school rush or a birthday. Mine is rooted, literally, outside the bedroom window. It is around the third week of March when the bare limbs of the magnolia tree start to wink little slivers of cotton candy pink from the heavy buds that have carried the weight of winter snow and frost. Someone, who was my introduction to gardening and the strength of perennials, once commented when I was talking about what I would do differently for the next growing season. "It's in your soul now," she said. "People who really love their gardens in their souls are always looking ahead at ways to improve or plan differently." March is the month of seed and garden catalogues, trays and garden magazines and it feels like a new beginning every year to me.

When we moved into our house on an unseasonably warm day in November ten years ago a friend of mine stopped by with her three small children. One of her boys had the classic Elmer Fudd 'r' speech pattern and pointed up at the magnolia which had dropped most of its leaves by then. He said "I have one of those 'twees.' They are 'pwetty twees' but they are 'vewy, vewy' messy!" He sure knew what he was talking about. I love the magnolia but each season aside from winter has a different clean up assignment. There are enormous leaves that drop, candle shaped parts of the flower pod that bounce off the car and eventually all the delicate pink pedals will come down, leaving the tree bare once more, before the leaves fill in the blanks with new green leaves.

For about two weeks the magnolia tree will start its journey from its winter rest with what seem like tiny pink light bulbs that get a bit brighter every day. The buds are all out of their protective cocoons now and the timing of warm weather arriving in the next few days will be the perfect combination for the perfume of the magnolia's flowers to fill the yard. The magnolia flowers mingle with the intoxicating scent of the hyacinths that sprout at the tree's roots along with daffodils and later the tulips and I welcome the display every spring. The enormous spray of pink flowers against a cerulean sky is a sight so lovely the garbage truck lingered at the end of the drive on one collection morning last year. "Wow. That's a great tree," one of the men yelled to me last year as I worked on my flower boxes.

When the tree drops its leaves in the fall it feels like the awning that we ate outdoor candlelit meals under has been retracted for the season revealing the bird nests that were hidden among the tallest branches. That is the time we retreat indoors and on those chilly days when it feels like spring will never arrive. The first bit of pink in the buds of the magnolia tree says it is indeed on the way.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

march madness

There is something so restorative about this time of year. The first garden growth of the season emerge from the crown of plants and the delicate snowdrops dangling buds on arching stems signal the first signs of spring. It is the time of year to see signs of life start to burst forth in the buds of flowering trees and tiny clusters of leaves that appear on rose bushes that looked winter weary just a short time ago. The resilience of perennials never fails to amaze any gardener at their ability to come back to life, year after year, after a winter slumber.

March is the annual riddle of 'in like a lion and out like a lamb' that moves us forward to longer days of warm sunshine and outdoor activity. The reference of lion and lamb describes the beginning and the end of the month of March and the dance of weather patterns that it offers to tease and madden all of us who are ready to shake off the last signs of the winter season.

This month we got a drastic swing in weather systems in a few week's time. Winter's last wallop of a snowstorm had the neighborhood humming with snow blowers the first blustery week end of the month and the sound of leaf blowers and scraping rakes for spring clean up the next. Within a week we went from drying out our damp gloves, hats and scarves on the radiators to working in the yard without jackets.

It turns out the March weather surprises weren't satisfied with the juxtaposition of two back to back opposing weather scenarios. We are at the midway mark on the calendar and there has been a snowstorm, followed by a fling with spring and then a storm that Dorothy Gale and Toto would have taken pause. Howling winds shook the trees and tossed trash cans around the streets while the sky took on an eerie glow and the relentless rain pounded the streets creating lakes at intersections and swallowing small cars who dared to pass. Sirens wailed as fire engines went from one downed tree to the next blocking off streets with streamers of yellow caution tape. Huge trees that had stood for years in yards and parks were ripped from their bases taking squares of cement up with the roots. In a few hours massive trees were laying across lawns or tangled in power cords that left neighborhoods in darkness.

The strength of winds that rattle your windows with such force reminds you just how powerful nature's forces can be. The day after the sixty mile hour winds blew through the streets were littered with broken limbs of trees and mangled umbrellas turned inside out. A Brooklyn parish lost their pine tree that is decorated each holiday season for Christmas. The tree was planted thirty years ago to protect the church's stained glass windows from the footballs the kids like to toss around on the lawn. Here today, gone tomorrow. No amount of 'reality' tv could put on such a spectacle.