The winter is normal.
Gardeners have no license for long faces. This is that lovely "Nature" that the Romantic poets and other foundlings keep chirping about.
No gardener, of course, expects to make it to spring, but do you think Nature cares about that? Ha. She cares naught.
The word of it is that the daffodils, lilacs and peonies will almost certainly be better than usual - assuming there is a thaw eventually and that the blessed sun has better fuel supplies than we do.
In other words, at the nadir gloom we are obliged to say the winter is no worse than we are certain to have from time to time (and not at all that rarely, either) in Washington, and as reasonable people we cannot dodge the fact that many of the most beautiful creatures of the garden will be all the better for it.
It is not for any damned daffodil (the weather has a poor and coarsening effect on the average gardener's vocabulary) that the gardener suffers, but for himself.
I don't care how long you garden, or how many examples you have seen of the glorious day when the oak-buds swell and burst. It makes no difference how well stored your memory is with fair skies and soft water. It takes only one dark procession of winter and one retreat of the sun to convince any gardener I ever knew that this is IT, this is IT, and farewell, happiness.
Naturally this winter, which is slightly worse than usual (but only very slightly, mind you; I do not intend to say anything good or nostalgic about the other 50 winters I have known or the other 60 I intend to growl at) - naturally, this winter is the one the gardener has chosen to acclimatize those plants that are on the border of hardiness.
Thus the gardener who has been thinking the oleander might pull through with a little protection outdoors has chosen this winter to try it.
The day before I almost killed myself slipping on the ice in an alley near my house, I examined the new gardenia bush which I craftily planted in the warm weather and "hardened off" properly to get through its first winter. As we know, if a slightly tender plant can be got through its first winter or two, it often has a long and vigorous life even though north of its natural habitat.
When I looked at the gardenia bush, I thought of that political leader who said there were things he did not want to know.
I see quite well what he mean.
Among other things I do not want to know is the state of my night jasmine and my creeping fig vines and the seedling camellias that I got in a trifle late and just a bit on the dry side ( some crisis delay their planting - some good work I had to do first). I thought at the time, well, a nice mild moist November and December will plump them up all right, because we never have any real cold until January, and even then it only lasts two or three days at a time.
I raised a China rose (R. semperflorens) from a cutting last spring and thought much of mulching it heavily for its first winter, but said to myself that is nonsense, it would have to go to zero to do it much damage. So there it is out there with nothing between it and all the ice of hell (Dante understood correctly that hell is 98.6 degrees Farenheit overlaid with 37 tons of ice). There are only four inches of snow and some squirrel tracks - I presume the squirrels have been chewing on the dormant eremurus nearby.
But have we any occasion for long faces? Certainly not. Is it not a normal and predictable winter for us? And are we not sensible gardeners, learning in the ways of weather and changeable seasons? You do not find us gardeners trying to hoke up the cold with asinine and meaningless "records" to the effect that 3 p.m. Thursday is the coldest since 1972. or, for that matter, 1940 (and from such a winter God sent us).
Even if we don't make it - something tells me that the spring of 1977 is never going to occur at all in this latitude - we have no right to complain.
As a great wit once observed, it can commonly happen that we are given a summer though we have no spring, or a harvest without a sowing.
The late Guy Wilson, a great friend of the Irish daffodil, once had to plant all his bulbs in cold mud - the summer got warm enough to dry out the earth and the fall rains never let up for his planting season. It was, as he said at the time, a nightmare, but then (as he said) he knew he never had to worry about getting all his bulbs planted again, seeing he had accomplished it in impossible circumstance once.
In the same way, those who have been though the mill are not so likely to be upset as a child is, who sees his first cloud over a summer swim.
That is why I and other gardeners are so cheerful even in the midst of winter, and why we comport ourselves with such maturity and calm though the terrible ice, not racing about berserk, though the terrible white hounds are daily after us.
I know a bank - there is a certain numbness that comes to a gardener after the first 36 months of winter - where the honeysuckle is thick and the hummingbirds settle in a yellow orchids for a minute, and a paulownias and locusts are heavy in their sweetness (the heat that can be langorous in early May) that one is glad for the night and the mockingbirds that purify it all somewhat.
There are times when the billows of roses are too extravagant both in color and smell, and the peonies would look better if there were fewer of them or perhaps they are smaller, especially since the irises in great climps are substantially more gorgeous and flamboyant than seems right, and of course all of them together with the poet's narcissus just going over the lilies just coming on. How often I have thought all that was a trifle much.
There is no danger of that sort of opulence or barbaric richness in January, which is pure enough (I would think) to suit the most revolting puritan that ever somehow got born.
But peace. I know this place where there are egrets in the cypress trees and lotuses have taken over the horse pond.
Willows are greener than any green when they hang over the canal with the seaweed in it and the strawberries turn red in the grass and the blue swamp irises open right on schedule in their sluchy paradise observed by those excellent turtles that are black with yellow dots as well as the ones that are greenish with plates outlined in chrome with red scribblings at the bottom. Well, that is living for you. The first dragonflies are tremendously exciting, though their eggs hatch out into nymphs that can catch and kill a fish up to two inches long.
The shadbush and Virginian fringe and the dames' violets and the wild plums and lent lilies -
Well. I don't think we're going to make it. But be bright.